Monday, May 23, 2011
The one parenting decision that people have expressed the most shock over isn't related to breastfeeding, cosleeping, our vaccination status or discipline. However, the shock would lead a bystander to think we are neglectful parents. Ready for it? Deep breath. We didn't pierce our daughters' ears. For Hispanics, that is about as surprising as not circumcising would have been in the US a few decades ago. (Happily, most Hispanics do not circumcise).
My mother's church growing up took great care not to conform to the world. The women didn't wear pants, or make up or pierce their ears or cut their hair short. I know all the arguments that would dismiss that--I used them on my mom! God looks at our hearts, not our outward appearance. And it can still become all about conforming to church culture (the same hair dos, the same style of dress) and turn into an issue of pride. And as far as modesty goes, any hyperfocus on something tends to actually draw more attention to it in the first place. But.
But, in spite of those things, I also saw a sincere desire to please God with their bodies, a recognition that we are created by the Master Artist and that we don't have to make ourselves into copies of our culture. And I admire that deeply.
So, back to the whole ear-piercing thing. I got my ears pierced for my tenth birthday. It hurt a lot. We did one of those ear-gun places at the mall. Despite careful applications of alcohol and the salve that we were given, one ear developed a boil-like, pus-filled infection. Even after following all the instructions about leaving the posts in, twisting, etc, for the first few years, one of the holes would close over in the back if I didn't sleep with my earrings and I would have to punch it through. (If my children get pierced, they will go to a professional piercer that uses a needle instead of a tissue-crushing gun).
However, I am very, very glad that my parents let me make the choice about what to do with my own body. I like wearing earrings, and have not had any problems at all for over twenty years. I pierced my sister's ears at home with a sterilized needle, thread and a potato. When my mom decided to get her ears pierced, I was delighted to go with her. It seemed like a symbolic choice of freedom somehow. And when a friend of mine got a navel ring, I accompanied her and celebrated with her.
The issue of choice is important to me, and not one that I would make for someone else. When our first daughter was born, Carlos and I discussed the idea of getting her ears pierced and quickly agreed that there was no reason to do something painful and permanent to our baby for cosmetic reasons. She was perfect the way she was. If she wanted to get her ears pierced once she was old enough to understand the choice and take care of them, she could, but we weren't going to make the choice for her.
This weekend, my seven year old and I had a conversation about make up, piercings and other forms of body art. It provoked some thought about what I want my standards to be for my children. Ariana hasn't shown interest in makeup before, but she confided in me that she thinks she would like to wear lip gloss and maybe some other stuff sometimes. Her two year old sister, on the other hand, asks me to buy her blue lipstick almost daily.
Like our conversations about shaving, it made me feel a little uncomfortable about the messages that I am sending my daughters. Not only do I wear earrings, I have been wearing makeup--a lot of make up--since I was ten or eleven. I like the way I look with makeup better than the way I look without it, for sure. Yet I don't want my daughters to think that they need makeup, ever, and certainly not as children! I feel like a hypocrite, and that bothers me a lot.
I believe that God designed us with a desire for beauty and creativity. Part of being made in His image is our drive to create and make things beautiful, to express our own uniqueness. Body are can certainly be part of that. When my kids wanted to make their hair different colors, I was happy to let them.
But they are already masterpieces. Their bodies are beautiful. I want them to know that and rejoice in who they are. I don't want them to make changes to their bodies from a pressure to conform to those around them, or to think that they aren't "enough" already. And I won't even get into the whole issue of sexualization of children, but I highly recommend reading Pigtail Pals for some excellent posts.
I find it easy to come to clear decisions on a lot of topics, but this is one where I struggle. I am not sure exactly how to transmit my values to my children and be authentic. The whole beauty thing is tough. I work at not putting my self down, especially not in front of my children. Most of the time I feel accepting of the way I look. But I also am self conscious of weighing more now than I did at the end of pregnancy with my first three. My hair is different shades thanks to do-it-yourself attempts at covering grays. My skin is splotchy thanks to hormonal surges. I could go on to list flaws in my teeth and more.
I have friends who have been models and I dabbled in it briefly as a teenager (never made any money or did any jobs where someone would recognize me, but I had fun). I know that even people that most of us consider very attractive tend to criticize their own appearance. But I don't want that for my children.
Being the change we want to see it hard. I am not convinced that I need to give up make up and jewelry or anything--like I said earlier, I believe that a desire to express beauty and creativity in our bodies is part of the way we are made. But I also want to balance that with the recognition of the beauty that is inherent within us. And I want my actions to match my words. How do you teach your children that they are masterpieces?