The other day I was looking for my eyebrow brush. I know, if you're one of my male readers you may be left wondering why on earth anyone would need such a thing, so I'll just tell you straight up. Yes, there is such a thing. Yes, women really do use them. No, they're not expensive – no need to launch into a rant over them. The point here is, mine was missing.
It's not something I would misplace – it always goes back to the very same spot. I don't wander the house aimlessly brushing my lustrous eyebrows. It's not something Mike would use, and if I asked him its whereabouts we'd have to have the whole conversation discussed above. Totally not worth the effort. As I was grumbling and searching, I realized that quite a few things in my bathroom repertoire were missing. Things were not as I had left them – there had definitely been some rummaging going on.
It only took a few steps down the hall to realize where the eyebrow brush and a handful of other beauty supplies were: Elena's room.
It's funny how quickly it happens. One moment you're guarding your bathroom for fear of what your baby girl will get into that will send you scrambling for poison control. The next thing you know, you're guarding your bathroom for fear of what your big girl will get into that will send you scrambling for Sephora.
In all actuality, I know she's not old enough to warrant any of these primping supplies. It will be years before she'll leave this house wearing actual make-up. There is nothing on her body that needs curled or tweezed or buffed.
She is 8 and she is beautiful and she knows it down to her bones. In the evenings, as I read to her and she readies herself for bed, she spends a good portion of her time in front of her full-length mirror. She poses and preens and juts her hips this way and that. I never comment, just keep reading and let her do her thing. It's the kind of thing that might make a parent uncomfortable – this overt love of her body. It doesn't bother me, though. And while I would never out and out encourage it (work it, baby!), I refuse to discourage it.
You see, I can never remember a time when I was in love with the way I looked. At Elena's age I was already awkward, with big teeth and even bigger glasses. I was always on the chunky side, never slim or even athletically-built. If I spent time gazing in front of the mirror, it was never in admiration. More likely, I was picking apart this feature or that.
It wasn't until near the end of high school that I realized that I wasn't the ugly duckling I'd imagined myself to be. And you might think that's okay, that's normal, and maybe it is. But whether it was that it took me so long to figure out my own inherent beauty, or just a general lack of self-esteem, that realization that I was attractive did not set me free.
It was as if knowing it was there, but that it hadn't always been there, rendered it not as special. I had a sense that this attractiveness was fleeting and I had better use it while I could. And so began a string of poor choices throughout my early college years. I cheated on a boy that I really did love, just because someone else paid attention to me. In the time between that failed relationship and when I started dating Mike seriously, I had flings with boys who didn't really care about me, let alone love me.
Even today, after years of unconditional love and time to mature in thought, I still have a warped sense of my self. I still don't see beauty where others do. It comes and goes, but most days I still feel as awkward as my middle-school self.
The world I want for my daughter is one where she can love her body, whether it's a size 6 or a 12 or a 22, and not feel guilty about it. I want a world where it's okay to feel pretty and smart, hand raised to answer a teacher's question, lip gloss in the other. I want her to go out in a world where she can dress in a way that makes her feel feminine without having to worry that she'll be blamed for the effect it has on a boy's ability to act like a gentlemen. I know there are more pressing issues in the world today, but these things? I think they're important too.
That's why I refuse to let my own insecurities sway my daughter's perception of herself. No, I won't be buying her eye shadow or taking her to the salon any time soon. I don't make it a point to shower her with compliments on her sparkling eyes or her killer arms. But I will let her exercise some vanity. And she can even use my eyebrow brush.
This post is part of a blog carnival to help raise awareness for the Joyful Heart Foundation. It's being hosted by my friend Rebecca over at Country-Fried Mama today. The Joyful Heart Foundation is a non-profit founded by Mariska Hargitay. Joyful Heart’s initial and primary mission is to help victims of sexual assault mend their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. The foundation is also at the forefront of an effort to end a disheartening backlog of tens of thousands of rape kits in labs across the country. I hope you'll take a moment to read some of the other essays, and if you feel called to do so, lend your support to the Joyful Heart Foundation.