“Mommy? Why don’t you look like her?”
It’s an innocent question I don’t expect to shatter my insides like a brick against glass. But it does, for so many reasons, when I see what my daughter is pointing to.
It’s an ad for matching mother/daughter dresses—pretty, pink, polyester and sized Petite. The mother is gorgeous—a stunning blonde with a tiny body, toned arms and legs, and a flat tummy only surgery can accomplish. The daughter looks up at her mother with admiration and love, something I haven’t seen from my seven-year-old since our breastfeeding days.
I look at my daughter, whose expression displays disgust and disappointment. I can see it on her face: Why are you so chubby? Why doesn’t your hair shine like hers? Why don’t you wear makeup and act feminine? Why don’t you look pretty so I can be proud of you, Mommy? She doesn’t say these things but I can see it in her eyes. And I feel it too.
It’s probably my fault. She was playing a game on my iPad and stumbled upon my Instagram. These days, any kid can practically trade stocks online by seven years old, so it was no surprise she’d already been scrolling through my feed. But it’s a shock to my system to realize that my daughter feels the same thing I do when I catch glimpses of Mommy Influencer posts: shame and self-loathing.
They’re all the same, too. Young (mostly white) women, between the ages of 25 and 35, with long, lustrous hair, a perfect heart-shaped face and pouty lips, tanned skin without any sign of sun damage, and toned, taut bodies. All six of their kids—each one a year apart (and you’re telling me that flat tummy is the product of “hard work”?)—are just as beautiful as she is, smiling for the camera in their adorably tailored outfits, which look more like mini adult wardrobes than anything small children would actually choose to wear. (What happened to kids wearing hideously bright graphic tees printed with images of the Little Mermaid or Spiderman?) These mommies are rays of sunshine, spouting either Bible verses or literary quotes taken out of context under photos of their family snuggling in their warm, cozy homes. But they have bad days, too, which can be noted when they smudge a bit of mascara under their eyes once every three months and admit that “parenting is messy.”
Listen, I don’t know what these women’s real lives are like, and for all I know, they might truly be miserable. But what matters is how they’re shaping the world my daughter lives in, and they’re shaping it into a world that’s even more obsessed with the way women look, raising standards to impossible heights. But what I’m most ashamed of is that I am letting them. In fact, I’m encouraging these impossibly beautiful and perfect women—whose husbands make insane salaries, which allow them to spend all their time and money perfecting their appearance—to make money off said appearance. And that’s all it really is, isn’t it? Just appearances.
Yet here I am, still frozen with embarrassment and shame, staring into the eyes of my daughter who gazes back at me wondering why I can’t just try a little harder to be pretty and thin, and choose fashionable, matching outfits we both can wear.
So I do what I know is best: use this as a teachable moment to educate my daughter, make her a stronger, more resilient person with a kind heart and an intellectual mind.
“Because,” I say, grabbing my iPad. “She’s a dumb bitch who’s got shit for brains and spends her only brain cells obsessing over the way she looks, and we’re too smart and too cool for that shit, little lady. Now, quit being brat and go be useful for once!”
There. That’ll teach her.