This wasn't supposed to happen yet. I was all set to spend the next two years in the maternal trenches preparing a rock solid defense against an impending princess obsession. As the mother of a 1-year-old daughter, I have been warned repeatedly by concerned parents who've already navigated the treacherous Pink Road ahead. "See if you can convince her to be a queen instead," one offered helpfully. "At least queens make decisions, as opposed to princesses, who just sit around all day passively being pretty."
But right now, I just thoughtlessly propped her on one hip while swiping on some blush in a hurry in front of the bathroom mirror, and it happened: She watched me, transfixed. She grabbed at the brush. She mimicked applying the makeup to herself.
This is a problem. I wasn't expecting to have this talk till she was about 12, wherein I would scramble to recreate a laugh-track worthy, sassy-but-tender mother-daughter confrontation while hunched over the toaster about the dangers of Growing Up Too Soon, the kind I'm sure I'd seen tidily resolved somewhere on Reba or Grace Under Fire. Doesn't she know that makeup is only for special occasions, I'd lecture, like when any human including your husband lays eyes on you?
But this child hasn't even weaned yet and she already knows how to contour a cheekbone. Upside: Since the kids are having rainbow parties earlier and earlier these days, at least she'll have the most expertly applied lipstick in the bunch. Downside: Because of her preternatural ability to apply lipstick, all the other girls will hate her and she won't even get invited to rainbow parties.
Nothing I can say to explain how potentially loaded this act can be in a woman's life will ever be more powerful than the message I've just sent: Part of being female means altering yourself dramatically every day with product to be presentable to the world, ergo: Your father looks the same every single day; I have to put on my face.
Yes, parenting is a landmine at every turn — one mother's vaccine scare is another's co-sleeping. But feminism adds another tricky layer to the mix: how to lead our daughters through the world proud of their gender, but not always quite so slavishly beholden to it.
Wearing cosmetics is one of those things lots of women just accept blithely, like having to wear tampons or accidentally eat an ice cream seductively every time you're within a five-mile radius of a guy. The I'm-sexy-but-oops!-I-didn't-realize-I-was-being-sexy schtick has always felt about as natural to me as getting a Brazilian.
But getting squared up on where I really stand on the feminine arsenal has become the appointment I can't refuse, and it's left me a little nervous. Will the bust of Nefertiti I placed on her dresser a month ago invite future discussion or inspire inadequacy? I find myself imagining these future conversations and hoping I have good answers.
Perhaps when the topic comes up, I will confidently trot out the Eleanor Roosevelts of the world, the women's studies professors and hippie chicks who prove confidence is all it takes to go bare.
Perhaps my daughter will smartly counter that a shock of red lipstick and a thickly outlined eye offers intrigue - that it broadcasts that you're taking this whole baseline requirement of enhanced attributes and playing a daring game of war paint instead.
Will we battle angrily or spar in a spirited debate? Whose argument will win the day?
Makeup is armor, she might say. And when everyone else seems to have unquestioningly committed to the terms of engagement, not coating up is the equivalent of launching a modern war and outfitting your troops with muskets.
Makeup is also theatrics, I might be forced to concede. It has a transformative power. And in this way, women have been liberated by the very thing that so often restrains them — the ability to experiment with identity and aesthetics, an exploration from which modern men are largely excluded.
All I know is that for my daughter, I want a natural beauty that doesn't require so much as a bronzer. But even that's cheating, isn't it? I supposed I should amend that: I want her to have the confidence to reject the artifice if she so chooses, regardless of whether she is lucky enough genetically to join the ranks of the blessedly bare-faced.
I know that the odds are good that, like all women, she will discover that the mirror isn't just a funny, fascinating reflection but an occasional source of consternation and confusion — an image that will seem at times that it can't hold up to the competition. If that is the case, I hope that instead of treating makeup like an enticing coat of protectant she has no choice but to adopt, I can convince her to see it more like a strategy, a protean war tactic to confuse and distract her enemies.
I'll be sure to bring it up as soon as she learns to talk.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles, currently at work on a collection of essays about growing up with crazy Southern people.