While walking through a big box store, I spotted a large toy for kids. Busy shoppers rushed by and ignored my obnoxious sigh.
The toy was doused in pink and purple, with a little girl sitting on a bench. Sounds harmless, right? There’s more. The little table contained a mirror, toy hair dryer, and plastic curling iron. It was a full vanity. Presumably the four year-old girl on the box was about to primp for her day at preschool.
I immediately cycled through the three stages of #girlmom parenting angst.
First, I was frustrated. Why are we selling toys that make five year-old girls feel like they need to change their appearances? Isn’t it bad enough that they see unattainable, barely-clothed female bodies masquerading as “fitness inspiration” on health magazines at the grocery store?
Then I got mad.
We don’t market these toys to boys. In fact, the pink and purple decorations function successfully as a “no boys allowed” sign, informing children and parents that this is “not appropriate” for boys. There’s no blue vanity that tells boys they need to get gussied up in the morning. No, boys can just run and play.
Then the last stage hit – the most uncomfortable one.
After all, I have a real-life wood vanity in my room. I put makeup on every time I go to work. My toddler imitates everything I do, and she has started to ask “Mommy, whachu doin’?” when I sit there.
As a parent determined to free my child from highly-gendered toys, books, and clothes that reinforce outdated stereotypes, and boost up her body image, I suddenly felt like a disappointment. What lessons am I teaching my daughter about appearance?
I know what you’re thinking. Relax, it’s just makeup. It’s not like you’re putting her on a diet or offering her a boob job.
But I need a solid explanation for my habits, otherwise it’s “do as a I say, not as I do” parenting. So how do I explain to my daughter why I wear makeup?
Number one. It’s fun!
Yeah, not so much. My version of fun these days is reading a book alone, going shopping alone, cooking alone, or… yes, doing pretty much anything alone, even cleaning out the closet.
When you rush to pack lunches, console a toddler who’s crying because you chose the “wrong” socks for her to wear, and dash from the house for daycare drop-off before twenty more emails land in your inbox, makeup isn’t exactly a fun part of the morning routine.
It feels more like another household task that must be executed quickly but carefully, like measuring infant formula or shaving your ankle bones. If you get it wrong, it could go badly.
Number two. It’s art! It’s a form of self-expression!
Hmm… true self-expression would find me blaring the latest Paramore album instead of Wheels on the Bus, or going to an art gallery instead of the children’s room at the library. (Who am I kidding, I didn’t even go to art galleries before having kids.)
But these days makeup feels less like artistic expression and more like household maintenance – like caulking the cracks in the bathtub. A necessary evil as a homeowner. Do I whip out the bronzer to contour my cheeks à la Kerry Washington? No, I’m mostly trying not to look like a sickly chorus member of Les Miserables.
Number three. Women wear makeup, and men don’t.
Well, that’s not true either. We all learned in the ’90’s from Rickie on My So-Called Life that some guys can carry off eyeliner. It turns out it can be kinda hot, too, on certain rock stars. I’m looking at you, Brandon Flowers.
And not all women wear makeup. Our girls need to know that their faces are beautiful and perfect on their own. They don’t need anything to change it.
Ok, we’re starting to run out of ideas for why mommy wears makeup. Help!
Number four. Well, sweetie, Mommy wears makeup because it’s a patriarchal-imposed duty to make myself more attractive to heterosexual men and our appearance-obsessed society.
No, this one isn’t going to work.
My husband and I chose not to discover our unborn child’s sex before birth to avoid an avalanche of sparkly tutus or a flood of “all-star” onesies. I’m consciously not introducing princess paraphernalia to her because she’ll discover it through friends soon enough, and I don’t want her fixated on beauty and appearance at a young age. I even founded a website to combat gender stereotypes fed to kids at a young age so that she never feels pressured to be someone she’s not, or suppress her true interests.
I’d surely get an “F” in Feminism 101 with this line.
Number five. Honey, Mommy’s tired, and I’m trying to look professional.
If I’m going for honesty, we’re getting warmer. To put my best foot forward in a professional setting, positive grooming skills are not only appropriate, but encouraged. Ok, fine, sometimes I wear jeans.
But the struggle to look awake is real. (I know, I know, that phrase is passé, but so is my lip gloss.) Friends and family are astounded when they learn I made it through college, law school, and a newborn without serious caffeine. I love chocolate and tea, but they lack coffee’s superpowers. This means sleep is critical to my ability to avoid looking like a cast member of The Walking Dead. With a toddler, that’s not always possible.
Whether my kid wakes up from a nightmare in the middle of the night or my cursed internal alarm clock rings at 5:33am, my face rarely does that dewy, glowy J. Lo thing.
So if I had to pick an explanation today, it would be: “Kid, Daddy’s got coffee; Mommy’s got mascara. Now let’s go buy you a toy truck.”
Catherine Bailey is a women’s rights advocate, recovering lawyer, and founder of Think or Blue, a community of parents, teachers, and family who believe children thrive best in a world free of stereotypes. She wants to trade her eyeliner for dark chocolate and Gilmore Girls. Her work has been published on Mediaversity Reviews and Phase 2 Parenting. Find Catherine on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Links: https://twitter.com/ThinkOrBlue www.instagram.com/thinkorblue www.facebook.com/thinkorblue