Though Rapunzel cuts her hair at the end of Tangled, this fact doesn't register with my daughter. When she asks to look at Rapunzel hair online, she wants long blonde wigs, not short brown bobs. This is princess hair, and therefore the ultimate accessory.
My mixed-race daughter has curly, frizzy brown hair. It falls just below her shoulders when wet, and we have never cut it. When she asked me recently to "make it long,” we combed her hair with water and her locks magically grew. But it wasn't enough. She looked in the mirror and began to cry.
"I don't like my hair!"
My heart cracked under the pressure of beauty and society and a mother's love. If she feels this way now, what will she do as a pre-teen? Will she compare herself to the fair-skinned princesses and feel inadequate? Should I clean my house of Disney memorabilia? What about Tiana? Is the one black princess OK to keep around?
I held her close and named every part of her that I loved, from toenails to eyebrows. The truth is that I used to hate my own eyebrows.
Only after my daughter inherited their unique shape could I see their utter perfection. "You need to love yourself," I said, doubting she could understand the concept of self, yet trying anyways. I told her that her hair was perfect and like I do every day, I told her she was beautiful.
Should I keep emphasizing her beauty in hopes of programming confidence? Should I continue allowing her to read princess stories and watch Rapunzel and play with Barbies? Even if I redirected my daughter's attention away from princesses and anatomically incorrect dolls and towards other activities, I can't change who she is. She loves to carry purses, wear fancy dresses and plastic bejeweled "diamond" shoes, and loves to have her hair fixed into braids and ponytails and embellished with bows. She loves Cinderella and Ariel and Tiana and the rest of them.
Even if I had tried from the beginning to shelter her from the ubiquitous princesses, she would have learned of them eventually. The other day, through the window of a coffee shop, she spotted a laptop decorated with a Snow White sticker. "Look, Mama!” she called. “A Snow White computer!" She notices things, feminine things. She flocks to them like flies to ripened fruit.
I don't have control over this world, nor do I have complete power over my daughter. But I have choices. I can introduce her to role models like Michelle Obama. I can cultivate her relationship with her paternal grandmother, a woman who is beautiful and stylish and African-American. I can buy her brown-skinned baby dolls and seek out the rare storybooks featuring "ethnic" children. Maybe I should write one.
I don't know if it's a good idea to keep proclaiming her beauty, I don't know if this puts too much weight on appearances. I really don't know anything besides who I am, and I have to be myself, too. Perhaps the right choices cannot be gleaned from psychoanalysis or studies or rules, but from what feels right.
I am just a mother who finds her daughter exquisite and so I will keep telling her, every day — you're so beautiful in every way.
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