By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Yesterday 6-year-old Jack and 3-year-old Kate found me standing at the bathroom mirror hurriedly putting on my make-up. I was rushing to get ready and get out the door, which is inevitably the time little kids will ask their most pressing questions.
Jack: “Why are you putting on your make-up, Mom?”
Me: “Because I have to go have my picture made for a work project.”
Jack: “But why do you need make-up to do that?”
Me: “Because I want to look nice for the picture.”
Kate: “What would happen if you don’t put on your make-up?”
Me: “What do you mean, honey?”
Kate: “Would you not be pretty and shiny if you don’t put on your make-up?”
Me: (Pausing for a long moment because I suddenly realized how important the next answer really was. I stopped and looked her in the eye.) “I would still be pretty and shiny if I didn’t put on my make-up. It’s not make-up that makes a person pretty.”
Kate: “Then why do you put on your make-up?”
Me: (Finding it hard to explain.) “Well…because I just like it.”
Kate: “Oh. (Long pause.) Can I have an orange popsicle now?”
That’s the great thing about 3-year-olds. A change of subject is always right around the corner because they think of something like orange popsicles and quickly move on to a new topic. I, on the other hand, could not stop thinking about that conversation.
Since our little exchange, I’ve been asking myself questions I don’t have all the answers for. Do I really put on make-up because I like it? Do I believe I can be “pretty and shiny” without it? Why do men get to be handsome without mascara yet most women feel naked when we leave the house without it?
More importantly, how do I teach my daughter that femininity and being a woman is about so much more than the face we put on in the morning?
Those few moments answering questions while primping in front of the mirror have made me realize just how much the “little things” impact a kid’s view of the world. I, like so many other women I know, am sometimes guilty of dismissing compliments or glancing in a mirror and saying things like “Ugh. I look awful today.” Or “Could my hair look any worse right now?” Of course, I’d always thought it was okay to do this because it was only myself I was cutting down. But now I’m seeing that it’s much bigger than that. And I don’t want to teach my daughter or my sons that beauty and self-worth are found at the bottom of a cosmetic bag. And that a bad hair day equates to ugly failure.
Ironically, I’m getting a better handle on self-image thanks to aging. Although my looks might not be getting better with time, my ability to accept my own looks does improve each year. And I’m learning to be more thankful for a healthy body that works because there are lots of people praying to have the very thing so many of us take for granted.
There was a time I wouldn’t have even gone to the grocery store without first doing my hair and make-up. But these days I can do it without much angst – not because I don’t care about myself but because I now care less about what other people might think. That’s not to say that other people’s opinions don’t matter because they often do. It just means that I’m old enough to realize that people are far too busy with their own lives to spend much brain energy wondering why I didn’t have make-up on that day.
After a lot of thought, I’ve decided I told our little girl the truth yesterday: I really do like make-up. When I have plenty of time, I even enjoy putting it on, and I like the way I feel when I’m done. But it’s also important to like my plain old face, too. And I have to be willing to show the kids that I can sometimes go without make-up – that “beautiful” is an attitude of kindness and confidence, not something a person can get with a few layers of Cover Girl. If I can get that message through to them, I think they’ll grow up to be beautiful where it counts most.