Monday, December 16, 2013

On Being Ornamental

We called our paternal grandmother "Mammy" because that is the kind of thing you get to do when you have a Irish/ southern upbringing.

Mammy used colorful language.  I don't mean she was profane (outside of, sigh, the occasional racial slur), I mean she had a host of these Irish expressions she'd pull out with great style.  For example, Mammy would hand a broom to me and instruct me to make myself "useful as well as ornamental."

It's funny, right?  You are welcome to use it with your own children.  Consider it a gift.  And despite what I'm fixing to write below, I'm going to keep using it because it is an excellent expression.

Moving on...

Just a few minutes ago, I was upstairs arguing with Laney about what she would wear tomorrow to the play we're going to.  And all through the argument I was hating myself for arguing with her. I can tell it hurts her feelings when I don't like the clothes she chooses.  I get disgusted with myself when I pull her hair off her face because I think she looks prettier that way.  This emphasis I put on Laney's prettiness is uncool.  I should not make an ornament of my little girl.  She is not decorative.

I mean to appreciate her beauty in the way she wants to present it, not in the way I want it to be presented.  She is my beautiful girl who only wants to wear turtlenecks or hoodies with leggings and who cannot tolerate the idea of any foofaws in her hair.  But I fail all the time.  I find myself, despite loud internal remonstrations, urging her towards a convention which privileges ornamentalism.

Here's a fun thought experiment.   Google the term "beautiful girl." Wait, I'll do it for you:

The Brits have this great word they use: "samey."  Aren't these women "samey"?   All hair and boobs (and Hermione, interestingly).  This is not to say those aren't beautiful girls.  But can't we expand our ideas of what a beautiful girl is?  Does it only have to be white girls with low body fat, luxe hair and ample boobs?

I've spent a good chunk of my life dissatisfied with the way I look.  If you added it all up, I bet I've spent a solid year of my life wishing I looked different.  And I'm terrified of passing that on to my daughter.  I'm so afraid that my displeasure at the way she looks will start her down that path of self-loathing, endemic to American women who take it as gospel that the only acceptable way to look is to look like those women in the picture above.  

I hate that I privilege this dangerously narrow standard of beauty and I'm trying to stop.  I haven't managed to do it yet.  But I'm trying.  I'm trying.   And I don't kid myself that I have the power to insulate her from it.  But I can try.  


Our argument about what she would wear tomorrow ended with my apology.  I was wrong.  I told her I was wrong and I apologized.  This is all I can do. Tomorrow, she will wear her favorite red turtleneck and black leggings which is a lovely, Christmas-y outfit which she is comfortable in and which she likes.  She'll flip her necklace out over the turtleneck and show off the charms she's collected.  And she will look like Laney and she will look beautiful.

The dress I bought her will stay in the closet.  And I won't mention it again.