When I was 11 my best friend wore a pair of white tights to church. She had dark brown hair and Italian heritage. Thick leg hair stuck out through the tights and could be seen under them. She was so embarrassed. Everyone pointed and laughed and asked why her hairs were so long. She tearfully told us her parents refused to teach her to shave.
When I was in high school I went to school every day for two years with facial hair. I didn’t notice it myself because it was so normal for me. But, my peers noticed. By senior year a guy in my class leaned in, stared at my face, and said, “Why do you have a mustache?” I was horrified. I went home and shaved it and wondered why my mother never taught me about such things.
I believe these experiences taught me two valuable lessons:
1.) We should not be defined by our physical appearance. My friend wasn’t any less wonderful just because she was a hairy pre-teen. And I wasn’t any less wonderful just because I had a mustache at 17. Not being obsessed with my appearance is part of my creed now, which probably surprises people, given I run a makeup and beauty blog/Instagram. My mother both intentionally and unintentionally taught me I was more than my body and my looks.
2.) I should have been prepared for how cruel and shallow the world can be. I needed someone to lovingly guide me into adulthood and femininity. I craved it. I personally needed it. And yet I was left to my own devices over and over again, always figuring out how to do things like shave my legs, buy a bra, insert a tampon, or apply mascara by myself in the age before the internet and YouTube tutorials.
When I became a parent I wanted to give my daughter what I didn’t have and some of what I did have. I want her to understand body hair is normal, but if she decides she doesn’t like it, there are ways to remove it. I want her to know there’s nothing wrong with her natural hair, but if she’d like to experiment with color or cuts or styles, I can accommodate those needs and we can experiment with them together.
I’m walking this fine line between guiding but not hand holding. I want her to know she is just fine the way she is, but if she decides she wants to change something, that’s okay too. And this goes beyond hair and shaving or not shaving. I want her to love her body as it is, but also feel confident to change it if she desires it to change. I want her to love her identity as it is, but again, have the tools and support needed to change or adjust it if she needs to.
So, I let my 9 year old wear makeup.
When I’m doing my makeup she comes into my room with me, pulls out her own makeup brushes and her own palettes and her own lipsticks and glosses, and we do our makeup together. And we love it.
She leans more artistic, painting her face like dragons or demons or reptiles or fish. I do more practical and wearable looks. I ask her for advice. She asks for mine. We bond together, crosslegged on my bed, surrounded by a mess of eyeshadows and glosses.
And sometimes she wears her makeup out, but usually not. We’ve removed the stigma of her wearing makeup so she doesn’t feel the need to wash it off before leaving the house, but she also doesn’t feel the need to wear it out. Usually she washes it all off just because I’ve taught her about skincare and she’s mindful of errant pimples and clogged pores. We’ve found a wonderful balance, she and I. And I’ve worked hard to have it.
So, yes, I let my 9 year old wear makeup. And I let her dye her hair. And I let her wear “boy clothes”. And I let her read adventure books. And I let her completely avoid the Barbie aisle at the toy store. And I let her hate jewelry. And I let her love Harry Potter. And I let her secretly love pink. And I let her not-so-secretly hate dresses.
I let her be who she is because whether I like it or not, she will always be 100% who she is anyways. And when she looks back on her life I want her to say, “My mom taught me to love myself the way I was…and also taught me how to set my concealer.”
I want to be that mom. And I really couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks about it. Because yesterday we discussed which color she’d like to dye her hair next and I asked, “Do you want to try purple like me?” And she replied, “No, I just like the red. I’m going to stick with red. And that’s okay because it’s my body.”
Yes, my love…it is. It really is.