January 26, 2011

Promises to My Daughter

This is a long-delayed followup to a post about my relationship to my toddler daughter's clothes and grooming. And my complicity in her indoctrination into compulsory femininity. And my intention to get her on Toddlers and Tiaras as soon as possible.
Uh, no. (via tlc.com)

I promise that in addition to telling you that you are beautiful, I will tell you that you are strong, smart, brave and generally amazing.

I promise to tell you are beautiful even when you respond, "You're my mother! You have to say that!"

I promise never to tell you to remove your body hair, pluck your eyebrows or wear makeup.

I promise that if you ask me about doing these things, I will teach you how in an informed and age-appropriate way.

I promise to let you wear your hair however you want.

Uh, sure, but you'll need to help pay for it out of your allowance / birthday money / babysitting wages (via sodahead.com).

Though since my hair was short and partly royal blue when E was born she'll likely rebel with long sausage curls and subtle blond highlights.

I promise to nag you about flossing, sunscreen, and cleaning under your fingernails.

I promise to continue to avoid talking about my body and/or face in negative ways in front of you. I don't want you to learn the sentences "I'm so fat," "My skin looks like a topographical map of Mars," or "I am as hairy as a Yeti" from me.

I promise to let you wear what you want, within reason, though I absolutely insist on retaining veto power.
Uh, also no. (via badmouthbaby.com)

I promise to teach you about gender's multiplicity and fluidity, both in general and in relation to appearance.

I promise to continually undercut the misogyny woven into ladymags and advertising campaigns.

I promise to keep trying to keep these promises, even when I screw things up.


  1. Toddlers & Tiaras is just all kinds of wrong. I haven't even seen it, but wow, the commercials...

    Anyway. This is such a beautiful post! I hope that you'll show it to E. someday when she's old enough. All girls should be so lucky to grow up with a mom like you. My mom still follows up compliments with "and I'm not just saying that because I'm your mother" and I still respond with "Awww Mom, you HAVE to say that!" so I suppose we never outgrow that one.

  2. I agree. You are the best. I have remind myself not to talk down my looks in front my teen sister (although I was too young to know better back in the day) and she doesn't believe me when I tell her how beautiful she is. And stylish.
    Here's to creating more confident young women, with a strong sense of worth in their own grace, humor, intelligence, and abilities!

  3. Seems like just common sense to me not to use word "fat" in front of my kids (neither directed to my own body, or somebody elses). But I guess it's not common sense and I hear lots of people being negative about themselves and others. That's a no-no in my family.
    Well said, Kelly B.
    I think I can give my kids freedom in what to wear but I just hope and pray they will have better fashion sense than wearing tees with "Hollister" written across or sweats with sayings across the bottom. Yeek! One can only hope.

    I saw a small episode of Toddlers and Tiaras and... no parent is perfect, but I really don't understand THAT!

  4. sorry, I'm back. I just wanted to add that I love what you do about following "beautiful" with "strong, smart, brave and generally amazing". I need to do more of that myself. I think my daughter got the beautiful part down really well, b/c ones when I told her she was beautiful she replied "I know Mommy!" LOL

    And another two cents of mine... This is in no relation to gender.. I hope I can encourage my kids to follow their passion in life. I wish so badly now I had followed my passion for art... I just think it's so important to be doing what you enjoy doing (for work I mean).

  5. Kelly.B--excellent resolutions, although I know that after raising 3 daughters it is easier to hold the intention that it is to "enforce" these generous principles. In practice, I found my daughters slathering on thick makeup at the bus stop, even though their mother wore none and I hadn't a clue where they got it! Reinforced fitness mags until I was blue in the face, only to find the Cosmo juniors under the bed. Purchased clothing only to have them swap it with girlfriends before they'd worn it once...and on and on and on.

    the trouble is that they have wills of their own.

  6. Just put kids down and had to come back. Sorry, it just touched me so. You probably would not believe some of the gender stereotypes and double standard when I was growing up in Georgia (the country). That was part of the reason I did not want to stay there.
    Came here 17 years ago to be surprised as to find lots of double standard and unrealistic and unfair expectations from different genders in America. I mean I love America of course, but just saying... I met some people who you'd think grew up in some remote mountain village in Georgia! LOL
    I remember when I got married here little old American ladies asking me if I was ready to cook and all. I remember being mad, thinking my husband did NOT get married b/c he needed a cook or a housekeeper. He married me b/c he loved me!!! ;) oh, well... sorry for all my rant today.
    Thanks for this post. BTW, never tried funky fair myself but love bright blue on others.

  7. @Anne: I bet your Mom is totally sincere in her compliments, though I admit that Mom-colored glasses are as rose as can be.

    @Rad: The fact that we have to remind ourselves not to talk down our looks / bodies in front of daughters and younger sisters makes me realize how habitual self-deprecation can be. We should all stop that.

    @Maya: I like the household rule of "No saying negative things about yourself or others." Such a kind thing to incorporate into family life. As for poor style, it seems to be par for the course for teenagers, but with you around I'm sure your kids will get through that phase quickly!

    Balancing out comments about my daughter's looks with comments about her other qualities came about in response to compliments from strangers. E is beautiful and friendly strangers often tell her so, but I don't want her to ever thing that's the most important thing about her.

    Encouraging our kids to follow their passions and support them in doing so: YES YES YES. Such a gift.

    Also: America (and Canada, where I grew up) are far from egalitarian. Things are better than they were, but there's a lot left to change. Look, now I'm all riled up!

    @Terri:You're so right about the divergence between intention and reality when it comes to parenting. I've already seen that: I never intended to paint my toddler's toenails, but last summer I did it. Ongoing negotiation, reconfiguration...

    I actually remember putting eyeshadow on at a friend's house wen I was only allowed to wear lipgloss, buying fashion magazines with my allowance, switching clothes with friends before school. At a certain point you can't possibly enforce all your preferences without being utterly draconian, and even then it probably wouldn't work.

  8. This is so well written! I agree that it's so important to teach kids that it really is what's on the inside that counts. You are such a great mom!

  9. @Kelly: Thanks! I fail daily at the mom game, but I do try.

  10. Those are awesome promises, Kelly!

    Toddlers and Tiaras scares me.