My daughter loves fashion.
She loves fashion magazines, but we don’t have any in the house, so she reads catalogs instead. She loves shopping for clothes. She loves looking at other people’s clothes. She loves “What Not To Wear” (which I do actually let her watch, heaven help me). She loves creating outfits out of her clothes and doing her hair. She loves makeup. She’d love high heels, if we let her wear them.
My daughter is gorgeous, and in an adult way, not a nine-year-old cute way. She has always had a waist and hips and a nicely shaped butt. Her face is still round but does have some cheekbone planes; she has a cute upturned nose, curly hair that is still manageable, large hazel eyes with long eyelashes and clear tanned skin. She likes fitted clothing, tight jeans, short skirts and the aforementioned high heels. She wiggles her butt at me and winks over her shoulder like a pin-up.
My daughter would love nothing more than being a cheerleader.
I want to scream. Or at least lecture – about the fashion industry, the male gaze, the early sexualization of children (who taught you that wink-0ver-the-shoulder thing?), the risk of eating disorders. I don’t want her sitting on the sidelines cheering for the boys who are playing the real game. I want her to keep the sense of joy she has now in her own body, not feel panicked and worthless if she gains weight or gets a pimple or (eventually) a lovely set of smile wrinkles around her eyes.
None of that would change her mind. She loves what she loves. She wants what she wants. I can speculate about the reasons for it (since I refuse to accept the idea that “girliness” is innate). I can – and do – say “no” to cheerleading, and to gymnastics*. I say “yes” to ballet and tap and jazz, taught by talented and well-trained college students in a program that has dancers with a variety of body types, including some actual fat girls en pointe. And I seethe.
My daughter knows me well. She knows I’m seething. A wise friend of mine said “you don’t want her to think you’re angry with her“. No, I don’t. I’m not actually angry with her – I’m angry with the patriarchy, with the deeply ingrained idea that her body exists for men to look at and not for her own enjoyment. I’m angry with the legion of people who have commented on her looks and never even asked about or considered her athletic skill or her intelligence or her tendency to whine when she’s tired.
I don’t want to spill that fury onto my daughter, so I vent in blog posts and imaginary letters-to-the editor. I talk to Eve (calmly, quietly) about Photoshop and airbrushing and the ways in which the images of women on magazine covers are altered. I tell her she’s gorgeous when she’s wearing dirty jeans and sneakers (which she happily wears to school and camp). I comment on the amount of care she takes with her appearance and how responsible she is – she washes and styles her own hair, folds and puts away her own clothes and packs for herself when we travel.
And I hope to hell some of it is sinking in.
* I don’t object to gymnastics in general, but our local gymnastics center is an anorexia breeding facility. I had three women in my primary care practice who were part of their elite program, all with life-threatening eating disorders. One will probably die of her disease within a year or so. My daughter attending birthday parties there as a toddler but will never go back, and they won’t get a dime of my money.