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redefining beauty for my daughter

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.

What does a little girl know about beauty? A pretty pebble, a gorgeous garden, a beautiful butterfly–these are the images I would have pictured a month ago. To be honest, I hadn’t contemplated the question much prior to running head-on into it, via a bold statement by my almost-four-year-old daughter.

“I am beautiful because I have long hair.” That’s what my sweet little girl Genevieve said to me a few weeks ago, apropos to nothing in particular. She may have been brushing her Barbie’s hair at the time. At first I shrugged it off as no big deal, just something she had heard at school. The next day she said, “I am more beautiful than _____ (another girl at school) because I have long hair, and she has short hair.”

That’s when I started to wonder: where is she getting her ideas of beauty?

The Disney princesses are an easy target for blame; they are beautiful and all have long hair, ergo my daughter thinks she needs long hair in order to be beautiful. But what if she’s also following someone else’s standard of beauty, like…say…mine? have long hair. groom myself at the mirror, glaring at my wrinkles, plucking my eyebrows, and brushing my long hair. I owe my introspection to Family Sponge for relaying a powerful story of a woman who shaved her head to show her daughter that true beauty is within.

How far will go to send a similar message?

In recent years, my beauty routine has become more practical and natural. Over the past few months, I’ve taken several more steps toward “crunchy” status, leaving me to ponder feelings about my own femininity even prior to my child’s pronouncement of the definition of beauty.

When I was pregnant, I couldn’t stand the smell of perfume and stopped wearing it, and I have now adjusted to the lack of smell to the point that I don’t want to start wearing it again. More recently, I decided to try the “no poo” method of washing my hair and have had fantastic results with the baking soda/vinegar combo. I also stopped using deodorant over the long Boston winter and have unexpectedly stopped needing it as a result. {20-year-old me is now cringing and rolling her eyes.}

In the wake of changing my personal care routine to be more natural and less fussy, I am left wondering: What does it mean to be feminine? To be beautiful? Does my partner of eleven years still want or need a waft of perfume or a shimmering eye lid to see me as feminine?

Before the big cut.

Back to the kid for a moment. My daughter was not into the idea of a hair cut at first. Even after her best friend had hers cut, Genevieve clung to the concept that long hair is better in some way, a way that’s not as of yet even definable by a preschooler. I knew I needed to cut my hair to send her a positive message, but I had no idea how far and how quickly the message would be received.

Last week, I made a call to get an appointment for myself. When I got off the phone, she instantly announced “I want to get my hair cut today too!” I grinned, swooped up the kids, and headed off to the children’s salon–the one that gives lollipops and bubbles as distraction. In an hour, her ponytail was shorn, and we were beaming at her adorable new bob.

Ta da!

Maybe it’s cliche to say that true beauty comes from within, but after this experience, I believe it. I see the brightest smile on her face now, not to mention less of a bath-time struggle. We said goodbye and good riddance to the birds who used to make nests in the back of her hair at night. She styles her hair by herself now in the morning with a quick comb-through and a hair clip or headband. She marches down the stairs proudly to show off her latest creation, to the much adoring “ooohs” and “aaaahs” of her fans (i.e. me and lil’ sis).

It’s almost as though by removing the hair, we removed the topic of conversation, at least for a while. The admiration of her peers at school was more than I expected, and I actually had two moms come up to me after class to tell me their daughters now want short hair too. The bob movement has begun!

As for the fight against the Disney princesses, I am beginning to think I was misguided in categorizing them immediately as a negative influence. Clearly I need to read Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I have given my kids many sources of creative play, and if Genevieve wants to single them out, perhaps she has good reason to put them on a pedestal besides simple brainwashing. She seems enamored with their almost universal ability to talk to and have relationships with animals, which is her most ardent wish.

I recognize that by casting aside all Disney related paraphernalia, I am in some way imposing my own fear of misogyny onto my daughters, even when it comes to simple playthings. However, it can be difficult not worry about our little girls when we are confronted regularly with a media-driven assault on women’s physical appearance (N.B.: Ashley Judd wrote a grand-slam piece on this subject yesterday for The Daily Beast). When I set aside my own feelings about our society’s emphasis on external beauty, I suppose I can see a positive side to the princesses’ presence in our home, moderated of course with plenty of strong female characters like Pippy Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Orphan Annie–and plenty of non-orphans, if only I could think of some at the moment.

With regard to my own internal struggle with femininity, I am thankful to be married to a man who sees and values me for who I am, inside and out. After removing my own ponytail this week (i.e. my shroud of plainness), I am exuding confidence. My natural beauty shines through, just as my daughter’s has. All this time I thought I was going to teach my daughter about beauty, but it turns out she is the one teaching me.

New hair cut. Same girly girl.

p.s. If you have long ponytails like we did, you can consider donating your hair to a number of organizations. Wigs for Kids (12+ inches), Locks of Love (10+ inches), and Children with Hairloss (8+ inches) are just a few. These organizations provide wigs for children who have lost their hair due to medical condition, treatment, or burn accident.

p.p.s. I linked up with Just WriteFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, and Natural Parenting Group’s Monday Blog Hop

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Rub-a-Dub Co-Bathing in Our Tub — Bath time is more than soap and water! That Mama Gretchen shares how co-bathing with her toddler has opened up a world of cleanliness, learning, and bonding.
  • This is How We Take a Bath — Shannon at GrowingSlower shares her special formulas for babywash and a happy bath time.
  • How to Gently Trim Your Toddler’s Nails — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses some of the gentle suggestions she has received to help Little Man overcome his anxiety of having his nails trimmed, as well as how she copes with her need for his nails to be trimmed.
  • Baby bath time and skin careUrsula Ciller shares some simple and natural tips for bathing and skin care.
  • Want Your Child To Love Getting Clean? Have Them Make Their Own Soaps, Shampoos, and Lotions! — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her secret to empowering her daughter to “get clean.” Together, Jennifer and her daughter make their own body washes and lotions which makes clean up time fun!
  • Encouraging Self-care Through Awareness… and Fun — Amy at Presence Parenting shares some tips on how to transform self-care from a struggle into an opportunity — for kids and adults.
  • Caring for kids’ curls — Lauren at Hobo Mama tells you how to clean, condition, comb, and style ringlets and waves on little heads.
  • Playing in the Rain — Jorje of Momma Jorje loves how her family has come to make a family event of showering!
  • The Cleansing Power of the Football — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet talks about her son’s favorite bath buddy.
  • Coconut Oil: Nature’s “Baby Magic” — Megan at The Boho Mama has only one must-have baby care item in her cupboard: Coconut Oil!
  • For Sensitive Kids, Less Is More — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn finds less cleaning is better.
  • Bathtime: Just Another Chance to Play! — Lyndsay at Our Feminist {Play} School discusses the many reasons bath time is important – getting clean isn’t one of them.
  • Hygiene? What hygiene? — Sheila at A Gift Universe confesses some of her most embarrassing hygiene secrets.
  • Confused About Chemicals? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake, Half Asleep describes how to find out where the toxic chemicals are in your house and tips on alternatives.
  • Clipping Those Talons — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings describes the ways her daughter’s tolerance for personal care has changed over time, especially when it comes to nail clipping.
  • Sit Back, Relax and Unschool Hygiene — Instead of focusing on tactics of how to ‘get’ your child to focus on hygiene, Authentic Parenting explains how to help your child internalize hygienic standards.
  • Help! My Tot will not let me brush her teeth!Mudpiemama shares five positive ways to help toddlers brush teeth and sabotage the tooth fairy’s secret conspiracy.
  • Self Care and the Spirited Child — Amy at Toddler In Tow shares how a balancing act between independence and connectedness helps her spirited child learn appropriate self-care.
  • Hairbrushing is a Safety IssueDulce de leche guest posting at Natural Parents Network explains that although tangles are not a safety issue, self-confidence and body boundaries are.
  • 15 Ideas to Prepare Toddlers and Preschoolers for Dental Procedures — Dionna at Code Name: Mama is sharing ideas on how to thoughtfully prepare little ones for dental visits (particularly those that require anesthesia).
  • Holistic Care of your Toddler’s Teeth — Erica at ChildOrganics tells a tale of her children’s teeth issues and how she uses homeopathy and good nutrition to keep cavities at bay.
  • Bath Time Bliss : Fuss-Free Bath Time for Toddlers — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares how she has made bath time completely fuss free for both her and her toddler.
  • Homemade Natural ToothpasteCity Kids Homeschooling hosts a guest post on a homemade natural toothpaste recipe that kids will love!
  • Bathing Strike StrategiesCrunchy Con Mommy offers her best tips for keeping your little ones clean when they refuse to bathe.
  • Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygeine — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses the importance of supporting a child’s bodily autonomy in the prevention of abuse.
  • A Tub Full of Kiddos! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment has kiddos who love the water, so bathtime is a favorite evening activity!
  • The Trials of Tidying My Toddler — Adrienne at Mommying My Way shares the difficulties she has with getting her on-the-go son to be still enough to get clean.
  • Wiped Clean — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen shares her recipe for homemade diaper wipe solution to clean those sweet little cloth diapered bottoms in her home!
  • Snug in a Towel: Embracing Personal Grooming — Personal care is time consuming,especially with more than one child; but the mama at Our Muddy Boots is learning to embrace this fleeting and needful time.
  • EC: All or Nothing? — Elimination Communication. Even the title sounds complicated and time consuming. It doesn’t have to, if you adapt it to meet your family’s needs, says Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy
  • Routine Battles — In a guest post at Anktangle, Jorje of Momma Jorje outlines a simple incentive to help inspire your little one to follow a routine.
  • Redefining Beauty For My Daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger relays her struggle to define her own femininity and how her preschooler unexpectedly taught her a lesson in true beauty.
  • Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Three Girls In The Tub — Chrystal at Happy Mothering shares how she turns bath time into a few minutes of peace and quiet.
  • Montessori-Inspired Activities for Care of Self — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has a roundup of Montessori-inspired activities for care of self and ideas for home environments that encourage independence.
  • 10 Gentle Tips for Little Ones Who Hate the Bath — Kim at life-is-learning gives 10 tips to get your little one into the bath and maybe even enjoying it.
  • The Boy With The Long Hair — Liam at In The Now discusses his son’s grooming choices.
  • Personal Care in a Montessori Home — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings shares a summary of the ways she has organized her family’s home to make for easy, Montessori-inspired toddler personal care.
  • Styling Kids — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is letting her kids decide what to look like.
  • Clean Kids: Laundry and Bath Tips — Kimberly at Homeschooling in Nova Scotia shares tips on how to get your children helping with laundry plus recipes for laundry and liquid soap.
  • How to Clean Your Children Naturally: A Tutorial — Erika at Cinco de Mommy shows you how to clean your children.
  • Cleaniliness is next to… dirt — The lapse-prone eco-mom (Kenna at Million Tiny Things) sometimes forgets to bathe the kids. Except in the mud pit.