My 10-year-old daughter Clare only likes to wear clothes from the boy’s section.
Preferably a boxy, shapeless t-shirt with pictures of Spiderman or any other superhero on them. She always wears two braids. Always. Even to bed. Her hair is thick, blonde, and gorgeous.
Clare has beautiful, wide-set blue eyes, high cheekbones, and long, slender limbs that remind me of a baby colt.
I think she’s beautiful. She doesn’t care, she’s not interested in being beautiful.
Last year I made her take her braids down for her class picture. It was an epic battle and I played dirty.
I used psychoanalysis, telling her I was afraid her braids were like a security blanket (which I am) and that I wanted her to be comfortable in every Hair Iteration.
I didn’t want her to fall prey to bullies who might socially ostracize her (which is true) and to that end I was willing to bribe her with an Obi-Wan Kenobi FX lightsaber that could have paid for a month’s worth of groceries.
But underlying my bid for her emotional well-being was the down-and-dirty truth: I wanted her to look pretty in her school pictures, her cascading hair framing her face, so I could show her off to friends and relatives.
On picture day she wouldn’t actually wear her hair down. She wore it in ponytails, then took it down just for the picture. Apparently, the entire fourth-grade female student body had to witness this anomaly. Shrieking and cooing and telling Clare how gorgeous she looked. After the picture mission was complete one of the little girls carefully, respectfully braided Clare’s hair for her.
When I got Clare’s school picture a month later my mission was achieved. She did indeed look very pretty with her flowing locks. But she also looked, well… not quite like Clare.
I’m over it. I’m letting it go about teaching girls about beauty. Clare doesn’t need to fulfill my vision of how she would look most beautiful. She doesn’t need to care about being beautiful. She DOES have to wash her hair at least once a week. There I will not budge.
But my girl won’t define herself by her appearance the way I did. The way I still do.
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What defines her now are her passions: making weapons out of paper, learning to sketch manga characters by following tutorials online, playing a version of Dungeons and Dragons with her dad all night, reading The Hunger Games with me, playing the piano, and taking up Judo. And so many more things she’s passionately interested in.
These kids, man, teach you how to live.
Shannon Bradley-Colleary is a writer of films, books, and several teenaged/young adult journals. She is the author of To The Stars: A Novel.
This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.