If you have a daughter, you’ve probably noticed that little girls do something peculiar. They put on a princess dresses and some over-sized high heel shoes (matching optional). They turn an everyday scarf into a boa and set a crown on top of their (oftentimes) uncombed hair. Then, (here comes the odd part), they find a mirror and smile with sheer delight. If it’s full length, they twist and turn in front of it to catch every angle of their cuteness. If it’s a small mirror they aren’t afraid to hold it right up to their little faces and beam about what they see up close. They gaze at themselves for as long as they like and are, sincerely, quite pleased with who they see staring back at them.
I first noticed this phenomenon a few months ago when I was trying to get my three-year-old daughter to brush her teeth. She was standing on a stool in front of the bathroom mirror just smiling away, paying no attention to my request for some dental hygiene time. She had on a pair of old, hand-me-down pajamas. Her hair was everywhere and she could have cared less. I thought it was cute but, if being truthful, was slightly annoyed that her frivolity was delaying our task.
A few weeks later, this same smiley girl was dancing and twirling around in my bathroom while I got ready for an outing. She asked me about my make-up, declaring how she would have “a lot of make-up when she got bigger.” She asked a zillion questions, as little ones are prone to do. Like, “What’s that thing biting your eye Mommy?” (Note: the significance of eyelash curling is hard to explain to a preschooler.)
Of all the questions, one really caught my attention. It went something like this, “Mommy, why do you always make a mad face when you get ready?”
What? I scrambled to explain, “Um, well, honey, that’s not a mad face. It’s just hard to have a happy face when you are putting on make-up.” That’s true, right? I mean mascara application mandates a gaping mouth, hooked-fish look. You suck in those cheeks to get blush on the right spots. Don’t even get me started on facial contortion that happens while I rub in foundation.
But, she was right. My expression betrayed me. I really wasn’t happy with the appearance of that woman frowning back at me. I was standing there critiquing her.
I taught my little girl something that morning that I didn’t intend to teach. In fact, it’s something I desperately hoped not to teach her. I showed her that big girls don’t smile in the mirror: they scowl.
According to a recent Glamour magazine poll, the average woman has 13 negative thoughts about her body every day. For most women, that’s one every hour she’s awake. The associated article also cited a study of girls aged three to six. Half of the girls in this age group were worried about being fat. I can’t even imagine how I would react if my, soon-to-be-four-year-old told me she thought she was fat.
That day I remembered something kind of important. She’s going to learn a lot about how to be a woman from me. So if I, like a large majority women, spend time thinking (and saying aloud) negative things about my body and appearance, she will learn to do that too. If I grimace and sigh as I try-on outfit-attempt-number-8, or grumble about my now (special thanks to pregnancy #4) curly hair, she’s going to learn to do that too.
So, I’m going to change. My New Year’s resolution is to flash myself a big, ol’ happy grin every time I’m in front of a mirror. Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, it’s going to feel weird. Women in public restrooms may think I’m a pageant-girl wannabe (or drunk). But, I know one thing. I don’t want my little girl to stop smiling in the mirror because of me.
I’m a realist. At some point she’s going to start comparing herself to other girls and ask the question that haunts every female, “Am I beautiful?” But, until then and beyond, I want to model for her the answer. I actually believe that by learning to be more accepting of who I am, flaws and all, maybe I can help her find (and truly believe) her answer:
“Yes, my sweet girl. Yes, you are beautiful and someone to smile at.”
So, who’s going to start smiling with me?