There are so many ways of choosing how to present oneself as a woman, and explaining that to your daughter is…complicated.
Photo by: Lynie
“Winnie need some!”
“You don’t need any, sweetheart. It’s not necessary.”
I realize my not-quite-two daughter parroting back the word doesn’t truly mean she thinks it’s necessary for her to have some of the makeup I’m applying to my face in the bathroom. Nonetheless, there’s a pang of guilt.
I think about how I will explain why I wear makeup someday when she’s a little older and finally asks. I can feel it, the “Why?” stage is peeking its head around the corner, it’ll be here any minute now. There are lots of options, a whole brimming buffet of choice explanations. I imagine how I will explain these tubes on the counter, the reason behind their existence there.
“I wear makeup because the patriarchy demands that I do so if I want to be taken remotely seriously.”
“I wear makeup because social beauty standards, largely linked to the male gaze, make this the more socially acceptable choice.”
“I wear makeup because I like it.”
Except that could just as easily be, “I wear makeup because I like the iron bars of this sociologically prescriptive male-gaze-influenced ‘feminine’ cage I am stuck in! Everything I like is a lie! I’ve never tasted real steak, only the idea of it! The Matrix is real!”
There are so many ways of choosing how to present oneself as a woman. Makeup, no makeup, shaving, no shaving, heels and a dress, menswear…This is not to say that what kind of woman we are is based on what we wear and do to our bodies…but also, oh how it is. As women, we are only just recently getting the opportunity to make so many of those bodily choices ourselves, to be the masters of them.
Now that I have this tiny little girl of my own to raise and hopefully not mess up TOO badly, I’m trying to figure out how to talk about the choices we make in relation to the infrastructure that exists around those choices, surrounding them like social scaffolding. Makeup, the wearing or not wearing of it, doesn’t really live in a vacuum.
But then, nothing exists in a vacuum, aside from dust bunnies. It’s a hard balance with little kids because it’s easy to see their requests as not particularly loaded. I don’t think little kids ask for princess clothes because they want to be seen as helpless damsels in distress in need of a man–I think they want this stuff because it’s made to be wanted; it’s sparkly, and pretty, and above all appealing. As a parent, I see the scaffolding, but all she’ll know is the thing itself. It’s my job to approve or disapprove while navigating what it means to me versus what it means to her, how much I’m willing to bend outside of my personal feminine and sometimes feminist preferences to what might turn out to be her different ones. I get to make choices for her, but I don’t get to decide what kind of person she ultimately wants to be.
So in the end, I don’t want to teach Winnie how to be one kind of girl. One kind of girl doesn’t exist. In my life, I’ve been different girls, different women too, as I change and grow. We can all contain multitudes! You can like makeup and menswear, glitter and geography, baking and baseball and bugs…these things are not actually in opposition, contrary to popular opinion. If you choose one, you’re still allowed to choose the others too.
But more importantly, I want to impart that who someone is isn’t really based on what they like. The things we like, the things we wear–they’re all connectors and signifiers, but they don’t make us who we are. Whether or not a woman wears makeup doesn’t really define her soul, even if it might define some of her values or ideals.
Winnie hasn’t asked, but I think when she does, I’ll opt for the simplest answer first: I wear makeup because I like how I look with it, and she can wear it when she’s older if she still wants to then.
If she asks to wear Insane Clown Posse (ICP) makeup though, I’ll have to draw the line there. That is one multitude you cannot contain, please oh please.