The Expectations and the Authenticity Ten Hours After Birth

Looking at the photo of a royal ten hours after she had given birth made me curious about what other women’s stories were ten hours after giving birth. Those stories are below.

I have been exceptionally busy this week and therefore behind in the news. When I first saw the photo of the royal family my thoughts were “Oh, so sweet. A little princess.” (An actual princess, not the default female-child-equals-princess princess.) Welcome to the world, Baby Charlotte! The image of Kate, William, and Baby Charlotte on the steps of the hospital, introducing her to the waiting world is lovely. Kate looks radiant and proud. She and William are visibly glowing and clearly in love with tiny Charlotte. I smiled to myself knowing what a special moment they’d have as parents introducing George to his new sister.

When I learned the photo had been taken a mere ten hours after the birth I was a bit shocked and my thoughts were, “And here comes the shit show.” Kate, intentionally or not, just upped the ante upon which we will compare, contrast, and fight with each other as mothers and women. Ten hours. Not even a full half day.

Let’s remember this discussion isn’t about Kate the woman, but the image of Kate the celebrity. As an individual, Kate the woman is free to make her own choices and I invite you to respect them. She may have felt completely amazing after Charlotte’s birth and was looking forward to introducing her daughter to the throngs of people waiting to glance at the world’s tiniest princess. As you’ll see in a bit, different women feel differently after birth. Each birth is different, from mom to mom but even for the same mom from birth to birth. I’ll share those stories with you in just a moment.

ChildbirthTen hours after birth looks different for different women, though we’d never know it by what the media presents to us. We don’t honor individual stories of mothering. We are not honest about our bodies. We don’t insist on there being a rich and textured weave to that cloth. No, we accept one smooth narrative applied to all. Using the most recent photo of Kate as an example, ten hours after birth women are still expected to look pulled together, coiffed and manicured, having put on a pretty face and perfect outfit for the cameras attempting any trace of evidence of what our bodies actually just did.

If you are like me and find it unavoidable to encounter images of famous, rich women and their just-had-a-baby-can-you-believe-it-bodies splashed all over magazines and websites then you know that really we could insert any celebrity mom into the position the Duchess was in this week and have the same results.

Kate Middleton I want to examine the presentation by the media of a mother a mere ten hours after birth. I want to look at what societal expectations we have and how realistic those expectations are for most mothers.

Let’s also remember that in this photo, Kate isn’t just a “new mom”. She is a “working mom”. Kate’s job to look perfect in public. (That’s the rub when you’re a princess.) She is doing her job as a member of the Royal Family and she is dressed for her work, which in this scenario is to be put on display for her public. She is doing her job well.

But as a celebrity, Kate’s image didn’t happen in a vacuum and her carefully managed image only serves to add pressure on women for whom the Beauty Myth extends to their bodies even during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.

You have seen the headlines and advertisements all week, yes? “Get Kate’s effortless post-baby look now!” “Yummy Mummy Kate looks perfect in yellow and you can too!” “Kate may have just given birth, but she looked as elegant and stylish…”  “Duchess Kate has perfect new mommy color pallet for this spring. Find your colors now!”

I have even seen birthing centers and midwives use Kate’s photo to market their style of birthing classes and services, saying “Yes Kate looks this good after birth and YOU can too if you only try ________ during childbirth!”

And still the focus remains on what we look like, not what we do. I simply cannot stand it. I want to scream. 

If it is not known or obvious to people, Kate had a team of stylists and professionals surrounding her and helping her to look this pulled together. She may have enjoyed every minute of it and that is fine, but what is important here is for women to understand her look was achieved with professional help that is not accessible for most moms. Kate had a public appearance with her newborn from which the photos would be shared around the world and become part of history. Of course she wanted to look her best, aside from the fact she was obligated to.

Read how Kate and her team of well-paid stylists achieved her perfect look.

None of this is Kate’s fault nor responsibility, naturally. She didn’t create this system. Society is using her. (Again, that’s the rub for a real princess.) In all honesty, we need to turn our attention off Kate and reflect inward at what narratives we choose to believe. And judge each other by. Worst of all, what narratives do we judge ourselves by?

“Wouldn’t it have been cool if this time around, she had injected another dose of reality into the whole myth of instantaneous post-partum perfection? [S]he could have used her platform to make a difference. And by doing so, IMHO, she would have done a great service to her most devoted subjects: other women.” – Audrey Brashich

Read Audrey’s full post here: “Why I’m Mad At Kate Middleton”

Ten hours after either labor and birth of my two children I did not look like Kate. I looked as beautiful as a woman exhausted from childbirth can look. I know I wasn’t concerned about looking beautiful. I was focused on caring for my body and figuring out what to do with this tiny person who was mine. I was wearing a nursing tank top and the awesome meshy hospital underwear, bleeding into those giant hospital pads and all over my bed. That is what my body was supposed to do after pushing a human being and placenta out of it. I was catheterized and sewn back together in places I didn’t know could tear open like they did. And since we’re all friends here, I’ll have you know that after my son’s birth I pooed the bed due to three hours of pushing and a stomach virus that had set in 24 hours before his first breath. I tried to clean it up but couldn’t and sat sobbing in my room until the nurse answered my call button. TMI? Nobody talks about that side of birth, do they? Time to get real, girls! Shit happens.

I was feeling angry and traumatized because childbirth didn’t go as easily as I had been promised by other moms who had used the same birthing technique I had tried, and failed at. I felt lied to and I felt like a failure. I was unshowered, exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain. A lot of pain. I was mad at my husband for not bringing me flowers. Or food. I was hungry and waiting for my milk to come in. I hurt, everywhere. I wanted my mom. I needed to brush my teeth. I wanted everyone to get away from me and I wanted a circle of people around me to help me and care for me and the baby. I was madly in love with and awestruck over my newborns and after my son’s wretched birth I promised myself I’d never go through this again.

That is my story. I wish it was happier. It just is what it is. I love motherhood, I hated birthing.

We don’t hear our collective truths often enough. We don’t speak our truth often enough. Maybe we aren’t invited to, maybe we’ve been taught to keep it quiet. Maybe we think it doesn’t measure up to what should be. Maybe we have learned to not own our bodies and therefore discredit one of the most intense experiences we’ll ever have with it.

Maybe it is because we are not taught how to honor other women and in turn honor ourselves.

I am abundantly cautious of selling child birth to women like a travel brochure, with one desirable ending point. Childbirth is a journey, not a destination. A destination means a single, desirable end place. A journey means we take different paths and hold different stories of our travels.

When we discredit or silence the negative birth experiences we take away from the power of the event. We rob a woman of her voice and her story. We end her journey for her because she did not reach her destination. We tell a lie by omitting the full panorama of what birth truly is.

The most disrespectful thing we can ever do to a woman is to take away her voice and disempower the story of her journey. The media does this regularly and attempts to take away the authenticity of our births and our bodies.

The other day on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook page I asked for women to share their truths, to tell us what they looked like ten hours after birth. I linked a media literacy article for context and it was interesting that even when given the opportunity to tell their truth some women still took time to judge, berate, chastise, and snark at each other. To cut each other down. To tell each other what to do. Instead of telling their own story they told others what to do with theirs. It was an experiment within an experiment and one of the reasons it took me so long to write this post is because I did not want to have to wade through all that negativity again.

The majority of that thread was women using their voices to tell THEIR stories. To enrich this pattern we are weaving. To create a more authentic and truthful yarn that holds this cultural narrative of childbirth together. Some women shared photos, a beautiful and real portrait of what motherhood looked like when it began for them. 

Some of the stories were hilarious: 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like I’d been rode hard and put away wet.” -Laurie M.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked like a soggy and bruised puff pastry.” -Holly W.

“The Stay-Puft Marshmallow man. But I had a big smile on my puffy face.” -Dawn B.

“Deflated bratwurst.” -Katie S.

Some stories were harrowing and made my breath catch: 

“Ten hours after my last birth I was still intubated and in an induced coma. I don’t know how I looked, there are no pictures of that time. I saw myself for the first time three days later.” -Cassandra A.

“A bedridden homeless person. I was still on IV magnesium to prevent post c-section seizures. Had not seen my twins, as I was on bedrest for 24 hours. I at least had a catheter so I was spared from using a bedpan.” -Jennie K.

“I looked like a scared mama, praying my micro preemie would survive the night.i have no idea what I looked like, I was only concerned for her life. So thankful most people don’t have to worry about that 10 hr after birth.” -Betsy T.

Some stories were empowering, ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ type truths:

“Ten hours after birth I looked pretty good. I could get up and take a shower right away and put on some clothes.” -Kathryn H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like the happiest mama in the world, I was glowing with joy and power at my accomplishment. I was sporting a heavily used hospital gown with front slits to facilitate ease of nursing, but I didn’t care I was over the moon with happiness.” -Deirdre O.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I looked proud, and happy.” -Jessica B.

Some were very real:

I could really use a shower” -Mia B. 

“Greasy and stringy.” -Elisabeth J.

“Like I needed to sleep long and soundly!” -Birgit N.

“A lump of panicky exhaustion!” -Rowenna A.

Some stories were more difficult, similar to what I shared of my truth above: 

“10 hours after giving birth, I looked like a deflated purple spotted ball of motherhood.” -Erin W.

“Train wreck – both times. Super long labors, one emergency C-Section.” -Kelly G.

I looked shell-shocked and terrified. I also looked nauseated because I hadn’t had a proper meal in about 3 days.
Also, I was wearing socks and my husband’s sandals because my feet had swollen too much to fit in my own shoes. And it was snowing.” -Wendy H.

Some stories showed the experience can vary from birth to birth for the same mom:

“I looked OK the first time around. I’d had a shower and blow-dried my hair and put some make up on. Why? Because I’d had a fairly straight forward delivery, a healthy baby and I knew there would be cameras out, taking pictures to send to far away family, and I wanted to look a certain way. The important thing is that *I* wanted to do that – I did it for me and no one expected it from me. It was my choice and I was lucky to have the mobility and energy to manage it. My second delivery was a different story! I looked like you’d expect someone who has just survived life threatening complications would look – hooked up to IVs, unable to move. I didn’t shower for days – I couldn’t walk for days – and that was OK, too. Every situation is different.” -Jill B

“10 hours after my first birth I looked like a train wreck, natural quick birth but my body tensed up & I was in rough shape for like a week. After second birth I looked great, I relaxed more the second time & had more time between contractions. But both births I looked completely in love & in awe of my handsome little boys I had carried around inside me!” -Jennifer P.

And all of the others that won’t be categorized but rather blended together because women and birth cannot be separated and categorized. They can only be truthful and we can only act as sisters to one another if we are to hold each other up and live authentically: 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like I would EAT THE FACE OFF anyone who suggested I should do anything other than nap, eat and tend to my kid.” -Alexandra G.

“10 hours after giving birth I was a wreck (both times).” -Ushan A.

“Okay but stoned, and I couldn’t move my legs because of my epidural. No walking anywhere for me!” -Leslie K

“I looked like me, but prone.” -Susie C.

10 hours is roughly the amount of time it took me to get really pissed off about the situation I was in, after each of my kids was born. About 10 hours after my first son was born the hospital staff took him, for a medical check up, right when I needed to feed him. I was promised he would be returned right away. He was grabbed from his check-up by the hospitals photographer and was missing from me for almost 2 hours. With my second son about 10 hours after he was born the hospital staff came to discuss with me that I was going to be discharged in the morning, but he was going to have to stay in the NICU. When my daughter was born I was told that because she was large they had to prick her foot, to test her blood sugar levels, before she ate, EVERY time she ate. At about the 10 hour mark my pain meds from the C-section I had were gone and I was exhausted. At that point I was not up for an entire night of waking up to a hungry baby, then waiting with a hungry baby for a nurse to come in and prick her foot, then trying to get her to latch on properly when she was screaming out in pain from being pricked.” -Nancy C.

“Ten hours after birth– the first time, I looked sick and scared as the birthing was traumatic and my son was very ill; …the second time I felt wonderful and looked like my typical self, pregnant or not pregnant, bathed and hair fixed and holding a safe and healthy baby.” -Mary P.

“A mommy in love with her new baby. ” -Barbara B.

“A fattie who hadn’t showered for a month…and exhausted.” -Becky J.

“Ten hours after birth, I looked amazed, content, tired and happy.” -Stephanie H.

“Like a boss.” -Nicole T.

“Glowing and proud! I felt invincible. Oh and most likely with a boob hanging out. Both girls nursed like champs!” -Angelica A.

“A very worn-out but elated mama trying to balance snuggling a new baby with wanting to strangle the nurse who kept coming in every five minutes asking if I wanted her to take him to the nursery. No, I don’t. We’re snuggling/nursing/bonding/sleeping. Go away.” -Becky C.

To me my wife looked like a bad ass. What she felt like she looked like I have no idea. I really liked the comment above about marathon. It was like she ran an ironman race. I was providing support but she ran it and yes, she looked like a bad ass both during and after.” -Jonas S.

“My stomach was lying on the bed next to me and my maternity ward roommate was on the phone complaining about how she had hoped she could keep on some of the baby weight but it was just all gone immediately. I didn’t throw anything at her, so I was proud of myself.” -Meg D.

“10 hours after a delivery that was a page out of my worst nightmares….I looked washed out and probably could have used someone to make me look pretty…..hehe.” -Shehla A.

“After my first two, I look tired and sad, but that was probably because the hospital didn’t treat me so well. After my third, who was born naturally at a birth center, no one believed I had just given birth. I was peppy and looked relaxed.” -Katie N.

The first two times (epidural births) I felt pretty icky. Third time, after a med-free birth, I felt awesome. I don’t know what I looked like because I was pretty assiduously avoiding cameras. But I do know that what I looked like should have been the last thing on my mind. There is a crazy amount of pressure on women to look a certain way all.the.time and feel bad about themselves when they don’t. So I have beautiful, beautiful pictures of my brand-new babies. Most of them have a slice of my arm or hand or shoulder in them. Few of them have my face. And I regret that so much now. The few pictures I do have, I’m glowing with joy. Why not more of those shots? Why did I feel like I didn’t want my picture taken?” -Gina P. 

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like 160 pounds of well-kneaded bread dough. My body felt like it had been hit by a truck. But my heart and pride were at their infinite limit.” -Christina H.

“10 hours after giving birth I looked like…I don’t know, and don’t care, because having a mirror around was the last thing on my mind.” -Jeanine T-B.

“I looked like I needed sleep while trying to help a newborn learn to “latch on” and trying not to throw up from all the pain meds they gave me for a c-section birth. My tummy also looked like there still could have been another baby in there.” -Susan L.

“I looked like a happy, tired mama beautifully glowing with love for her new baby.” -Robin W.

Baby #1, sleeping but with baby on my chest, so content, proud and in love. The pain of the c-section slowly kicking in. Baby #2, my 1st vbac 10 hours later was a very different pain, I had finally showered, had spent the day snuggling 2 kids and overwhelmed by it all. Baby #3, vbac #2, I was telling the nurse what to do, taking charge probably with exhaustion, but thrilled to have #3 daughter. Best Mother’s Day gift. How I looked I don’t know and I don’t care & neither did my kids or husband, but if I had to guess, it would be like a mom.” -Jennifer D. 

Ten hours after labor I still completely understood (and was affirmed in my belief) that images of [Kate Middleton and other] female celebrities represent false symbols of womanhood sold by the media and a patriarchal culture, and I was not at all concerned about conforming to those unachievable and unrealistic “standards.” 99.99% sure she had a team of hair & makeup people with her, a stylist told her what to wear, and she soldiered through the walk from the door to the car with a big smile plastered on her face so they could whisk her away to go back to bed. It’s too bad that women believe these images, where (male-dominated) media only values “pretty” images of motherhood over the realities of birth and motherhood, as the reality is too upsetting? uncomfortable? overwhelming? for most people to process. Mother’s Day is coming up, and if we really valued motherhood, we would fight for fully paid maternity (parental) leave, affordable daycare, living wages for day care providers in particular and all workers generally, flextime and paid sick leave for employees, guaranteed social security for stay at home parents and unpaid family caregivers, job security/training for parents who temporarily leave the workforce, (etc etc) and an end to the misogynistic culture that tries to teach girls they are only valuable as ornaments to boys, and teaches boys that they have to be “strong” and “tough” to conform to cultural expectations.” -Renee L. 

10 hours after giving birth I looked like an exhausted, nervous wreck with the faint remnants of paint on my tummy from being painted like a beach ball at my birthday party the night before. I wasn’t producing milk, and I couldn’t feed my daughter. I was teetering on my feet due to lack of sleep with a hungry,yowling beauty in my arms. I felt like I was a horrible Mom right off the bat, where was my milk? Eventually, I had to send her to the nursery where they fed her, and I had to learn to be kind to myself.” -Bunny D. 

“10 hours after my 2nd birth I was at home having a cup of tea and getting a cuddle from my new baby and her big brother! Both my gorgeous babies were born in the water on gas and air in Midwife led units which I think goes a long way to help how you feel after. May also be helped by having short labours and no tearing. I birthed both my babies safely! I felt I could do anything!” -Fiona B.

“The Michelin Tire Man wearing a diaper.” -Nicole S.

“Ten hours after birth I looked: bloated, tired, and sore. I actually refused to allow my husband to take any pictures of me because I just didn’t feel like myself.” -Kimberly G.

“A very happy deflated balloon.” -Aviva G.

“I looked like I was sleeping. Because I was. But I also was up, around and dressed within a couple hours of birth. Ready for the media? No. But ready for family and friends.” -Chris C.

I looked like I’d had a major abdominal surgery and was experiencing a several day chemical vacation post-surgery.” -Linda W. 

10 hours after the birth of baby #1, I was looking like my normal self and wanting nothing to do with the awful hospital gown. After baby #2, I looked like a zombie. I was up almost 24 hours before his birth, but not due to labor. He was taken from my room at the 6 hour mark due to lung issues so I launched into milk pumping with a goal of 8-10 sessions every 24 hours to make sure there would be milk when he was ready to come off of the iv. My life became a routine of pump, wash the pump parts, run the bottles to the nursery, visit my son, and repeat.” -Connie K. 

“Less than 20 minutes after my water birth, I felt on cloud nine! My vagina however would beg to differ! Despite not tearing, it felt as if I had passed a bowling ball, and my pee felt like acid! For the next 24hrs post birth, I walked like I’d been riding a horse for a week.  10 hrs after, I was snuggled up on the sofa with our new little lady.” -Donna W. 

“I ate Taco Bell 30 minutes after delivering my twins (vaginally) and showered right after that. I would have blown dry my hair but I had forgotten my hair dryer. I drive the nurses and my doctor nuts cause I was constantly on the go. I looked and felt great.” -Jennifer M.

The first time, I looked sleepy but elated, snuggling in bed with my still puffy belly and tired eyes, holding my tiny baby and uncaring of the pain in my incision site. No makeup, and the same messy braid I’d labored in for 36 hours. The second time–dazed, shattered, exhausted, and frustrated by the tiny squalling thing struggling to latch, born after a surprise c-section that gave me none of the birth euphoria I had expected.” -Stephanie H. 

“10 hours after my last birth which was an Emergency C-Section I was desperately try to fart and burp so that all the painful gas that had built up in my shoulder would leave!” -Danica C.

“10 hours after giving birth I was fine. In fact, we left the hospital early and travelled to see family for Thanksgiving dinner.” -Angie R.

“Hell, almost 3 YEARS after my son’s birth and I’m still a frumpy mess, lol. Happy as can be, though.” -Mandi S.

“Less than 12 hours after both of my babies (#1 an exhausting and horrible induction at a hospital and #2 a beautiful, calm home birth) I was eating and enjoying 10-12 family visitors passing around the baby and relishing in the love and community my kids were born into. I’m sure I looked like death warmed over both times, in my nursing tank and yoga pants, but it was quite honestly the two times in my life that what I looked like or what others thought of me was the furthest thing from my mind.” -Jen S.

“The happiest person who desperately needed a shower and a nap.” -Anne G.

“Ten hours after birth I looked like a sleeping person.” -Tonia J.

With all of my girls I was showered, dressed and coifed within the hour of having them because my body was so relieved to be rid of the baby elephants I house for eternity. But that’s just my “peasant stock” body. 100 years ago I would have been the lady dropping a baby in the field and going back to shucking wheat. Since shucking wheat isn’t on my to-do list present day, I enjoy feeling human again as soon as possible after giving birth.” -Erica M. 

I was up walking and talking showering and eating chick filA within a few hours of delivery. I was excited and ready to go home! With my first that is. By my 3rd. I was tired n exhausted and wanted to stay in the hospital for a week had they let me. I had a bit of PPD and wasn’t ready for the world, but that’s how life goes, I was delighted to be holding our 3rd baby with the man of my dreams next to me, it’s like a fairy tale sometimes, and Kate deserves the same feeling, she looks like she feels the same way.” -Nicki H.

“10 hours after birth I looked like I always do…a beautiful woman!! The only difference was now I was a beautiful momma!!” -Victoria W.

10 hours after birth I was sporting mesh underwear with an elephant sized maxi pad, staples across my belly after my emergency c-section and still in the hospital gown. I was exhausted after almost 24 hours of labor, including the last 2 hours of that being excruciating back labor. I needed help getting to and from the bathroom while I shuffled like the hunch back of Notre Dame. Then shock of shock, seeing my reflection and realizing I still looked 6 months pregnant, even after giving birth!! No one warned me about any of this, even all the books I had read. With my second, it was a scheduled c-section, I recovered much quicker. Within a few hours after the c-section, I was in my own nightgown, hair brushed, a bit of make-up and up to seeing visitors and having my picture taken. I was even able to walk on my own and get to and from the bathroom on my own. Night and day from the first to the second experience.” -Jessie W.

Neither of my births were all that easy – first was 24 hours of mostly natural labor and eventually a c-section (revealing a 8lb 14oz baby boy with a very bruised upper arm – clearly he was stuck on my pelvic bone!). So 10 hours after that I think I still had a catheter in, and was delirious from 3 days of no sleep, struggling to figure out how to nurse my child (boobs like bullets anyone?), and all the drugs and pain and “disappointment” of the c-section. 2nd was better as I had a planned c-sect. (revealing a 9 lb 7 oz baby girl!!!), but due to the surgery I was still pretty much bed ridden and very puffy from the IV fluids. At least this time I was much better rested and knew how to nurse!” -Jaime W. 

“I was up and about right away with all but the last one. With my last I separated my pelvis and couldn’t even stand up. But the other five, I was great! With two of them I was home before the 24 hour mark. The only reason I spent extra time at the hospitals was we were waiting for the doctors to let us leave! Keep in mind me longest labor was 6 hours…and the others averaged 3 hours with maybe 20 minutes of pushing and 15 minutes of pain.” -Micki S

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked blissed out. That’s a look that has nothing to do with hair, skin, or makeup. It’s gorgeous no matter who you are.” -Lisa C.

“Who looks in a mirror ten hours after birth? I mean seriously! 63 hours of labor people!” -Jennifer K.

I honestly can’t remember what I looked like after giving birth- looking in the mirror wasn’t even on my radar, ha ha. But I probably looked tired (I was up for at least 48 hours straight before giving birth with my first and 24 with my second, and then of course it’s not like I could just fall asleep right afterwards). I’m only in a couple of pictures from around the time I gave birth, and I haven’t looked at them in a while, but I think I just looked like me- not a fancied up version and not a decaying zombie version, just normal me.
Mostly what I remember feeling after birth was immense physical relief both from the end of labor and not having very active babies using my ribs as a jungle gym anymore. That and being so excited to eat since it was pretty much the first time in 9 months I could eat without getting sick or heartburn.” -Kristen W.

“After my third baby I looked like a glowing mommy! After my first I was a wreck with baby in the NICU.” -Karen C. 

“10 hrs after childbirth I looked like I had just competed in the most physical event of my life and relished every minute of my triumphant finish!” -Elizabeth M.

After almost 3 hours of pushing I ruptured most the blood vessels in my face and eyes. 10 hours after delivery I looked like I belonged on the walking dead without any of the fancy makeup tricks. I got so many stares from other parents in the mother/baby unit and I’m pretty sure I scared some nursing students! I do have a picture somewhere for proof and I’m planning to play that card repeatedly when my daughter becomes a snarky teenager!” -Lindsey R.

“I looked like I couldn’t care less what anyone else thought, because I live for myself and the sweet little love of my life in my arms.” -Lollisplotch M.

“A proud mother.” -Manuela R-F.

“Ten hours after birth I looked radiant and sweaty and happier than I’ve ever been… Also very naked and as voluptuous as ill ever be.” -Fernanda R

“My tummy looked and felt like a well used bean bag and I looked extremely thankful for my new sidekick latched onto me ….and for the catheter that meant I had an excuse not to get up and walk.” -Meghan L.

Ten hours after my son’s birth I was still shaking from the delivery. I was in labor for 27 hours and had an emergency c section. I had to have an extra incision, and that still wasn’t enough so they tore open my uterus with their hands. My son wasn’t getting oxygen and it had to be quick, so they couldn’t even wait for pain meds(I was doing it naturally). So I was strapped to the table while they cut me open(I could feel every cut)I looked horrible after having him. I lost twice as much blood as they thought I would, so I was pale and clammy and weak. And it was glorious because my son was alive.” -Jessicah W. 

“Ten hours after birth I was wishing that maybe I had slept a little, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the amazing little piglet I held on my chest. My body was exhausted, my mind alive. I felt and smelled like I had run a marathon.” -Ebby M.

“I looked amazing 10 hours after giving birth with my 4th. He was born before I normally woke up, I took a shower, had a nap, then got up and went about my day. My others were born later in the day so I was sleeping 10 hours after.” -Sarah L.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked ecstatic, because those new mama hormones were goooood! 24 hours after giving birth I left the hospital and found I could not sit down, use the bathroom properly, fit into the clothes I wanted, or stop wearing Depends.” -Emily S.

“A happy and elated mum cuddling my newborn, both of us still naked on the sofa letting him find the breast.” -Diana S.

Ten hours after my first, intervention-filled birth I was pale, shakey and incredibly sore. Ten hours after my largely natural second birth, I was still very sore but recovered much more easily that my first, and definitely wasn’t the colour of the hospital walls, like my mum said I was with my first!! This isn’t a judgement on birth choices, just my truth!” -Christina C. 

“Like a Halloween version of the Goodyear blimp.” -Connie R.

“Ten hours after giving birth, I was still unconscious, planning a funeral and then unconscious again.” -Nicole T.

“Ten hours after giving birth I looked like a woman who had just spent the better part of 8 hours laboring then pushing an 8 pound baby out of myself. But also glowing and radiant!” -Christina R.

I have no clue what I looked like 10 hours after my first birth. Probably asleep. 10 hours after my second, my heart was melting as I watched my 6 year old hold his tiny baby sister for the first time.” -Emily S.

“10 afters after birth I looked VICTORIOUS! I had my daughter. She was alive, she was healthy, she was perfect, and I had my partner by my side. I was home. I was walking. I was also only ever peeing in water and wearing black leggings.” -Cee O’C

“10 hours after birth I looked like… Someone who didn’t care how she looked cuz I was on cloud 9 after having a baby!!! I was too focused on getting this new mom thing figured out to honestly care how I looked. Didn’t shower, no make up, tied my hair up to keep it out of the way, and happier than ever… Tired too but that goes without saying. Lol!” -Emily F.

“First kid-exhausted and worried, and frustrated at dealing with a bully pediatrician in the hospital. Second kid, happy and ready to go-I wanted to go out to dinner. What a difference a safe, healthy homebirth made.” -Erika G.

“Sleepy and hungry!” -Jennifer M

“It didn’t occur to me to check what I looked like. I was 38 years old, 2 weeks over due, had been induced 2 times and had an unscheduled C-section at 10 p.m. I so didn’t care. I hadn’t combed my hair in over a day, I hadn’t showered in over a day, I don’t think I’d brushed my teeth either.” -Elizabeth T

After an induction for preeclampsia, being bullied repeatedly by a doctor I never met, painful manual dilation without my permission, sunnyside up delivery, episiotomy without consent, a failed epidural and more crap that I’ve not even listed…the birth of my daughter was not the bliss I hoped for. Hours later I was still hooked up to medications that made me anxious and caused double vision. My hair was a hot mess, I couldn’t get out of bed and a parade of people kept pouring in to the room. I fake smiled, but I wasn’t happy…nor did I look like it. I don’t wish that type of experience on anyone.” -Becca S 

“Ten hours after birth I looked like: me…. a bit swollen in the belly area (of course) but glowing, radiant and in excellent health. The photo is me after the birth of my second child in hospital…about one hour after birth and we went home (I walked briskly out of there) within another 4 hours. sans makeup and hair done of course – it was 2 in the morning!” -Bree H

I looked completely deranged. They took my baby to SCU and I had no support, no phone and was hooked up to a drip in my spine. To an attachment parent it was tantamount to torture and it took about two years to recover.” -Carlie H.

Ten hours after the birth of my daughter was about 10:30pm. I looked tired, not exhausted, but I was energized. I *think* I was wearing a hospital gown. My baby bump was similar to my five month size. Ten hours after I gave birth to my twin sons was around 2:30am. This time I was wearing my own nightgown, with slits in the pleats for nursing! Otherwise, the same. With my daughter, I was in labor for six hours, ending with less than fifteen minutes of pushing. I got an epidural just before I started pushing. With my twins, active labor started when the fetal monitor was attached to Baby B. Two and a half hours later, I was done. I didn’t even have time for an epidural – I found out that it HAD worked somewhat with my daughter. Ouch. Once I took a shower each time, I felt and looked like my pre-pregnancy self, with a belly bump.” -Jean C.

 

 

Pulling Back Curtain On Beauty Myth

 

When young boys and girls are surrounded by media, marketing, and the entertainment industry nearly 24/7, what messages do they learn about beauty and physical expectations held by society?

Let’s use this image actress Allison Williams created for Instagram as a discussion starter with kids.

Image via Yahoo!

Image via Yahoo!

This photo is a great tool in showing kids how the beauty and entertainment industries work. It reveals beauty expectations held for women, as well as the difference between reality and mirage.

Compare and contrast the two different versions we see of the same person, asking critical thinking questions like:
~ cover the left side of the photo and only show your child the right side, ask them to describe the lady. now show them the right side, ask what differences they notice, what changed on her face? did it change how they perceive her?
~ how long might it take to achieve the look on left and what tools go into providing that look? make a list of how many different cosmetics and brushes it would take. (I count at least 20)
~ is look on left an everyday look, or special event look created by professional makeup artist? should women need a professional’s help to be able to show up to an event? or everyday life?
~ it is perfectly fine to want to get fancied up for a special event. does this look on the left need to be everyday? more specifically (for older kiddos) do girls/women need to feel like they should look like the left side *every day*? how might that pressure feel to them?
~ what messages are given about what physical features are desirable for women? is this inclusive of all women (age, ethnicity, etc)? if it is not inclusive, how might that make women feel?
~ what messages do boys/men learn when women are expected to look like the image on the left? are those fair expectations for boys/men to be taught? how might that impact them?
~ do men have to go to these same lengths? do men have to spend the same amount of time and money to be considered ‘presentable’? if no, how much money and time do men save?
more specifically (for older kiddos), if no, why is it acceptable for men to show up with their normal faces or even looking scruffy compared to what female counterparts look like?
~ ask them what they would tell kids about the tricks played beauty myth the entertainment industry.

“It used to be that actresses and models wanted you to think they woke up looking completely flawless. But lately, a handful have been pulling back the curtain to show fans what really goes into creating their perfect look.” -Sara Bliss for Yahoo!

Read the full article about the photo here on Yahoo! 

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (PP&BB).  

LEGO Gets It And Seems To Not Care: The Elves Spa Edition

When the new LEGO catalog arrived I tossed it at my kids and said I needed birthday present ideas. While I love that my kids create and build with LEGO, I have really come to despise LEGO as a company and hate giving them my money. I want to love them, so badly I do, but I just cannot. I dislike toy companies that attempt to instruct kids on how to be kids. The “build it this way” boxed sets and gendered marketing give me hives.

Once a favorite toy of my youth, I look at the pink and blue LEGO world of today and part of me wonders where they went so wrong. In the 1990’s they painted themselves into a corner by solely marketing to boys. It worked so well they lost the girl market and struggled to get it back until their recent run away hit with LEGO Friends + Disney Princess license. But to get the girl market back LEGO went with the lowest common denominators of femininity. The Friends line has improved since the initial sets of hair salons/beauty, cupcake bakeries, and shopping malls. Now we have jungle rescue, multiple sports, hot air balloons, sea planes, lighthouses…..at least girls are getting the message they can go out into the world and take up space (and by ‘world’ I mean Heartlake City, where Friends live separate from the rest of LEGO world). Separate but equal, right? Wrong.

The new LEGO Elves line seems promising, and much of it is. You’ll still find it in the pink “girl’s LEGO aisle” and you’ll still see the hot pink and purple LEGO coding “for girls” in the bricks, but you’ll also find sets called Creative Workshop, Crystal Hollow, Adventure Ship, Treetop Hideaway……and then you’ll fine the requisite beauty spa and magical bakery.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

Lego Elves spread in new catalog.

You know if I were creating a mystical, completely imaginary world for girls where I could think up absolutely ANYTHING, baking and beauty are two things I’d probably move right past on my way to Unicorn Training School and Lava Ball Factory.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

The requisite beauty spa for LEGO.

But good ol’  predictable LEGO – what is a ‘girls LEGO set’ without a little spa magic and cupcake charm? It’s as if LEGO knows exactly what is hard wired into the DNA of our girls. In fact, the LEGO Elves set “Naida’s Spa Secret” comes with ‘beauty cream’  – a nod to all little girls knowing beauty comes from a jar you spend your paycheck on and their worth comes from that beauty. And the number of sparkles on their purple pet dolphin.

The set is marketed with the text “Pamper yourself at LEGO Elves Naida’s Spa Secret….”. I think if I were a kid today playing with LEGO I’d be less worried (and most likely completely unaware) that I need pampering and more concerned about getting more pegasuses (pegasi?) for my army so that I can defeat the invading trolls….or whatever it is that attacks elves.

(Related must read: “Beauty Tips for Girls, from LEGO” on Motherlode.)

Whenever I read posts like the one from Motherlode or lead discussions on Facebook about the gendered, sexist marketing by LEGO I see so many people ask “Doesn’t LEGO get it?!” And I think LEGO does get it. I think they do not care.

It is probably unprofessional for me to write “Bite me, LEGO” in this post, so I won’t do that. Instead, I would like to say that while I see some improvements from LEGO with the shift in focus of the Friends line to girls doing things and I like the Elves line including male and female characters ready for adventure, I’m just really finding it hard to understand the undying LEGO commitment to beauty spas and bakeries for girls.  Why does LEGO hold that stereotype when consumers have so clearly said that is not what our kids want nor what we want for our kids? If the wold’s largest toy maker were paying attention to the girls apparel and toy market in the past 36 months they would see run away hits and crowd funding darlings focused solely on building girls up to be smart, STEAM-focused diverse adventurers and parents can’t get enough of it. Let’s not forget the massive petitioning and then consumer demand for the LEGO Female Scientist set which LEGO will not keep stocked nor commit to expanding or keeping long term.

Ideas like Ruth Bader Ginsburg LEGO? Yes, that is a choir of angels you hear singing. LEGO rejected the concept for its IDEAS fan page, saying it will not accept “politics or political symbols”. Ironically, the Supreme Court along with the need for greater, more inspiring representation of females in LEGO isn’t about politics. It’s about equality and justice.

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

      Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News.

supreme court lego

Legal Justice League, created by Maia Weinstock, Deputy Editor at MIT News. 

 

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

 

The Barbie Project: The Whole Conversation

The song that never ends.

The song that never ends. (Image source unknown)

We are overdue to change a conversation. A conversation is only as good as the information that travels through it. In order for a conversation to be a good one ideas need to be introduced, then ideas need to shift and evolve. The evolution might feel like an abandonment of principle at first, but it is the natural order to how ideas grow and realign as new information enters improved awareness and understanding.

All that is to say, this conversation we’re having around little girls, Barbie, and body image needs to evolve. We need to change with it. That is not to say we dismiss or forget what has already been discussed, nor disown those who disagree with any particular position. It means we move forward. Together. Because walking and talking in circles doesn’t get any of us very far.

Barbie is made out to be the most villainous of children’s toys, the chief complaint being body image and her “toxicity” to empowered little girls. I can find myself agreeing with some parts of that, for example, I’d love to see Barbie come in different body sizes but I understand from a manufacturing perspective why that doesn’t work (although, it would not be difficult to incorporate into digital and print media). I’d love for retailers to strive for greater diversity and offer children more Barbies of color on the shelves. I’d love for Overtired Working Mom Barbie and Stay-at-Home-Dad/Freelancer Ken. Stores should stock more Career Barbies like the astronaut, presidential candidate, teacher, doctor, veterinarian, and computer programmer. Less brides and more business entrepreneurs is fine by me, which also feels more in tune with the girls of 2015.

Barbie has held 150 careers since the 1950's.

Barbie has held 150 careers since the 1950’s.

But for all this, the conversation about Barbie always goes back to what Barbie looks like. 150 careers later the gal can’t win for losing.

We can’t seem to get over Barbie’s looks, to the exclusion of all other points of conversation. Barbie was never meant to be an exact replica of a human body yet anyone who builds a life-size Barbie is guaranteed a viral Huffington Post article. Any researcher who can gather a handful of young girls to ask a batch of questions about Barbie’s looks and the girls’ lifetime aspirations then publish with a headline grabber like “Barbie’s Long Legs Measurably Crush the Souls of Young Girls” guarantees being highlighted on all the girl empowerment sites, never mind how good the science is or isn’t. Everyone loves to hate Barbie. While we focus ALL of our energy on what Barbie looks like we teach our girls to do the same, ignoring all the careers, places traveled, financial independence, and friendship the Barbie story also offers. The media literacy around body image is very important, but to the exclusion of all other things? When we do that, what are we teaching our daughters is the most important thing about a woman?

Consider the speed at which articles about this super model or that older actress being “brave” or “our beauty hero” for posing in un-retouched photos made public race across the internet and into the nightly news, all while actual achievements by women barely make a blip. I think we are not being honest with ourselves when we simultaneously bash Barbie’s body yet focus our entire conversation on how we look or how someone else looks. If the bravest thing a woman can do in 2015 is show up in public free of make up and Photoshop we’ve got MUCH bigger problems than Barbie.

The intent of my words is not to defend Barbie, rather I’m asking if we all can expand this well-intentioned conversation we’re having. We’re missing the whole conversation. Life isn’t black and white. Life is full of gray, full of “yes, buts…” and “on the other hand” and new perspectives.

Image from The Barbie Project.

Image from The Barbie Project.

I find myself wondering, are we really being honest with ourselves or distracting ourselves when we use every mention of Barbie bear the cross of all negative body image issues? Let’s allow body image to be part of the conversation, and then let’s keep talking, observing, listening, discussing. After a year on The Barbie Project, I’m not convinced this is how little girls see their dolls until we teach them to. Granted the Barbie brand extends over multiple media platforms (toys, clothing, books, cartoon dvds) but at the end of the day, for most children, she is just a doll laying on the bedroom floor. Probably naked.

Over the years I’ve asked my large social media community when was the first time they can remember as a child feeling as though some part of their body was “flawed”. The second part of the question is who played a role in assisting that realization? What began as research for my book is now a bi-annual cathartic, eye-opening event. Hundreds of answers later reveal insecurities ranging from too much body hair to refusing to shave, skin color being too pale to too dark, hair color being too red or not blond enough, being too thick, being too thin, being too tall, being too short, needing a bra early to not needing a bra until college, having freckles, crooked teeth, acne……the list went on. And the people who made these insecurities rise when these women were girls? Moms. Aunts. Grandmas. Fathers and step-fathers and uncles. Classmates, from the first day of kindergarten all the way to middle school. Other parents. Teachers. Doctors. Friends. Above all, moms were mentioned over and over and over again.

Yet no one mentioned Barbie. Literally not once in any of these threads has the toy been mentioned which is why I find the preoccupation with her looks to be so very distracting from the larger conversation we could be having, for which Barbie should be a part of but not the entire focus. I think bashing Barbie really isn’t the whole conversation and when it is, we lose sight of where our focus and energy should really be in order to bring about meaningful change for girls and women.

Let’s focus on what women do, instead of what they look like.

Let’s focus on our individual influence and impact on the children in our lives.

Let’s recognize that Barbie as she is now represents one kind of beauty, but WE should be the ones defining endless versions of beauty and making it more inclusive, expansive for our daughters.

Barbie is a complicated doll, and can mean many things in many different ways. Perhaps that is a good thing to teach our girls - Women are layered and complex and not linear beings.

Barbie is a complicated doll, and can mean many things in many different ways. Perhaps that is a good thing to teach our girls – Women are layered and complex and complicated. (Image via When You Choose Hope)

I think we are wringing our hands and giving Barbie way too much power as we simultaneously fail to see our own. If there is one thing we teach our girls, it is that we should care more about what we DO with our life than how we look living it. If anything embodies this that belief I hold to my core, it is this comment left in the thread about when in girlhood did you come to understand your body was seen as “flawed”:

I was nine; I’d just played Bach’s ‘Minuet in G’ on the piano, for my school’s Parents’ Day. This was in Pakistan, where almost no one learns to play musical instruments; it was a big deal and had involved a lot of work. I was incredibly proud of myself. Photos were taken of all the performers and displayed on the school notice board.
As I approached the board, people were laughing and pointing. They’d found a photo of me. I looked at the photo, and for the first time, I realised that my cheeks were chubby, and that when I concentrated, my mouth fell open. I looked stupid.
That was the moment when I became aware that I was an object. I didn’t have words for it, but I knew that it didn’t matter what great things I did – what mattered, and what I would always fail on, was how I looked while I did it.
From then on, I’ve never been able to do anything with my full attention. One part of my mind has always been nervously policing the way I look: can I hold my chin higher to hide my cheeks? Is my mouth neatly set? Is my face pleasant? And I wonder what amazing things I could have achieved (or could achieve, still!) if I was freed from that mental burden.” -Noreen

When I read Noreen’s comment, tears sprung to my eyes and I gasped for air. Tears sit in my eyes now. I think about the mental energy women and girls waste thinking about how they look instead of what they do. I think about what the world has missed out on, contributions left ungiven and I feel a painful weight on my chest. I anguish over the amazing girls we are raising who might choose to sit something out because of worry over being pretty or worry about that she is worried about being pretty, and instead of taking over the world she remains still in a world of self doubt.

Our conversation currently is running like this: Instead of what a woman can accomplish or discover or enact or defend – we bring it back to what she looks like. Instead of what girls say or think or whom they inspire or rescue – we bring it back to what she looks like. Just like we do with the conversation about Barbie, which is like the song that never ends.

I’m asking us to shift the conversation. Can we evolve it, please? For example, there are some little girls out there with some incredibly confident mamas who are bashing the heck out of all of these stereotypes and we’re doing it by using Barbie and play as a teaching tool instead of an instrument of demise. We’ve chosen to take a step back, get a few deep breaths, talk out the tricky spots, and sit on the floor to play so that we can see the world through our daughters’ eyes.

I don’t care whether or not you or your kid plays with Barbie, I just hope you find inspiration from some of these posts and understand the conversation has to evolve past what we look like and move to WHAT. WE. DO.

We should care more about what we DO with our life than how we look living it.

Ruby's daughter exploring outer space.

Ruby’s daughter exploring outer space. (Image via GUB Life.)

Yolanda, on learning through play with her daughter. “She’s taught me so much more about body image and self love that I could have ever done.”

Ruby explores a rich heritage and cultural tradition through fashion design. ” I shared that grandma (my mama) has an embroidered dress given to her as a gift, something very common in our culture. I got to wear it a few times.”

Brandy empowers her daughter by allowing her freedom to choose her own wardrobe. “It’s clear she was expressing her adorable self and her growing little personality.”

Eliana discusses how dolls become a girl’s friend. “At her age, and with her individual circumstances, Barbie is a friend of hers.”

Tammi witnessed her shy twin daughter finding her voice. “Katie is finding her way. Her strength. Her ability to shine and be the star of the show after all these years.”

Kara and her daughter explore the difficult truth of how segregation and racism impacted their family. “As she played I asked her how she would feel if she was not allowed to go into certain places just because of the color of her skin.”

Kara's daughter explore social justice through play. (Image source Empower Her Inc)

Kara’s daughter explore social justice through play.
(Image source Empower Her Inc)

Jenny sees the power of children’s imaginations. “We tend to lose sight of how much we can add with our minds by expecting everything to be realistic and tangible.”

Brandy learns the power that mermaid effect holds on a timid swimmer. “The whole way home she talked about how she couldn’t wait to swim like a mermaid in class tomorrow.”

Ruby’s daughter travels out of this world to the moon. “Walking on the moon with Barbie was definitely done in an unexpected way.”

Yolanda discovers her daughter is a business mogul in the making. “I walked in on my daughter playing with her Barbies and overheard the dialog she had for her dolls. Her dolls had taken on the roles of my friends and I, and as such, each was a business owner, freelancer and influencer.”

Tammi sees what has been important to her three daughters over the year. “Again the summer memories are brought back to the forefront as their experience is reenacted in play.”

Eliana realizes Barbie is a reflection of her daughter’s unique personality. “Barbie has the most amazing and beautiful shoes any woman can dream of, but many times my daughter decides to let her walk barefoot and just have fun. Barbie is the reflection of my daughter’s personality and interests.”

You can read my Barbie Project posts here, where my daughter and I focused on all the incredible things her imagination can do with a doll dressed for 150 careers, who drives a jeep and a hot pink camper.

The confident, intelligent, diverse, amazing group of moms blogging for The Barbie Project as we coach our daughters through girlhood.

 

Barbie Project LogoLearn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at:www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

 

Sex In A Bottle: Deconstructing Perfume Marketing With My Kid

The 8yo Original Pigtail Pal and I were at the mall yesterday running some errands when a marketing poster at the department store perfume counter caught her eye while I was making a return with the cashier. She has been paying a lot of attention to the images displayed in stores lately, and I can tell she is giving them a lot of thought. The woman in the photo was wearing an evening gown and was very thin. The angle of the photograph drew your eye to focus on her exceptionally long legs. She was in a seated position reclining backwards with her legs spread partly open, the high slits in her dress causing the fabric to fall between her legs. The position of her body made her look like a prop and look on her face was a highly suggestive “Come hither” gaze. It prompted Amelia to ask if the woman was being sexy.

I answered that she was, but then compared that photo to one of a different model for a different perfume brand. The second model was wearing a women’s suit jacket that was open with nothing underneath. Her photo was also sexy, but in a different way. In this photo her eyes were closed and she had a sublime smile on her face, Her head was titled back, her smile turned towards her shoulder, her hands gently touching her neck. Her image gave off a feeling of self love and radiated beauty. Those two things together made it sexy.

(Unfortunately I can’t find either photo online to show you here.)

Amelia and I talked about how the two different images made us feel, why the first model was so thin, why it looked like the first model was waiting for someone while the other woman seemed to be by herself, why one photo focused on spread legs and the other focused on a happy face, and why companies would use those pictures to sell perfume.

“If perfume is supposed to smell nice and it is grouped into the groups you talked about then why aren’t they showing the different smells inside the bottle so you know what you are getting?” -Amelia

“Because they aren’t really selling perfume, they are selling the illusion of beauty and sex. The perfume isn’t the only thing people are buying when they buy this.” -Me

“They buy it to be sexy?” -Amelia

“Right, they buy it to feel attractive and sexy. People are drawn to the various scents, but the photos influence our feelings around the products and how we want those products to make us feel. That is called advertising. The companies do this to get our money. Feeling sexy is totally fine, but companies trying to sell that feeling to you isn’t always a good thing. Feeling sexy isn’t something you buy or get from other people, it is something you feel on the inside once you are more of an adult.” -Me

“You probably have to be in college to feel sexy.” -Amelia

“Right, or maybe a little bit in high school. Also, if you notice in all of these photos around the perfume and makeup counters the women are all white, all thin, all young and all more or less look the same. Women of all shapes, ages, and colors feel sexy and beautiful, but you don’t see that in advertising and that is why Mommy doesn’t like those photos. I don’t like when companies tell women how to feel about themselves.” -Me

“I would never listen to that because I would just listen to myself that I am beautiful. And I guess for third grade I don’t really need to be sexy but I would like to do a ninja obstacle course.” -Amelia

My work here is done. For today.

Amelia and I then walked hand in hand down to Bath & Body Works, whose lotions and potions  feature images of the scents inside and doesn’t rely on sex to sell. I bought my favorite oriental floral perfume and then I bought a little lotion with a light, sweet floral scent for Amelia who has no business being sexy in third grade but can certainly be a nice-smelling ninja.

I don’t mind her wanting to try on little bits of adulthood here and there, like high heels, makeup and perfume. When she is dancing around in my bras or asking to try my lipstick I just make sure she understands she is a visitor here, that the bras are too big and the lipstick too dark for a little girl. I teach her that everything that goes into being a woman is fantastic, and worth waiting for. I tell her there’s no need to rush it because being a confident little girl is equally fantastic.

People will always be selling sex in bottles and limiting versions of homogeneous beauty to her. I can’t stop that, but I can raise a girl who understands from a very early age that she is under no obligation to buy into any of it.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.