You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, tra la la laa

25 Jun

It’s been some time since the last C&P post. I blame the dribbling, vomiting and farting baby #2 who arrived exactly three months ago. (He’s gorgeous by the way – the adjectives there were just for effect.) Postpartum hormones have left me liable to cry at most things from the cutesy to the darned right evil. Being responsible for little people has made me more sensitive to what can be a relentless and frightening world – something shared by parents the world over I’m sure. If I could buy rolls of cotton wool in toddler size then I’d be picking fluff off the playmat right now.

Last week there was one incident that made me more sad than anything else has recently. Here’s how the conversation with my two and a half year old went:

Her: Mummy, can I have some of your make-up on please?

Me: No.

Her: [through sobs] But I won’t be beautiful!

Me: Oh sweetheart, but you ARE beautiful.

Her: [still sobbing] I’m not beautiful. Without make-up other children will say I look like a boy.

After calming the sobs with cuddles and plenty of reassurance I was left wondering how on earth my little girl could have got this into her head and what kind of society do we live in that could have a girl thinking this from such an early age. I do recall on occasion telling her that I put on make-up to ‘make me look beautiful’ – an off the cuff remark but is this what has stuck in her head? (What I haven’t explained to her is that a 34-year-old who hasn’t taken care of herself and wasn’t blessed with natural beauty needs a little help whereas a two-year-old doesn’t.) She doesn’t watch any grown-up TV. We never have a copy of Glamour in the house. I can’t believe that exposure to a class of two-year-olds at nursery has put this in her head. Do they chat foundation and lipstick over the sand tray? Paint their nails when they should be painting something impressive for ma and pa’s fridge?

The sexualisation of children has been a hot topic recently what with a new crackdown on inappropriate marketing aimed at children and criticisms of a children’s beauty parlour opening in Brentwood, Essex. Even David Cameron has managed to speak a few words of sense about it. These (including David Cameron) are things I can help my daughter to avoid (and let’s not forget my son, the pressure on boys shouldn’t be underestimated). I can’t protect her from everything though and influences can come from seemingly innocuous places. Today we watched Disney’s Pocahontas – like most Disney heroines and princesses she has a tiny waist, an enviable bust and luscious hair. She’s beautiful, yes, but she ain’t a real woman (well, Pocahontas is but you get my drift). My girl would love to be a princess. How long before she starts to cut out the chocolate buttons to try to be one?

Two pieces of advice I got stood out. “Show her pictures of Pauline Prescott, Jodie Marsh etc – that should scare her off make-up” – my friend Jennifer is spot on, that would be enough to scare anyone. Another friend recommended dressing my daughter in pretty dresses to make her feel beautiful. This is less clear-cut. Wouldn’t that just be reinforcing the external messages? To be beautiful you must have a pretty dress, pretty make-up, pretty hair. I feel a vicious circle coming on …

To be honest, I can’t see my daughter ever wanting to burn a bra. Equally, I hope she never aspires to be Jordan. If she doesn’t feel ‘beautiful’ then I will do all I can to help her with that. But lightning strike me down if I ever start with her nails and hair rather than her self-esteem.

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One Response to “You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, tra la la laa”

  1. Paula June 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Brilliant piece Helen. Well done. Tell her that nanny puts make up on , but that it doesn’t make her beautiful.

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