Last night, my daughter left a dripping-wet trail from the shower to my room, calling my name. “Come here, mama,” she said mysteriously. “Come look in the bathroom.”
“…Did something break?” I asked.
“No, just come here!”
My daughter is a master of piquing my curiosity, so I went, fearing that I’d find a swamp or maybe a shower curtain tugged down around the ceramic of the tub.
Instead, I found a neat row of nail polish on the bathroom counter, sorted carefully into a rainbow, next to a green index card reading “HINT HINT.”
My child grinned at me. “I want one color on each nail, please! Tonight!”
“How about this weekend, when the light is good?” I replied, sighing.
“Okay, I guess. But you can’t forget,” Monkey said. “And you have to wear some too.”
That’s my kid, dragging me reluctant and kicking into the ancient rituals of self-adornment. She also really loves to accessorize and wear fancy footwear, and has been trying to break me of the habit of thinking comfort-first when putting on clothes. (In retrospect, maybe I should’ve read her fewer Fancy Nancy books when she was little.)
I spent a lot of formative years with my dad, and during the years when most teenagers begin to play with clothing and makeup, I owned two different pairs of jeans: one for wearing to school, and the other (the older pair) ripped enough for hiking and caving. My t-shirts were of the geek variety, and very often had pictures of insects, or things like “National Speleological Society” written on them. Makeup was unnecessary for beauty, in my dad’s books, and I believed him.
This is probably why it’s taken me a long time to value traditionally feminine approaches to self-adornment. At some point in my twenties I realized that I looked nice in dresses, and it’s taken me until my 40s to realize that a bit of makeup isn’t always a bad thing, and apparently helps people look more professional, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. I’ve admired women who understand how to put themselves together, hair and makeup and clothing. I’ve suspected that women who have to learn to present themselves continue to look nicely put together as they age, perhaps because they’re always used to spending some time on their appearance.
It’s been a shock to my system to have a daughter that is both tomboyish and extremely girly all at once. There’s a vast spectrum of feminist responses to “girliness,” but maybe the most important one is the easy affinity that my daughter has to the idea of it. She doesn’t consider it anti-anything to put on a dress and beg for some lipstick, she just thinks she looks nice, and why not look exactly the way she wants?
I’m glad I have someone teaching me how to inhabit my body with as much joy and unselfconsciousness (well, that part takes work) as my kid inhabits hers.