I often say that my daughter was born wearing nail polish and a tutu. With no guidance from me, she epitomized being a girl. I was 26 when she was born and had never had a manicure, paid more than ten dollars for a haircut, and thought clothes shopping was torture (the latter is still true). She loved Barbies and playing house. She always wanted to dress up and was without dispute the most fashionable person in our house by the age of five. She rarely left the house without accessories and had more purses than I had clothes.
When I was pregnant with her, this was what I was terrified would happen. I had no idea how I would have anything in common with a child who was so different from me. I was tomboyish and opinionated to a fault, with my feminist beliefs leading every single conversation. I thought dressing up or wearing makeup was for the benefit of a male society and I wanted nothing to do with that. But behind all that noise and bravado, I was also unbelievably insecure. I was just as pressured by society’s expectations to be thin, pretty, perfect as many other young women.
How would I raise a daughter to be strong, and not a casualty of our norms, if I was still affected by them?
When she was born, her big brown eyes and absolute zest for life opened up my world to a totally foreign one, and those worries of us being different vanished. She slowly began to influence me. She taught me to love getting dressed up, she insisted I occasionally wear colors and she made me want to feel pretty. At some point, my parenting of her started to include mother & daughter mani/pedis accompanied by conversations about our society. I so desperately wanted to allow her to bloom into whoever she was supposed to be, without my stifling her. I also wanted to experience things with her that I had never experienced, while being certain she understood the stereotypes and societal pressures on young women. I wanted her to feel smart, beautiful and strong, regardless of what she wore or said. It was a constant internal back and forth dilemma.
As she grew older she looked more and more like me, and everyone commented that she was my mini me. The feminist in me hated this, and almost always responded with “she is no one’s mini.” One day she asked me why I said this, and I responded that I did not want her identity to be wrapped up with that of her mother. I wanted her to know that she was her own person, no matter how young she was. “Free will, kid,” I said, “nothing is more important than free will.”
The irony was that so often when I said that to her, I was also saying it to myself. She made me want to practice what I preached. Sometimes I did, more often though I did not. We are all attached to our story of origin, and mine led more of my decisions than I wish. I was afraid, when I pushed her to be brave. I was hesitant, when I made her take the leaps.
Her successes made me feel like I was rewriting my own history.
My daughter, as a freshman, decided on the last day of a school drive for the MACC Fund to participate and have her hair buzzed. She called me at work and relayed this news, and the 15 years of parenting and philosophy went out the window. Fear was all she heard. I strongly tried to talk her out of it. I threatened and cajoled and said she would regret it. It was the first time I doubted her, really disagreed with her and I was furious.
Yet she did not waver.
She was the product of everything I had hoped she’d be. She was opinionated, strong, feminine, brave. As I drove to her school I realized that cutting her hair off felt bigger to me than just hair. It didn’t make any logical sense, but it felt like her truly growing up. Without even noticing I had allowed my identity to get wrapped up in hers. She was no longer a mini-me, she no longer needed my reminders to have free will. She was now making me differentiate from her. When I had time to reflect on my reaction, I realized that all the while I was teaching her to be an independent person, her independence was still hard for me to accept.
I have never been prouder of her than that day watching her buzz her hair.
Her confidence was palpable, and contagious. Those big brown eyes looked so much bigger in her face, and she stepped away from that chair a brand new version of herself. Reborn. I walked away with my arms around a tall young woman, the strongest and most beautiful one I know, who this time reminded me she is exactly who she is suppose to be.