Tuesday, September 13, 2005

September, 2005: Jamie in the buff

It was an unseasonably warm fall day and two-year-old Jamie and I were in the backyard. I had turned the hose on so that she could water some flowers, but Jamie had other ideas — she quickly found our plastic wading pool left over from the summer and began filling it up. When she had a few inches of water in the wading pool, she wriggled out of her sundress, whipped off her diaper and climbed in.
As naked Jamie splashed around in her outdoor bathtub, it struck me as to how completely unselfconscious she was. Every so often, she’d get out of the pool and run to another part of the yard to get a toy. Sometimes, on her way back to the pool, she’d stop to drive her kiddie car around the patio. It didn’t occur to her that there was anything unusual about this, that there was anything to be embarrassed of.  And as I watched my daughter, I felt wistful. For a flash of a second, I felt as God might have, watching Eve in the garden of Eden — hoping it could last forever. It’s not that I didn’t want my daughter to someday have appropriate modesty for her private body parts. It’s just that I knew that soon after children are old enough to realize some body parts are private, they begin to gauge their own bodies against what they see as an ideal. Girls especially begin to find fault with their bodies.
My daughter, who is so comfortable in her light brown skin right now, may someday feel that her skin is the wrong color. Someday, she may compare her legs or belly to someone else’s and find fault in her own. While now, she is no more conscious of her tush than her toes, someday, she may put a dress or a swimsuit back on a rack because she doesn’t like how it makes her behind look. Even though my plans for my daughter include helping her see herself as beautiful and complete, I know that that it will be hard to compete against magazines filled with gorgeous models and a culture that has a very limited vision of what female beauty can be. 
One of my favorite school Masses last year included a song by my son’s first grade class that had this line: Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re anything less than beautiful; don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re less than whole. The song made me cry, and as I looked around, I noticed the other first-grade moms around me were tearing up as well. I think our tears came because all of us, at some time, had been made to feel less than beautiful. To hear our children sing those words, was to wish, for a moment, that our children might escape that hurt. The chorus gave voice to the unspoken hope of every mother that her child would always be seen as precious.

I can’t help but think that part of my job for my little daughter is to keep her living in her Garden of Eden as long as I can. I have to believe that every year of early childhood that she feels positively about her body is one more year to fall back on when she is an anxious pre-teen. I plan to tend to her little Garden of Eden by limiting her TV, by not bringing fashion magazines into the house, by not buying into the little girl make-up sets and telling Barbie and her friends to come back when they have more normal proportions. I don’t know if all this will work. I’m hoping that if I couple it with giving my daughter a taste of outdoor life and sports — and a sample of dance and drama, that she’ll discover that bodies are for work and for play.  And maybe, when she’s in first grade, her teacher will have her class sing that song: Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re anything less than beautiful; don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re less than whole. My beautiful daughter.  I pray she will always feel whole.

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