I’m not the perfect princess.
Far from it.
In fact, if there is one thing that I do appreciate about Disney and lots of teen and tween marketing, it’s that neither I nor dolls/characters that look like my children are represented in the straight and narrow ideals of “who is a princess.” While I know my children get frustrated that I haven’t bought them any dolls that aren’t Princess Tiana nor Jasmine, a little piece of me cheers when I realize that it’s one less ideal they need to try to be.
I haven’t yet read the book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, but of course, I’m eager to get my hands on it. After all, it’s a reinforcement of what I believed long before I had children. In fact, my older daughter has albums filled with baby and toddler pictures of her in Spiderman, Superman, or pajamas with trucks on them. We rarely bought her baby dolls — instead, our house was a haven of Hulk, Wonder Woman, and The Thing characters (yes, which I realize are totally not approved for children under 8). Even today, when glancing at baby photos, I actually have trouble figuring out if the round faced, smiling baby in the photos is my daughter or my son.
Fast forward to Child #2. She got the blue and SuperHero hand me downs from her sister, yet Child #2 wore pink dresses to bed. Begged me to color her hair purple by the time she turned 2 1/2 years old. And, she wouldn’t let anyone put her hair up in ponytails because “I love my long hair nice and straight.” By age 3, she convinced me to buy a hot iron so I could straighten her hair on special occasions. Those “special occasions” were called Saturdays.
Then, a funny thing happened.
After my mastectomy, my second daughter — a 4-year old — wanted her hair cut short; not “cute bob” short. She wanted to have it nearly cut all off.
“Are you sure, honey? Are you sure you want to cut your hair super, duper, duper short? I mean, it won’t be long and we can’t straighten it.”
“Mom,” she looked at me like I was an idiot. “You know that girls can have short hair, too, right?”
She caught me. I wasn’t worried about ponytails. I wasn’t worried about losing the fun and joy of straightening her hair with a hot iron on “special occasions”. I was worried she’d look like a boy. And, she knew that I was thinking that.
The over sexualization of tweens and teens freaks me out, especially as the mom of kids who seem to be aging much too fast. Though I certainly wish I was skinnier, wish I was cool enough to wear skinny jeans, UGGs, and a fitted sweater that didn’t have to hide my tummy rolls, I’m glad that, somehow, my kids are learning that inner beauty creates outer beauty.
A few weeks ago, my daughter — the cancer survivor — asked me this question: “Mom, do you think anyone will love me?” She wasn’t asking for verification about me, my husband, her brother and sister. She wanted to know about romantic love, partnered love, married love.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I just don’t think anyone is going to love someone who is fake.”
“Are you fake?” I asked, wondering if she has watched too many episodes of Disney tween shows.
“Well, I have fake eye. Do you know anyone who would love someone with a fake eye?”
Whew. “Yes, babe. I know lots of people who DO love people who HAVE fake eyes. Do you think one day that Tacey and Mayci and Julia and Landon and Parker and Leah and Toby and Zoe and Sena and Grace and the Twins and all your Camp friends with fake eyes will be loved one day?”
“Duh, Mom. Of course they’ll be loved by someone,” she giggled. These kids were her lifeline.
“Well, if you choose to, so will you.”
“Mom? I bet there are people out there who would love me because of who I am on the inside. And, then, maybe they’d also love me because I have a fake eye. Do you think so?”
“Yes,” I said with confidence, trying not to cry at her own self-awareness.
“Mom? Do you think Daddy still loves you?”
“Say more, Jo. Why do you ask?” wondering if she had heard the latest fight — whatever it was — that we may have had.
“Well, I mean, you have fake things now. You have fake boobies. And, well, your boobies look, ya know, kinda weird. So, I guess if Dad can fall in love with you, and then still love you — even if you have something fake — then someone might also love me.”
How do you explain this all to a 7-year old?
I knew we could never shelter our children from outside influences that cause them to second guess who they are, what they should look like, who they should look like, or who they should be. It’s nice to know, though, that they are thinking about what it means.
Peace, love, and finding realness in that which is fake,