My niece, Rose, has always had a special place in my heart. When we are together, people assume she’s my daughter because we look quite a bit alike. She’s seven now, and is incredibly precocious, doling out witticisms and toting around a handbag. I hadn’t seen her in a couple months, due to grad school, work, and all the busyness of being a newlywed, so I was looking forward to our recent Christmas breakfast.
I struggled with what to give her this year, as she is practically a lady now. It’s been forever since I was seven, but I remember quite distinctly what I wished for: to be treated like a grown-up. I had a myriad of handbags, and I loved when cool teenagers would pay me attention, and when my mum would let me wear a scent or cover my arms in stick-on tattoos. I remember treasuring this old teal and purple Caboodle that housed all my hair ties and nail polish. Thinking on all this, I thought Rosie should have one of her own.
While browsing through our local Target, I discovered a small Caboodle (they’re in again), and proceeding to fill it with nail polish, multi-colored hair ties, flavored lip balm, a rollerball of perfume, and some face masks. When Rose lived at my mum’s house for a couple of months, she’d always ask to do her nails with me or pop on whatever mask I was wearing, so I assumed she’d like this.
I am not a parent, so I have little knowledge on raising children. All I have is this desire to be the person I needed when I was young. With that stated, I was discouraged by the advertising on many of the beauty products that I’d never batted an eye at before. Nearly all the masks boasted of being “perfecting” and or “correcting.” While I gravitate towards this sort of thing, as it (and the entire beauty industry) feeds off my insecurities, I wasn’t keen on purchasing them for an impressionable seven year old girl. I’d never noticed the weight these words carried until I saw them in this context.
I felt that in giving her these items, I would encourage her to believe that she needed perfecting or correcting. This may seem a little dramatic, but I don’t think it is. Words are so unbelievably sharp, cutting between all the connective tissue of wholeness and leaving nothing but pieces in its wake. It was words that led me to first believe I was ugly at the small age of five. It was words that led me to believe that I was fat, and it was words that lead me still to believe that I am ever in need of correction.
I didn’t want to contribute to the inevitable onslaught Rose will endure in the coming years. As much as I can, I want to encourage a gentleness towards herself, to view caring for herself as an act of nourishment and love, rather than a dogged effort towards physical perfection. I needed that when I was young, and I need it still. Rose and a million other girls need it, too.
I wandered through the shop, passing up anything that contained advertising aimed at insecurities. This was a very difficult task; it is unbelievable how my mindset towards beauty altered when I imagined a seven year old using the product. It led me then to ask, why am I not this careful with myself? If I always shopped as if I were purchasing for my seven year old self, what effect would that have on me? The loving consideration I extended towards shopping for my niece felt like a challenge I could bestow upon myself.
Eventually, I found a few masks that didn’t contain potentially harmful advertising, thus earning a place in the Caboodle. Her little lady self-care kit was now complete. At our special Christmas breakfast, Rosie opened my gift, happily rummaging through all its little treasures. She seemed to really enjoy it, and it was so gratifying to give something to her that was also in some ways a gift to my seven year old self, too.
I’ve always tended towards being a product hound, because I felt I needed creams and potions to alter, perfect, and correct my appearance. The experience of shopping for Rosie taught me that I should be as gentle towards myself as I am towards her. Perhaps I should carry a snapshot of myself at her age to remind me that I am, as Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, “every age I’ve ever been.”