My Daughter Myself: A Girly Girl Raising A Girl

When I was a little girl, I remember looking at the bookshelf and pondering one title in particular: My Mother Myself. I didn’t know what the title meant – and to be honest I don’t think I ever read the book – but the title always resonated with me somehow. I’ve been thinking about that title again I haven’t thought of it for a long time, but as my daughter (who is four) discovers more and more of who she is and what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture, the more and more I’ve begun to fret over what message I am sending her. I identify with my daughter on the deepest, most primal, intuitive level. I understand what makes her tick, what makes her happy, inspired, insecure, scared… they are all the same things that brought on those feelings for me. She is really really really my daughter. I catch my parents staring at her in disbelief at times because she is a carbon copy of me at that age. Albeit a much more confidant, brave, boisterous version, but the similarities can’t be denied!

There is a unique interaction that only exists between a mother and daughter. I understand that I am her single most important role model. I understand that much of what she learns about the issues that come along with being a woman will come from me. THAT IS A LOT OF PRESSURE, PEOPLE!!!!! That is a lot of pressure for a girl like me, a vain girl like me, a woman like me who loves make-up and style and dressing up and pretty things. A woman like me who loves these things but is also a feminist. I have never had much of an issue reconciling my woman-power with my love of girly stuff. I’ve always just figured that I am who I am and being who I am on an honest level is the most important thing I can do for my own happiness and self-confidence.  But what do I do with the fact that my girl is obsessed with Barbie (even though all things Barbie have been banned from the house)? What do I do when she wants to wear inappropriate clothing to school? Or make-up? What do I do with her fascination with princesses and marriage and happily ever after? Look, I loved these things, too, and I turned out okay. I still feel the need to explain my opposition. I feel that I need to understand how to explain that girls can be empowered and love dressing up, that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. But Oh My God, how to explain this to a 4-year=old?

How do I instill the importance of education, kindness, smarts, empowerment, over fashion, beauty and princesses? Can I show her a positive image for female empowerment and still wear sky high heels and red lipstick everyday? If I spend half an hour getting ready and then turn around and tell her that beauty isn’t everything and it’s more important to be smart, am I sending a conflicting message?

A few months ago, my girlfriend, who has a daughter the same age as mine, and I caved and allowed the girls to watch some Barbie movies. At first they seemed totally benign, but over the course of a few weeks we both started to notice things. Yucky things, things you don’t want to see in your daughter and would never expect from a 4-year-old. Suddenly my sweet, fiery girl was putting her hands on her hips, giving me sassy talk back, infusing every sentence with a string of “likes” and dismissing me with “whatevers”. Worst of all, one morning she lectured me on why blonde hair was better than brown. You see where this all was going.  She was sort of being a nightmare, sort of smacking of a mean girl. So my friend and I pow-wowed  and decided to toss the Barbie DVDs and put a ban on the whole blond boobified beeswax. We independently sat our girls down and talked to them about why we didn’t want them to watch the Barbie movies anymore. I was expecting a temper tantrum of the highest order but shockingly, she accepted it all. Now it’s been a few months and we have tons of interesting conversations about what is appropriate for girls her age.  Why all hair colors, skin colors, bodies are great. What are good things for girls and what teaches them bad things.  She still begs for the big B, but usually ends the sentence with “but my mommy doesn’t like Barbie so I know I can’t watch it”. It’s been kind of amazing!

A turning  point for me was a conversation we had in the in the bathroom as I was getting ready to go out. She looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I’m not pretty.” In my rush to get out the door I replied, “Of course you are and being pretty isn’t as important as being smart.” She looked at me and said, “But you care about being pretty. You are happy when people tell you look pretty.” UGH, that was a punch in the gut. It floored me. She was right. I’m really vain. I love a good compliment. I spend a lot of time thinking about an outfit, my make-up, my hair. AHHHH! What do I say? What do I do? Where is my wise, old, good parenting fairy when I need her? I don’t have the great answer yet. This is something I’m deeply struggling with. It struck me then that it won’t work to be anyone but myself as a mom. When I think of myself I know that I am a feminist, I know that I am smart, strong, empowered… but it took me a long time to get there. I want to accelerate this self-confidence in my daughter. I don’t want her to struggle with identity and sense of self as long as I did. But perhaps that is part of growing up. I certainly can’t fight these battles for her, but I can pave the way and be the best mentor and role model that I can be.

I just watched the Gloria Steinem documentary on HBO. In it she said, “I distanced myself from my mother for the fear of becoming her.” I worry and worry about this. On some level we all can relate to this. The bottom line seems to be that while our moms are our biggest female role models, we also have to reject and examine certain parts about them in order to become our own true selves. Also, each generation of women faces new and different challenges. Our mothers were the first generation of the feminist movement. They didn’t have the choices we have or the community we have in each other now. People were only beginning to talk about feminism, women and work, women and motherhood, and many women had to give up their passions, goals, life’s dream in order to stay home with their kids.

We’ve all heard and seen examples of mothers who gave up too much, fell into depression, resented the role of only being a mother, etc. I think about this and how lucky I am to have so many more choices. How lucky I am to be alive at a time in history where men are expected to parent as much as women. How lucky I am to be married to a partner who is an amazing father and shares responsibilities with me 100%.  How lucky I am that the notion that women have to be the same as men to be equal to them has virtually disappeared. How lucky I am to know that it’s OK to be smart and girly and vulnerable. This all comes back to raising a daughter for me.

The one thing I do know is that the greatest gift I can give my daughter is for me to be happy, fulfilled, satisfied both as an artist and a mother. This also means being myself 100%. Being “me” means dressing up in my wacky costumes, primping and pruning, but doing it because it is the truest representation of who I am. If I am living my life truly and passionately, I know that she will absorb all these aspects of me as a woman, not just the pretty, fluffy, sparkly bits. I suppose I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest gift of empowerment I can give my daughter is an example of a happy, loving and fulfilled life. That is my hope, anyhow. I’d love to hear all your thoughts on this as I muddle through!

Sarah Sophie
Photo Credit: Jesse Peretz

  • Christa Castillo

    I loved this article. It made me think of what I’d do if I were in yr position. You’re so right about telling her that being pretty isn’t as important as being smart. If I ever have a daughter, I think I’ll be sure to tell her that pretty is on the inside. That empowerment can be feeling good about yourself and the way you look, and putting on makeup and caring about yr clothes is really more about doing things to make yourself feel pretty and confident when you walk out the door, and that it makes you happy to hear compliments because it’s nice that someone else sees the pretty you feel too.

    • Kimberly Hawkins

      “… because it’s nice that someone else sees the pretty you feel too.” I love this! What an awesome explanation. And it’s absolutely true. When I have children, I am using this line! :-)

  • Sade Crossan


  • Sara Wallén

    This – this, this, this:

    But also – no wonder that felt like a punch to the gut, I’m not sure how I would answer that either. Maybe point out that you like making an effort for other people when you’re sharing a night together, and that it’s fun making yourself look nice, BUT it’d be a really boring night if you had stupid friends.

    I would definitely choose smart friends down the pub before pretty vacant acquaintances in a loud bar.

    First thing that needs addressing is her thinking she isn’t pretty though – wonder where that came from!

  • Sean Devenport

    completely agree, what a lucky daughter you have! also i read that huffington post article ^^ it’s worth checking out!

  • Stasia Evaline Schmidt

    I have 2 daughters, 3 and 1, and I have also spent a lot of time thinking about these very same issues. I don’t have any answers, I’m still struggling through it myself, but I think kids gravitate towards what they’re exposed to (great job getting rid of the Barbie videos!), and respond to what we notice and praise. I’m always very likely to tell my daughter that she’s beautiful, but I also need to tell her how much I love watching her “read”, or that it makes me so happy when she tries to swing across the monkey bars by herself.

    Thanks for your thought provoking article, and good luck!

  • Annette Rurka

    to post a comment

  • Noémie Faivre

    I think we can’t accelerate same confidence. She has to live her doubts. That’s how she Will gros up into an amazing woman. When you talk about the Barbie movies, we can see that you and her have a great relationship. As long as you keep that, she can’t turn wrong. And you’re a good model of successfull woman.

  • Laura Muñoz

    I am not mother but I am certainly a daughter, I always found your articles very interesting I had a hard relationship with my mom through my teen years until I got married and left home so I am always looking to learn about parenthood this way I’ll be more wise when I become a mom.

    My mom is a vain girl as well and I am thankful that I grew up watching her doing her make up and looking always pretty because now I know that is why I like to take care about my self.
    She just to tell me things like ” As a lady is very important you always look pretty” and always talk about the values of being a lady. She was a good example.

    I really admire you as a mom and an artist, and I think you are so right when you say that you just need to be the best person you can be, your kids will look at you always with admiration.

    When I look back and think about my mom’s mistakes, I think she did a lot of wrong things because she live frustrated, she always talk about how much she wanted to be a model, she wanted to be an actress, she wanted to be a photographer but she never did because she got married with my dad at the age of 18 and got pregnant at 22, she had 4 kids and don’t take me wrong she never blame it on us, she always dreamed with been a mother and a housewife but in the other hand she forgot about her self completely. So this gave me a loving caring mom when I was a child but a “mean sister-mom” when I was a teen.
    I really believe that a child should be for everyone “the cherry on the top of the Ice Cream”
    I am working side by side with my husband to make our dreams come true and reach our personal goals so when we are full of happiness and we succeed and then a baby come to our life as a beautiful blessing. And this child will be raised by non-frustrated loving parents.

    Well this is my vision.

    • Laura Muñoz

      and I forgot to say that I think you have nothing to worry about cause you are a great example.. and when your daughter become a woman she will understand about beauty and smart..she just need to look at you :)

  • Suganya Sivaskantharajah

    I’d argue that being told you’re smart is just as big a compliment [I find being a girly-girl geek is a great combination!], it sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  • Tanya Rubin

    Yes, I enjoyed reading your article! One of my daughters is a big tom boy; which I love! One of my friends said ” why don’t you dress her more like a princess?”. I said ” I can’t and don’t want to. This is who she is!”. I love how my daughter plays basketball, soccer, and loves a good skateboard anyway. I love how she hangs with all the boys in her class. She is so much fun. I never “hung out” with the boys growing up and I think my eight year old has that natural advantage of being able to. She wouldn’t even want to watch Barbie! Super Hero’s bring it on!

    • Shirin Samimi-Moore

      Tanya – this is so great of you to be doing and such a sweet perspective to have and it reminds me so much of my own mother’s. I was a huge tomboy when I was little. I never had my hair down. I hated to wear dresses. I was always dirty and always playing with the boys. Up until about 15. I’m 20 and I still feel huge remnants of this masculine little girl in me… and I’m realizing something huge. I was a tomboy because I saw around me that I didn’t think it was okay for me to be a little girl. Girls were “weaker” and I didn’t want to be that way so I swore off all things pink and barbie. I was a tomboy to protect myself. So I just want you to know that that is great that you are letting your little girl be a tomboy but I want to make sure that she knows that it’s okay to be a girl! Don’t get me wrong – I love that my mom let me play with action figures and legos. Without it I wouldn’t be the only woman on a construction site full of men. But it took me a little while to learn that being female is amazing, I think.

  • Dafne Pérez

    I think the great thing about being a mom (even though i’m not one and i’m not sure if that statement have you people doubting of how right i am) is that you see a somewhat different version of yourself and you identify what’s so much like you as well as what’s so different.

    In the things that are so much like you, your experience will help her figure out things faster than you did. And in the things that are so different, you can give her space and understanding and the security that who she is, exactly who she is with all the combination of traits, abilities, pet peeves, everything (and not what the world says she should be) is amazing and it’s what she brings into this world that no one else can. I think it’s really seeing this that makes you beautiful, because you really understand how unique and amazing you are, and that’s a kind of beauty that can be seen, heard, felt, shared. That’s a great thing I’m sure she’s getting from you.

  • Kristin Eley

    That was beautiful and I admire you. Yay.

  • Sarah Sophie Flicker

    Thank you all for your wise comments! Much much appreciated! X

  • Jill Greenberg

    Amazing! Great article.

  • Anonymous

    Surprisingly well-written and infoarmtive for a free online article.

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