Officially Published: Check!

One of my resolutions for 2019 was to get something published. Well ... check! I wrote the following piece and submitted it. It was accepted and will be published this spring in a book to be released in late April (or close to it) called, Women under Scrutiny (title in progress). All of the proceeds of this book's sale go to help Rosie's Place, a sanctuary for poor and homeless women in Boston. That's something I can get behind.

How did this happen? A friend posted a notice of this piece looking for submissions for a book about women's relationships with their bodies (and the discomfort so many of us feel with ourselves) that would accompany a book called Waisted, written by Randy Susan Meyers. I saw it on the morning of New Year's Eve. It was due by midnight. My first instinct was to say, "I can't write anything worth anything that fast." But as the day went on, I had a louder thought, which was, "If you don't put anything out there, you can't expect something to happen." So, I wrote this, ran it through spellcheck, and sent it off without expecting anything to happen. Then I got the email saying it was accepted. (Holy cow!!!) Are there things I would edit? Of course. Am I nervous putting this out there? Of course. But you can't live in analysis paralysis forever, so, here it is:

“Mama, why do you wear makeup?”

My mascara wand stops mid-swoosh. I turn to look at my five-year-old daughter. Her blue eyes sparkle with both curiosity and excitement. What do I say? In my head swirl a million things I’ve heard since I was a girl: “Don’t leave your dorm room without makeup. You’ll never get in a sorority!” “You’re not going like that, are you? Go put on some lipstick at least.” “A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!”

I don’t want this for her. I don’t want her to think that I don’t see myself as pretty without makeup on. Because then what would she be? So, I give the only answer I can think of in the moment, “Because I want to look like you, of course!”

She climbs up onto the toilet and stands admiring herself in the mirror. “See how rosy your cheeks are? And your perfectly pink lips? See how long your eyelashes are? I want mine to look like yours!” She eyes me with suspicion.

Already, she’s complained of her “unsightly arm hair,” that idea courtesy of a commercial that ran on repeat at her Grandmother’s house on the Sprout channel. Earlier this year, she started requesting her hair be in a “messy bun” to be like the other girls in her gymnastics class. “Why would you want to be like everyone else?” I ask her. She rolls her eyes at me. I thought we’d get until at least first grade for that.

They start early, the messages our children get. They’re in commercials about weight loss aimed at the mothers watching Disney, Jr. with their children, in comments from well-meaning adults about how beautiful a little girl looks in a princess-perfect gown with neatly curled hair, in dolls with heads impossibly large for a human, making their bodies look extra-fragile.

My daughter isn’t fragile. She’s strong. That’s what makes her beautiful. She’s as beautiful with tangled hair and muddy feet as she is in a tutu and pink tights. Her full-bodied laugh is infectious. Her stubbornness (while simultaneously driving me crazy) is envy-inspiring. If only I could be that steadfast in holding onto something.

I am the product of years of comments from my Southern parents, the same comments handed down to them from the generation before. I realize my own hypocrisy, applying concealer, foundation, and blush to cover what’s naturally there. My husband’s voice ringing in my ears, “I don’t know why you think you need all that stuff. I like you better without any of it.” This isn’t coming from him. Or from them. It speaks to my own self-worth, or lack thereof.

So, I turn to look at her looking back at me with suspicion. This same girl who insisted I sew pockets onto her skirts so that she’d have somewhere to hold the rocks she’d find on the playground is doubting whether she’s truly beautiful. Am I really doing this to look like her? Yes, I think — in a way — I am. I put down my mascara wand and face her fully. “You, my dear, are a beautiful girl. You are strong and smart and kind. You don’t need any of this stuff. You are perfect just as you are. Please don’t forget that.”

She smiles. I put away the mascara and turn off the bathroom light. We go out to investigate the first of the spring buds in the cold, sunny late February day. I leave my lipstick upstairs.

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Allison Harvey