‘Mummy, I just want to be prettier still.’
‘Sweetheart you don’t need hairclips in your hair to be pretty.’
‘No. I need to wear bracelets too. I need to be more prettier.’
Damn. How did this happen? How did our three year old daughter become so obsessed by her looks and notions of beauty? That’s rhetorical. Because I know the answer. It’s because we tell her she is beautiful about a thousand times a day (there’s something Freudian in it I’m sure), reinforcing the idea that it’s only what she looks like that’s important. Oops.
I add ‘demonstrating to Lula that beauty is a subjective notion with cultural norms attached to it and that real beauty, like the Dove people tell us, comes from within (is that what they tell us? Or is it that real beauty is in all shapes and sizes and colours?)’ to my list of reasons for going travelling.
I am thinking of telling Lula her Barbie can’t come with us on the plane because it might make her head explode (her Barbie’s head, not Lula’s). If I can prise her away from Barbie, her princess outfit and her addiction to accessorize jewellery and stickers then maybe, just maybe, I can divert her off the path that at the moment is leading her, aged thirteen, to Topshop, where she will hang around waiting to be spotted by a scout from Select Models. My mother in law points out to me though that there are televisions and Barbies in every country. It is simply impossible to avoid the global obsession over what we look like. Blonde, blue eyed, slim – all these things are ingrained in the global conscience as the definition of beauty. In which case, Lula is very lucky. But I don’t want her to think that.
In the meantime, in a rubbish attempt to teach her that beauty comes from within, I point to her tummy and tell her that that’s where beauty comes from. Then I press on her tickle spot. She laughs and I say ‘See, there! Right there – that’s where beauty is. In a smile.’ I realise I sound like a self-help book even as I say it. Seeing as she’s a bit too young for The Beauty Myth, I vow to look on Amazon at the children’s books to see if I can find one about the beauty within. Or better yet, about a princess who finds the beauty within. Hang on – that’s Shrek isn’t it? I buy it.
On the way to nursery I attempt to show her that beauty lies in natural things – look at the sky isn’t it beautiful. Look at the red leaves on that tree – aren’t they beautiful? She catches on. ‘Look mummy, the purple flowers are so beautiful. I could put one in my hair.’ It doesn’t seem to be working.
This morning she tells me, ‘I love you mummy.’ And I say, ‘That’s nice darling. I love you too. Do you know what love means?’
‘It doesn’t mean anything mummy! It means NOTHING!’ she yells.
It gives me hope. Maybe she secretly thinks the same about beauty.