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?


Rae said...

i have been facing the same perplexed looks at not piercing our daughter's ears. she is only 7 months old for goodness sake! but in jamaican culture, it is the thing to do. i get comments like, "pierce her ears so people know she is a girl!"??!! we have also refused to shave bald my son's head and his fuzzy curly locks are often gawked at and questioned. he has started to notice the attention surrounding his hair and he did ask once to have his hair cut shorter but in the end, he didn't like it. i agree, one's outward appearance should be a personal choice...and for me the issue of not piercing my daughter's ears is a safety issue. i hate to think about an earring getting caught on something and yanked out! i see it as a rite of passage that she will go through when and if she is ready.

Pearl in Oyster (Pio) said...

very thought-provoking post, Dulce.

CatholicMommy said...

I'm coming from a different culture, but I will contribute my mom's advice. :-) She told me many times, "There is nothing wrong with wanting to wear make-up, or nail polish, or curl or dye your hair. It can be fun to dress up. But if you do, it should be because you WANT to. Never feel like you HAVE to or are not good enough just the way you are." I think that repetition does make some things stick. :-) Even though you choose to wear make-up, you can tell your daughters that you know your husband would love you just as much without it. It is fun, but doesn't add value.

I have red hair, which used to be brighter than it is. Kids being what they are, I was teased about it occasionally. The teasing never mattered, though, because my family told me so often that I had beautiful hair. It wasn't a matter of vanity; to me, it was just a statement of fact. :-) No one else in my family has red hair, but I believed them just because they had no reason to lie about it.

Blessings as you navigate this path with your daughters!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you both so much. It is really rambling, I know--but so are my thoughts write now.

Rae, we hear the exact same things, both for hair and earrings. Your point about safety is good, too. Is there a particular passage you are thinking of celebrating, like menarche?

(((Pio))). I would love to hear your thoughts. :)

Aleassa said...

I discovered your blog through a blog from a blog from a friend. :) So far, I like your view on things, especially this sounds like some things I have been struggling with and blogged about myself recently in regards to raising my daughter! I really felt like I could relate. Thanks so much for sharing!

dulce de leche said...

Catholic Mommy, thank you so much! <3. That is such a beautiful and wise way of looking at the whole issue. I am so glad you shared that. <3

Aleassa, thank you and welcome! I am so grateful for all of you other mamas on this patenting journey. It is so nice to be able to encourage each other. :)

Cultured Mama Dawn said...

I used to work at Afterthoughts in the mall, one of those accessories stores that also did ear piercing. It wasn't a gun that we used-- it was a little more gentle than that- the earring acted as the needle, and we pushed it through ourselves.

I will never forget when some folks brought in their newborn baby to have her ears pierced. It is perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life to shove metal posts through those tiny precious perfect ears. I'm still traumatized over it, and I'm pretty sure I cried. Suffice it to say, I wasn't in that job very long.

It's funny, but I stopped wearing makeup about the same time I started dating my husband. He told me one day he thought I looked better without it (but never once has he said I COULDN'T wear it, or said he didn't like it even) but from that day on, I never wore it again. And now I don't even think about it. It has saved me a lot of money, I can tell you! And I don't wear any jewelry except my wedding ring anymore.

It's weird, but what just started as not caring about those things anymore, eventually solidified into a personal conviction. I don't think it is a sin per se to wear makeup and jewelry etc. But I definitely see the wisdom in the scriptures warning against becoming caught up in such things. And now, I don't worry about sending my daughter mixed signals. ;-)

dulce de leche said...

Cultured Mama, thank you so much! I really appreciate hearing your experiences and perspective! You have given me more to think about. :)

And, ay, ay, ay! I just noticed all the typos in my responses. Ack. Can I plead typing on my phone in the middle of the night while nursing my baby as the reason?