The feminist inside me is screaming,
"Don't do it you fool! Don't let your five year old daughter fall into the trap!"
And the mother inside me is quietly sad, knowing that this is what my daughter has begged for and which, despite my qualms, I am supporting.
We have gone to a large beauty chain store, where at a make up bar, black clad women flit silently like mime artists in between prospective clients, and murmur encouragingly 'Oh, what long eyelashes you have!'
Only this time they're saying it to my daughter.
My daughter who is an amazing creature and more, far more beautiful in my eyes than anyone else in the world. She has blonde curly hair, crystal blue eyes and lips of deep vermillion; they need no colour enhancement. But she, like every other girl in her class, is just crazy about Frozen and Tangled. And both princesses are portrayed eternally made up (don't tell me Elsa achieves those long sweeping eyelashes without any help) and with highly unrealistic long blonde hair (hair that gets dragged around a forest without one bloody twig getting stuck in it). And so for the past one and a half years, my daughter has had a definition of what pretty is. It includes silver tiaras, straightened hair, long eyelashes and lipstick.
One day she asks me.
"Why are you so pretty today?"
I am wearing a dress, a silver necklace and make up. For once I have actually combed my hair because I have a client meeting, instead of what I usually wear. Jeans. Scrunchied up hair. No make up.
"Don't you think I look pretty normally?" I ask laughing.
"No," she says. "Sometimes you look cool. But not pretty."
My daughter knows exactly what the world means by pretty. To be pretty is to be the princess... as pretty as a princess. To be pretty is to be the heroine. She thinks in terms of black and white, good and evil. Few little girls want to be despised as much as the villains in our collective narrative and there are no ugly princesses, for we make 'ugly' equal 'wicked'. The stepsisters, the witches and the evil Queens. Ugly people have no beauty inside.
And as I've committed to supporting my daughter as she explores the world, when she wistfully asks me if she can be pretty, I don't answer her anymore with the words which ring from my own childhood,
"You're already pretty darling, you don't need any of that muck on your face."
Because I remember what it was like. Denied the possibility by my mother - for the best of intentions no doubt - to be pretty. Wanting desperately to be what the world called pretty, but never allowed to be. Told I was already pretty, but knowing that it was a lie. Because the Disney I grew up with was Cinderella, an un-made up nobody without a posh frock, a beautiful hair-do and golden shoes. How those things helped her transition from nobody to somebody and allowed her to escape her horrible life. I aspired to be an age when I could transition from nobody to somebody with a deft flick of my mascara wand.
If I could change the world's gendered normative values I would. But that's not the reality we live in today and I need to teach my daughter how to cope in this world. The one we have built. And I don't want to lie to her about it. Instead when my daughter wants to, we dress up to be 'pretty'. That includes doing her hair, putting on a dress and playing with Mummy's make up.
But other times we dress up to be a witch in stripy stockings black nail polish and purple lipstick. Or a cat, where I nobly sacrifice my kohl eyeliner in the name of whiskers and a pert nose. And instead of telling my daughter, 'no you can't wear make up', I tell her that being 'pretty', like being 'a cat' or being 'a witch' are only masks anyone can wear if they have the right clothes and make up.
I try and make it one of many expressions of herself. I say it's important to remember they are only masks and you can always take them off. And I tell her, it's far more important to know who she is beneath them because the only true friends you make are those with whom you don't have to wear any mask... at all.
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