Today I noticed how shiny Gong Zhu's hair was after I had combed it a bit and had stuck in one barrette. I complimented her on it. She quickly checked the mirror. The concentrated grin, the unmistakable look of pride and (dare I say?) vanity on her face was remarkable and ... a little scary. I used to be a "feminist"—feminist enough to call myself only "pro-feminist" for fear that some womyn feminists might think no man could be a true feminist. Now I'm a little too busy trying to get the dishes done to worry too much about gender agendas. Nevertheless, I don't want my daughter to think more of her "value" as a person comes from her appearance than it does from her intelligence, compassion, strength, yatta, yatta, yatta .... I hope I'm not sending that message to her.
Of course, I compliment her all the time on her accomplishments—clever things she thinks and says, crafty things she makes, physical feats in the backyard, etc. Is the proportion of this praise to "you look very pretty" high enough? I know I tell her she's pretty more than I tell Sponge that he's handsome. I have no idea if I'm unintentionally overdoing the pretty praise. I'm not known for being a cultural lemming, but really these days I just take my cues on this one from everyone else. They're all heaping on the "you look beautiful"'s like she's the empress with no clothes and she'll off with their heads if she finds out the truth. In fairness, she is the cutest little one you've seen. (If I weren't paranoid about their safety, the Internet, etc., I'd pull out the photos and prove it to you a-good-one, I would). And she doesn't let her cuteness go unnoticed, with her usually effusive, command-the-room personality.
So there it is. If she starts perceiving herself as a human doll, it's not necessarily my fault. I blame her. I blame society. Seriously, I guess I'll just have to be mindful and do what seems right.
In the meantime, I have even gotten my own ego stroked via her "vanity". The other day I decided to put her hair in a hair band instead of doing a ponytail or barrettes. (I had rarely used the hair band, but it seemed like it would work for that day.) I struggled as I usually do with her hair—fine motor skills, straight lines, etc.: not my forte. I got it done without loops of hair sticking out at odd angles and what-not, and, frankly, that was accomplishment enough. I made it past at least one impatient sigh (I can't compete with mommy for outcome or speed), and Gong Zhu's hair wasn't a disaster. She responded, "Can I least look in the mirror before we go?" I consented, and she went for the full-length one that she can see into, in the bedroom. I heard, "Baba, it's beautiful? Will it stay this way until I get to our friends' house?"
Nice! It's all in day's work, baby. All in a day's work.