Her Bad Mother

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hello, Princess

It's a photo of me on my wedding day: just me, alone, posed at an angle, looking slightly over my shoulder. I'm not quite smiling, but not quite not smiling, either. It's one of the very few photos from our wedding day that I like; I usually hate how I photograph, and the photographic record from that day produced few exceptions. This photograph was one of them. I like this photograph.

So does Emilia. "This is pretty, Mommy."

"Thank you, sweetie."

"Can I have this in my room, Mommy?"

"Of course."

"Is it your wedding?"


"You're wearing a big dress?"


"You married Daddy?"

"That's what he tells me."

"Why do you have a different face from what you have now?"

Ah. Ah.

How does one explain aging to a three year-old? That photo was taken over 13 years ago. I was in my mid-twenties. I was young, impossibly young (and yet, how old I thought I was. I was 22 when I met my husband. I thought that I was a woman of the world, well-travelled, experienced, mature. How was it that I could ever have thought that I was anything other than a child?) That photo is a photo of a much, much younger me. Of course I look different.

"I'm older now, sweetie. That was a long time ago. People change as they get older. You don't look the same as you did when you were a baby, right?"

She frowned. "But you've got stuff on your eyes." She stabbed a tiny finger at the photograph. "You're wearing make-up." She said it as though it were an accusation. She said it as though it were something that I'd been keeping secret from her, something that I'd concealed and denied and prevaricated upon - a secret past as a real, live make-up-wearing girl. A girl who bore little resemblance to the frumpy matron standing before her. I had, it seems, been withholding some very important information from my daughter: I hadn't always looked like a mom.

Not all moms are frumpy. I'm not exactly frumpy myself, strictly speaking. I get good haircuts, which I don't necessarily always, you know, brush or anything, but still. I wash. I wear lipgloss. I have really good shoes. But I don't spend a lot of time buffing and polishing and making-up. I just don't have the energy. And truth be told, I don't really care. I just don't. It's not that I've given up, it's just that in a showdown between putting on eyeliner and getting fifteen more minutes of sleep, eyeliner - or straightening irons or mascara or Crest WhiteStrips - sleep will always win. I'm simply no longer that girl, because I am, simply, no longer a girl. I'm a woman - a woman dragging out the long tail of her thirties under conditions of extreme sleep-deprivation - a woman who has had two children and no Botox - a woman who has grown comfortable in her own imperfect skin.

And yet, my daughter - my daughter, just three and a half and already exposed to the culture of GirlTM at preschool and in playgroups and on television (why we embrace Dora in this house, and limit - though not deny - exposure to the Princesses: because Dora - with her un-belashed eyes and her little pot belly - is so ordinarily, naturally girl-like) - my daughter looks at me and sees something that doesn't accord with what she is learning about femininity. She looks at the picture of me on my wedding day, and sees someone who looks a litle bit like a Disney Princess - someone with big, thickly-lashed eyes and a puffy dress and a look of serene docility - and then she looks at me, the woman, the mother, and sees something different. And for a moment, I cringed, and was - for a fleeting moment, a fleeting moment - ashamed. And then I was ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I knelt down and took the picture in my hand. "I still wear make-up sometimes. Just not all the time. I look nice with make-up, I know. But I also like how I look without make-up."

"I like how you look too, Mommy."

I smiled, gratified.

"But I also like your make-up. And your princess dress. And maybe you could have sparkles, too. And eyelashes, and a crown. And you could wear them every day, or maybe just Saturday. And look like a girl. I like it when you look like a girl."


Where does one go with this? I don't want to teach her that pretty is something to be disdained - I like me some pretty - but I do kinda want to nip in the bud the idea that 'looking like a girl' = looking 'pretty' = looking like a princess. Is there a place for princesses in our ideas of what's pretty, without making 'princess' the determining factor? And how do I balance that with the realities - for me - of aging and wrinkles and mascara-fatigue? How do I encourage her to see that beauty as beauty, and to recognize it as as feminine as anything that Disney can crank out?

Or should I just give up, ScotchGuard the ol' wedding gown and make like a middle-aged, Dyson-and-laptop wielding Cinderella? PRINCESS IS THE NEW BLACK.

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Anonymous LAVANDULA said...

out of the mouths of babes,uh catherine.my 4 year old is seriously funny and precious and i'm with you on catching the extra sleep! (my skin is so sensitive that if anyone can recommend make-up that doesn't irritate that would be awesome.) i like that you are ok with how you look sans make-up its good to like who we are and be comfortable in our own skin.and that is a great gift to give our daughters.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Myg said...

Kids are brilliant. Especially little girls. And hey, at least you're not in pajamas all day like some mothers I know.

/looks around the room

oh, that'd be me.

11:48 AM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

Gorgeous you.

Me.. I put on makeup every single day regardless of what I'm doing - even if I don't leave the house - because I need to hide who I really am behind a polished shell.

Moooooaaaha ha ha ha!

11:48 AM  
Blogger JChevais said...

My kids are 10 and 8 respectively and I'm just starting to take more of a passing interest in moisturiser and all the rest. Aging. Oof.

11:50 AM  
Blogger tom the girl said...

i also think going natural is a great thing. most days, i also leave the house w/out any make-up, i never brush my hair, and feel most comfy in a hoodie.


when i do put on make-up, my bf always ask where i am going, since i so rarely put it on just because. but i think natural is beautiful....and you are beautiful, too.

11:58 AM  
Blogger CatrinkaS said...

My daughter somehow decided - around age 5- to tell me almost every day how pretty I am. And she says it so earnestly - not fakely, but like she knows I need convincing.

It is such a sweet and beautiful gesture.

She is seven this week. I am 41. I travel in very buffed and polished circles - and I am neither. My hair has gotten curlier with age (fuzzy), I have stray grays scattered throughout (and I can't color it! I can't! I know myself. I would never manage the upkeep!) I work out a few times a week... and I, too, wear good shoes...

And she, too, is mesmerized by the very few photos of my in my princess phase - the wedding she occasionally laments aloud not having been able to attend.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Loukia said...

Aww... oh my goodness! I feel totally changed and older from before I had kids. I'm not kidding, I feel like I age about 10 years almost daily. Especially on the days when I worry a LOT. Then I age a lot. Nothing on my body is the same as it was before I had kids. But ah, who cares... I don't have time to be all concerned with how good I look anymore. I hardly have a social life anymore. BLAH no wonder I can't actually start dieting. Now I'm just plain getting depressed... ;)

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Alison @ Cluck and Tweet said...

I still harbor fantasies of being a teenage supermodel. And I haven't bathed in two days or done anything to my hair or stopped eating the Jolly Rancher chew candies that I should just stick right to my butt. A girl can wish, can't she?

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Chelle said...

Well there you go then, on saturday, or every other saturday, or once a month saturday you can have 'makeup day' with your daughter ... yeah she's 3, but think of all the fun she'll have. :D

12:04 PM  
Blogger Joy said...

I think it must be a little girl thing - to torment mother with their past, youthful, wedding-princess photo beauty. My mother still makes me feel guilty when she recalls how, one day long long ago, when I was around three or four, I was looking at the wedding photo of her and my father exiting the church, and asked "Who's Daddy and the Lady?". She says she almost cried.

@Lavandula - maybe look into the new mineral makeup that's out there... MAC has a great line... But there are many other companies with mineral makeup now. Some are in liquid form, some powders... Good luck!

12:08 PM  
Blogger Don Mills Diva said...


You really do look like a princess in that photo - it's lovely but it really would be a highly impractical everyday look.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Mouse said...

I'm fighting this on the other side right now. Scooter is so very aware of the gender pronouncements of his peers, so I hear a lot about what are girl movies and colors, etc. I try not to wince when he dismisses things he used to love (Cinderella, Dora, certain colors), denying himself those things because they belong to the other gender.

Trillian, her mom, and I all try to keep an even-toned, "Anybody can watch/wear/like that. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl." Grandma threw in a line about Grandpa liking one of the things he was dismissing--for that moment, at least, Scooter relented and said he liked it too.

I'm counting on this being a phase and that our repetition of the above will eventually make some small dent.

12:17 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

It's a lovely wedding photo... and after reading this, I think you're already doing the right thing, i.e., showing her that being a girl doesn't mean looking like a princess every day. Special occasions are just that, special occasions. It's how we conduct ourselves and treat people that counts, and you show her these things every single day.

Of coures, if you do come up with a sure-fire plan to knock out the desire to be a 'princess', I lookf orward to hearing about it, seeing as I'm soon going to have "the girl", and I suspect she'll be quite a bit different from "the boys".

12:43 PM  
Blogger Issa said...

I think you said the right things in the moment. Princess is a phase. One that eventually gets replaced by wanting to be a tween at um seven years old. Really, just enjoy the princess phase. One day they realize that it's not reality and that, sadly, is kind of a bummer.

Also, it's a beautiful photo. I'd say, give her a copy in her room. It's good to see what a real princess looks like. :)

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Bella said...

I STILL look at some of my mother's black and white photos from her "youth" and get this soft, fuzzy dream-like feeling about them. I can still remember being a 6 -year old or so girl, asking my mom about the parties she went to and the dancing she did and the many colours of her hair she'd change. Yes, it was definitely all about gender stereotypes and it made me feel proud to have a princess mommy. But also, SHE was proud of all the identities she put on, past and present. She loved showing me her '60s glamour shots as much as she loved who she was while in her "housecoat" cooking us the most awesome dinners. She was comfortable in all her roles and she wanted me to get that. She used to tell me about how much fun I could have "dressing up" when I got older (she didn't let me wear makeup, nail polish, or tight jeans until I was 16). She was all about the poofy dresses and the makeup and funny hair that could be put on for some parties. But she was clear that she thought it was silly to wear that stuff all the time. It could all be taken off to play in the dirt better, to cook easier, to get cozy in front of a good movie.

This is why I'm thankful to have 2 boys -- I have no idea how I could rise to the challenge my mother did and somehow convey to my daughter that she can be the princess and the PhD and anything in between.

I love the way you think about these issues, and how flexible you remain in figuring it all out.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous misty said...

My daughter (4y) recently asked me why her martial arts teacher looks and sounds like a man, but is a woman. This instructor has embraced a more stereotypical masculine image in nearly every way and it is at odds with what my daughter sees as "feminine." She also wanted to know why the instructor wasn't "pretty." I simply explained that pretty comes in many forms. We discussed her instructor's various attributes: her strong and lithe body, her thick, but short and curly hair, her dark and smooth makeup-free skin etc... and by the end of it my daughter was convinced that she was indeed pretty. Success! Or so I thought.

She then told me that even though Ms. X is pretty, she (my daughter) still wants to wear dresses and pink and maybe one day make-up. I said that's fine but was secretly a little disappointed. She then ran off to join her class and triumphantly wrestled a little boy to the ground.

I decided "pretty" comes in many packages and it will forever be a work in progress, but at least there is progress.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a 4-year-old who has a serious love for the Disney Princesses and Barbie. I don't, but she goes to daycare and has grandparents and you can only take your rejection of these things so far.

I've wrestled with these issues a lot. And then I remembered my own childhood. And spoke with other women, to boot. We all loved the pretty and the pink and princess. And yet we're all accomplished, not-necessarily-girly women. I think that as long as the adults in their life provide a good example, the princesses aren't all that harmful. At least, this is what I tell myself so that I can sleep nights. ;)

1:06 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I want you to know that your writing is so beautiful and touches my new mother soul. I hope you are okay that I referred to you in a post I did today on breastfeeding and linked back to your wonderful post Needful things.


1:15 PM  
Blogger April said...

my mom always told me there was a time and a place for everything... and that seemed to work out fine for me :-)

1:28 PM  
Blogger Della said...

I believe it's at about that preschool age that kids really begin to understand that there are differences in gender.

It's my understanding that so much of the "issue" here is just the age, or stage, of figuring out what their culture defines as feminine and what is masculine - and having the need to define themselves as one or the other. This isn't so much about pigeonholing oneself into a constrictive definition for life, as much as trying to get a grasp on a complex aspect of culture/social norms. Basically, it's a matter of drawing a big, thick, DARK line between the two, that as you mature can be shifted and smudged according to your ability to handle said smudging.

So, if you're trying to understand gender, and subsequently clarify to yourself (and declare to the world) which gender you identify with, the most logical way to do that is to revel in (or display obsessive preference for) those things that are allowable only for your chosen gender, and off-limits for the other gender.

I've read stories about kids who suddenly AB.SO.LUTE.LY freaked out about having the "opposite gender haircut" (the little girl with the bob or the little boy with the surfer shag, suddenly NEEDING to do it the other way) when they hit that stage.

Fortunately in some respects, there are very, very few things that are off-limits to girls these days. Pants, sports, science - so many things that used to be the realm of "men only" in the past are now acceptable for both genders. UNfortunately, therefore, the huge list of things acceptable to both genders that is so liberating for American women right now has a funky result: it drastically narrows the number of items that can be used for this ostentatious declaration-of-gender.

So, little girls' obsessions with makeup, dresses, sparkles, and so on can be related to the fact that they are some of the few items that will define you as part of the "I am a girl" club, because those things are culturally off limits to boys.

So, getting back to the point it almost seems as if the question for Emilia is not about understanding what beauty is, per se, but about understanding that beauty (prettiness) and femininity aren't straight-line correlated, and so she doesn't have to be so concerned with worrying about it.

Maybe pointing out some things that are very masculine but related to "beauty" - things that guys do to maintain their beauty like shaving/aftershave, sharp dressing, styling one's hair, etc, would be helpful....as might finding things that are very culturally feminine, but unrelated to beauty per se. I had typed up a couple examples but I don't want to get flamed; I'm sure you can think of your own. :)

You might find it interesting to hear her opinions on which items are "for boys only." My (admittedly unsolicited) opinion is that it would be wise to leave her at least a few things to cling to as "masculine" and "feminine" just to give her the security of being able to make a distinction, a definition she can work with until she's mature enough to grasp the exceptions and nuances. The great thing is? You're the mom, so you get to pick which ones you're going to bust now, and which ones you'll let her hold on to, and thus shape her perception of gender (and of herself) as she grows up.


Also? How do you do this?! You ask the most provocative questions that draw me in and I just can't help giving my $4.78 worth of opinion on. :) Thanks for making me think.

... and making me neglect my blog, or work, or both :) http://daily-della.blogspot.com/2009/04/i-think-i-figured-out-my-problem.html

1:46 PM  
Blogger Blog said...

I've always enjoyed wearing makeup. Luck for me, I can put it on in five minutes or less! I love experimenting with different colours, etc. I think it's just the way I was brought up -- not that wearing makeup = GIRL, but that wearing makeup = getting dressed.... I've been wearing it since 15. I went a week once without wearing makeup. Just to test myself. It was cool. But, I missed the little bit of art, and play, that I enjoy for those 5 minutes I take to put on my makeup each day....

2:06 PM  
Blogger Blog said...

OH, and in terms of my daughter.... It's funny. She's very "gender balanced" in terms of what she's attracted to. She has princess dolls, but NEVER plays with them. She prefers to play with trains or trucks. She HATES her dance class. She walked around with PABLO from the Backyardigans for MONTHS. I'm not sure WHY she's not more into the "girlie" things. I don't know if it's anything we can control. It does HELP that she has a brother - he loves trucks, since she's all about playing with stuff he loves, just to bug him!

And, as for her response to me putting on makeup? She hasn't shown much interest other than asking for some lip gloss occasionally. She doesn't really notice when I'm wearing it or when I'm not....

2:14 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Haley - Emilia's not really into girly stuff much either. She likes hockey and soccer and trains and bugs and NEVER asks for dolls. But she does have a thing about make-up, which I think comes with being in an 'older' group at preschool with girls that are really into that stuff. (She also really likes shoes, but I taught her that. ;))

2:27 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, and purses. She LOVES purses. But I taught her that, too.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Ah. Here's what I do in response to THE SAME DAMN ISSUE:

I tell Munchkin that one of the cool things about being a girl is that we can choose a lot of different ways to present ourselves: skirts or dresses or pants. Princess shirts or t-shirts. Princess hairdo, puppy hairdo, or pony hairdo. Makeup or no makeup. Pointy shoes or shoes for running.

I tell her that's what's most great is that it is for ME to choose, for HER to choose. That I like myself in makeup sometimes, barefaced others. That sometimes rubber boots and dirt are more fun that white tights and being careful. But we can choose, and that can be powerful.

So when she tells me I'm pretty when I 'dress up like a princess' I thank her without hesitation. And I tell her how much I love her ankles sticking out of her too-short jeans. The litle bit of jam in her neck that makes it yummier. All beautiful.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry about it. My daughter (who has a twin brother and a brother 20 months older and yes that was a hectic time) was very girly and princess from about 3 to 7. Now, at 12, she's exactly what I'd hoped. She loves to read and chooses friends based on common interests and loves to climb trees and makes fun of the "Barbies" in her class.
Relax. It's just a stage. Don't stress it, and it will pass.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and I meant to add, the fact that you are teaching her about beauty, both through words and actions, will pay off.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Blog said...

ha ha! I only wear winter boots, so my Monkey knows NOTHING about shoes! She does get a bit freaked out, though, when I ACTUALLY wear heels, like, to Bar Mitzvahs....

I think it helps that our daughters have brothers. My friend has two girls, and the entire house is PINK! ;)

2:45 PM  
Anonymous GYAHgal said...

I have an 8 month old girl - and I seriously worry about what she'll think of me as she grows. Will she be proud of me or embarrassed (although I have no delusions that she will, on occasion, most assuredly be embarrassed by me) - I hope she'll be proud - and think, "that's my momma." My GOAL (capitalized because it's not reality - it's a goal) is to have her accept that her mommy is many things - a business woman, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a wife, a trusted advisor, and every now and then, a princess. I want her to think these things about me and about herself, as well.

I love fairy tales - I love fantasy - I blame this love for the number of times I've read the Twilight series - and it's fun to escape - to be something different than you are. But being different is necessarily being "more." Being a princess shouldn't be "better" - it should just be another fun game - another way to pretend. I look forward to the day my daughter comes out of her room wearing cowboy boots, a tutu, a t-shirt with a bug on it and fairy wings. This is a particular little fantasy of mine.

I want her to know that every way she looks is pretty in one way or another because they are all expressions of her little personality - and I want her to understand that her ACTIONS will make her beautiful.

Hopefully by being me in all my various forms and encouraging her to embrace her personal expressions, she'll be comfortable with herself - and comfortable with others - and hopefully, she'll be excited about the pretty - but truly appreciate the beauty.

2:48 PM  
Blogger The_EmilyB said...

I know I will struggle with this. My mom never really dressed up and always pushed the "you're beautiful the way you are" line with me. I was a hideous child. Honestly - we were looking at pictures the other day and my husband asked how any parent could let their daughter look like that (with the insanely short hair cut and the giant blue glasses). I was bullied at school regularly and made fun of for the way I looked.

Then I left home and started to learn about hair and make up and fashion and my life changed 180 degrees. And so did my confidence. I know that those "ugly" years made me the person I am on the inside but I also know that paying attention to how I looked on the outside has seriously changed how I see the world and how it sees me.

I'm comfortable enough to be able to go out in sweats and no make up and know that the embellishments don't make me a good person but I would never push the natural angle as much as my parents did. There's something to be said for working with what you've got - whatever gender you are, and whether you're a real princess or not!

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have two girls, the 4 year old was so excited to dress up in her big pink dress (thanks nana...) for mother's day. she then asked me very seriously what ball gown I would be wearing to dinner. um.... I told her mommy didn't have any ball gowns, so I'd be going in jeans, and she said, no (pointing to wedding pic) you can wear that beautiful dress. hee. I wore the jean. funny because I was (still am most of the time) a tom-boy. I can't help feeling like my girly girl could use a more fancy-pants type of mom. but, that is what her girly aunts and mommy's girly best friends are for :)

2:55 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Wilson she/her @babysteph said...

That photo is beautiful. And I've only met you in person in the last year and think you are just as beautiful now (probably more because I consider all that inside stuff, too.) This will get interesting for me as Ivy gets older.


3:00 PM  
Blogger Cloud said...

Buy her the book "Paper Bag Princess". It will help. Or at least that's what I'm hoping. Anyway, its a fun book.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think most little girls go through the princess stage and most grow out of it.

Me, I am still a girly princess at the of age 34 and love the art of girl clothes and make up. In fact I find the art of drawing with an eyeliner pen and the sweep of a mascara brush so relaxing I wouldn't miss a day of doing it.

Personally, I am still trying to completely reconcile my love of things girly with the fact that I am a feminist and a 'graduated top of my year from a serious law school' lawyer. I guess I hope to show any future daughter of mine that being a woman is whatever you want it to be. However, if she ever wants to get to grips with eyeliner, I am the one to talk to...

That reminds me, I once demonstrated the art of eyelash curling to my 10 year old niece at the Christmas dinner table (a pair of eyelash curlers was what fell out of her Christmas cracker). Her stepmother (my sister-in-law) was horrified and spent the next ten minutes reassuring her stepdaughter she was 'beautiful just the way she was'. You can fret too much I think - maybe I was projecting my feelings onto my niece to support my position on the subject but I got the distinction impression that my niece was looking at her stepmum as if to say 'yes, of course I am - what's all the fuss!' ;-)

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Hello - anon above - that's me. Pressed the button too quickly - must have been one of my long manicured finger nails that slipped ;-)

3:55 PM  
Blogger Heather at My Coupon Coop said...

Great article!

I'm about your age with a baby girl. I feel sad that she'll never know me as a pretty young woman. But she'll always be loved. And no matter how young or old I am or what I do or don't do I'm sure to embarrass her as a teenager.

Being "pretty" is fun. Wearing makeup, having fun with your hair. Nail polish, all of it. I've only started to come back to it in the last month or two after having two babies (I'm 39 now) and suffering from pregnancy induced hypothyroidism and just plain exhaustion.

For me it's fun to do as a choice. It's fun. It's a game. It's artistic. Style can be a fun statement. But it loses its fun when it's something we have to do. Let's not make it something we have to do.

You look beautiful in that photo, by the way.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Mr Lady said...

I'm going with scotch guard. Because dress up is still fun.

And you, dude, are be-you-ti-ful. Then and now.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah said...

This makes me want to dress up like a princess.

But I'm still to tired to bother with the makeup.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Susan Getgood said...

I think you can indulge her with a little princess without too much worry that she'll miss the point as she gets older. She has too many positive examples of strong women around her, both IRL and virtually, to miss it :-)

It's all in WHY we do it. Whether a manicure, makeup or a tattoo, if we do it for us, if we learn that we CAN do it for us, it's all good.

It's when we try to be someone else, for someone else that it all goes to shit. E. won't do that.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

I think now is when you start reciting that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Eventually it will sink in, right?

I actually have no idea other than that. I hope you find a reasonable solution and blog about it because this is an aspect of parenting that never previously occurred to me...

7:27 PM  
Blogger motherhood a deux said...

someday i'll show my (now 3-year-old) daughter my wedding pictures too and hopefully be ready with answers to some hard questions, thanks to your post!

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Tina C. said...

Zoiks. how about getting a picture of you now, a really nice, professional-type photo, of how you normally look day to day, and putting it in a nice frame hung in an honored spot as the wedding photo is? that may give your current look some cred as well.

7:53 PM  
Blogger mek said...

You've got so many great responses, I'll just add my .02 on the Princess issue. We acknowledge the princesses, my daughter dresses up, she watches some of the movies and (even better) loves the original stories too. But me, I really encourage her ballerina love because if there's one thing a ballerina has to be, it is strong and persistent above all else, and I'm comfortable with that obsession. And, while I was never as princess-focused, I was very fairy-tale focused growing up, and as my daughter gets older (3 now), I hope to keep growing her interest in the older versions of the same stories.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Tina C - that's a great idea, actually. We've got some good press shots - a couple of me and her, and me and her and Jasper - that really should take some pride of place. I'm a little less princessy in those pics, but they're nice photos.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

@Mimi. Love your response. My girl is only 1 but I'll have to remember for later.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

You know, I really don't subscribe to the whole "princesses are bad and set a terrible example for our girls" mentality. I can see the issues that some have with it, but it really doesn't seem like a big deal to me. I do wear makeup every day, but it is just minimal and looks relatively natural (cover up for the dark circles...see: lack of sleep... and some blush). When I go out on a date with my husband or am going to something extra special (twice a year whether I need to or not!) I do put on more makeup and take more time with my hair, etc. Know what? So does my husband. Well, he doesn't wear makeup, but he takes extra time with his appearance, wears cologne, what have you.

My point is, I guess, that men also take extra pains with their appearance (some more than others). This is not limited to us princesses.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Tania said...

Don't ask me. I've got a daughter that shows me more love if I wear a dress instead of pants. This will pass, right?

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Tina said...

Leave it be. You are aware of inner beauty. She'll pick that up, as she grows, or she won't. What she thinks is beautiful, will be beautiful to her... how can you change that?

I notice that she isn't equating pretty with love. That's a good sign right there. :)

10:09 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Heather - I don't subscribe to the whole 'princesses are bad' idea, either (as I said in the footnote to the post, I don't want to teach her that pretty is bad. I like pretty.) But I do worry about her associating beauty and femininity specifically with a princess ideal. I like how I look in that picture, but I wouldn't want to think that that's the sum total of my beauty (there, in the past, in a wedding dress.) Nor do I want it from her. That's all.

But yeah - the whole princesses are bad thing is a bit simplistic and misleading. Am with you there.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Karen MEG said...

Catherine, I see why that's a fave shot. You do look gorgeously princess in it.

I think your girl will get it, just by living with you. Osmosis.

Whenever my girlie wants to wear make-up (I let her try some gloss and eye shadow sometimes ... uh, why do I have so much eyeshadow when I don't even wear it?) ... and dress-up, she usually wants everything off within a couple of minutes.

Because she wants to go back to being the "real" little G.

I never knew words coming from a 3 year old could be so profound.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

If it were me, I would tell her it was like dress-up. A wedding is an occasion where grown-ups get to play dress-up, and dress like Princes and Princesses, and put on makeup. But it would take too much time to do that every day, and anyway, if we did, then it wouldn't be special on special days like wedding days.

That's what I would say. And then I would offer to play dress-up with her some day coming up soon. And you can both put on a pretty dress and put sparkly stuff on your faces and dance and pretend to be princesses. (And hey, maybe Jasper would like to play some time, too. He was rockin' that tutu.)

These decorations we wear on our outsides are just to draw attention to parts of ourselves that already exist on the inside.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous red pen mama said...

I think you have a lot of good comments here, and I think that pretty isn't just makeup and dresses. That is one kind of pretty. Pretty is strength. Pretty is the ability to choose. Pretty is being a mom, a professional woman, a grandmother, a friend.

I have a niece who wears dresses all the time. Her mom is bemused by her, and occassionally succumbs to her daughter's demands to wear a dress, too. But she also doesn't stress over it.

I have two girls who like to wear jeans and rain boots as much as dresses and hot pink cowgirl boots. they like make-up, but don't demand it. My older daughter recently told me how beautiful I looked on a day that I had to stay home from work sick -- I was still in my robe and pajamas, unwashed. And I just laughed and said thanks. She tells me I look beautiful when I get dressed up to go out, too.

You're doing right by Emilia, just be being all the things you are.


11:08 AM  
Blogger Lydia said...

Well, I used to put on a princess dress and go climb a tree... so I guess I've always been "conflicted" about princesses!

Today I wore a suit and my 4-year-old said "Oh Mommy! How pretty you are! No, wait, you are fancy. Very fancy."

Followed by, "Is that Daddy's suit?" I told him that Mommys wear suits too. He said "Oh, OK."

The baby girl is just 1, so I haven't gone there yet--but I have this feeling that she will like pink and stuff. And I think I will tell her that one person can have many different moods and styles. Sometimes princess, sometimes pirate.

I'll let ya know how THAT goes.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I try to tell Bri that makeup and nailpolish and fancy dresses have their place, but if she wants to co hiking and camping, it isn't going to work. I don't wear makeup every day and I won't stop her when she wants to wear it, but if she comes to the conclusion that sleep is more precious than a flatiron, I'm right behind her.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Magpie said...

I say, tongue in cheek, that I never learned how to be a real girl - because I've never learned how to wear makeup. I think lipstick looks funny on me, the purpose of foundation eludes me, and I can't be bothered with mascara. But still, the girlie wants to wear make-up; her grandmother indulges her. It's a weird balance.

I like the Miyazaki movies, because they're full of strong girl characters, who don't wear sequins or make-up.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So tell her the truth. Tell her that Princess are make believe, and sometimes girls (women?) get to have Princess days, and a wedding is most certainly one of them, but Princesses in makeup and big dresses cannot make mud pies, climb trees, pet frogs, etc., and so.... the Princess days are few and far between, because there are so many other interesting things to do. And why not add, for good measure, that sometimes makeup makes it hard for people to see your soul. Anyone can have a pretty face, with some makeup, but you, my dear Catherine, have a beautiful soul, which should not spend much time behind Princess make up masks. Certainly, Emilia is no different....

1:36 PM  
Blogger Parent Club said...

I have to admit - I got "dolled up" for a girl's night out on Friday. The kids loved my sparkly necklace. The hubs loved the tightish shirt. They all asked me to stay in rather than go out.

And you know what...it felt good. I felt wanted (by both kids & hubs).

Not that I'm giving up the yogawear anytime soon. but I might "doll up" when they least expect it.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Trista said...

Hear hear, this is brilliant. I have a 9-month old daughter and will undoubtedly be struggling with the 'princess' issue in the near future. I both embrace it and refute it(often at the same time) and will have to figure out how to teach her how to be feminine and strong and smart and funny and thrilled with exactly the way she looks (but also encourage hygiene).

8:54 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Beautifully expressed, Cath. I grapple with this too. It's hard to say "you're beautiful the way you are" when they see mommy jabbing her eye with that goopy black wand thing.

I think you just tell her what you're thinking: There's a time for princesses, and a time for tree climbers, and a time for truck pushers, and time for crayon artists, and hopefully you're all of the above.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how you are so open to feedback on how you raise your kids, what you say to them, how you relate with them. Maybe that is your inner beauty shining through without makeup or sparkles.
My kids - one boy, one girl - talk about how everyone is beautiful and everyone is different and how absolutely cool that is. My daughter is by no means a princess, but she will occasionally put on her ball gown and go right outside and jump in the mud. Or wear plaid shorts with sheepskin fuzzy boots. She is already her own woman at eight. And I sigh, thank God and just keep doing what we are doing until it is time to do something else.
Peace to the princess in you - both the one in the sparkles and the one without.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From previous comment - I meant to say (but my clicker is faster than my proofreader) With my kids, we talk about...if they talked about it on their own, that would be awesome and I would not need to parent them!! Ha!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

When my oldest daughter was 9 years old, I went to the mall to buy some new clothes for myself, and she was with me. We went to Lane Bryant, where "plus sized" girls go to buy their stuff. I was buying a size 16 for the first time in my life. As I was trying it on, she stood there in the dressing room with me, with little tears dripping down her face.

I asked her what was wrong, and she said "I don't want a fat mother." I was shocked that she would say that. So, I said to her, "I am no different than I was when we walked into the store. If I am happy with the way I look, then you shouldn't be upset about it." I guess it was the right thing to say, because she never ever said anything like that to me again. She's 35 now, but I will never forget that day. I am still a big girl. I still feel comfortable with my size.

11:21 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Girls this age are urgent and unsure about the gravitational pull of self-centredness... beauty... vanity.

They are astounded we are not in that boat with them I think. I recognize the incredulity in the eye poking of E.

I have bandied this about a lot. And on that first post I believe Crunchy Carpets' comment really says it all.

When in doubt, I love Shrek.

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Christy said...

I'm new here...I LOVE this post! My youngest daughter always gives me a hard time when I wear make-up now (like an accusation as you said--she doesn't like it) which doesn't happen very often because like you said--15 more minutes of sleep will ALWAYS win!

I wish I could say I felt comfortable enough in my own skin not to care most of the time...but I don't; and I do care (especially when I get to school to pick up my daughter & there's 10 other moms all made up and dressed in actual clothes--not yoga pants & a t-shirt!)

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is where my granola-eating side kicks in. I think it is incredible how soon children become socialized into gender norms and ideals. I think it's great to have the talk about how "pretty" can come in many forms, that women can look like and be like many things, and also that there are a lot of other qualities in women that can make them attractive other than just their appearance. BUT...it seems like unless you lock them in the house, there's no way to avoid the eventual socialization toward princesses=feminine=pretty and everything else is something less.


I'm worried about that part of having children. And it's not just the little girls. I worry about my boys not being able to cry without feeling ashamed or having some concept that being a man means being muscular/violent/unemotional. I think it's really hard to make sure your kids have a balance. I don't have children yet, but just another thing I think a lot about how I'm going to handle when it does happen.

9:59 PM  
Blogger MG @ MommyGeekology said...

My daughter loves, loves, loves the princesses... all her dolls are princesses. Her favorite dresses are princess dresses. She'll eat her chicken if I tell her it's princess chicken.

And apparently I'm clueless, or not thinking deeply enough... because these thoughts about the concept of beauty and how the Disney Princesses skew that? Never entered my brain.

It's too late now to avoid Princesses, of course... but now I'm thinking of how to reinforce natural beauty over all.

4:46 PM  

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