At the outset, I feel like I’m the kind of mom who would have very clear ideas about when my daughter can pierce her ears, begin shaving her legs, and wear make-up. I’ve never been a fan of piercing the ears of babies because putting a permanent hole in another human being’s body when they can’t consent seems strange to me. But then again, I’ve circumcised both my boys and that’s far more serious than a tiny hole in an earlobe so perhaps I’m a hypocrite? Listen, this parenting gig is tough and I learn more with each passing day so perhaps, given what I know now about circumcision, maybe I wouldn’t make the same choice. But then again, I’m glad they physiologically match their dad so that’s something to consider as well.
My point is, my notions of what I will and won’t allow are constantly shifting as I learn from the experiences of other parents. My daughter is 6 years old but in the blink of an eye she’ll be double that and I’ll be dealing with questions pertaining to clothing, make-up, piercings, and shaving. I come from a very conservative people. Mormons, to be specific. They don’t like two-piece swimming suits or sleeveless shirts and women are encouraged to wear shorts that skim the knee-cap.
As is the case with most teens, these rules pertaining to modesty and the way I should and shouldn’t present myself to the world made me want to do the opposite. When you’re a tween verging on teen and someone tells you that you aren’t allowed to do something what do you immediately want most in the world? To do that thing. Who didn’t witness the 13-year-old girl awkwardly applying make-up on the bus to school because her mom absolutely forbade her to wear it? Psychology aside, I’m increasingly realizing that some stuff just isn’t that important. Is inserting my parental opinion on my daughter’s body choices really that big of a deal? In the Slate.com advice column, Dear Prudence, a mom asks when she should let her 11-year-old start shaving. Prudie, who has never led an advice-seeker astray so far as I’ve read, tells her, “The proper time is when your daughter feels self-conscious about not shaving. She does sound young at 11 years old, but this is strictly an individual matter.”
The advice is so simple and rings so true to me that it cut through all the crap I’m constantly evaluating in my head in regard to those sorts of parental dilemmas. Age doesn’t matter, especially in this day and age. If your daughter reaches a point where shaving her legs is on her radar, what’s the big deal? Does leg-shaving equal promiscuity? Um, no. The daughter inquiring if she can shave her legs or arm pits may, as Prudie notes, “be rapidly heading toward full-blown puberty and she is uncomfortable about the dark hair on her legs.” Maybe she just wants to be like her friends who are shaving. What’s the big deal? Same goes for ear piercing and make-up. If your kid has a preference on how they’d like to present themselves to the world and it doesn’t involve partial nudity, why the unnecessary fuss? Purple hair? Fine. Nose ring? If that’s something you feel best expresses who you are, go on with your bad self.
I want my daughter to try on all different kinds of personalities until she figures out which one best represents who she feels like she is on the inside and I don’t want to equate leg-shaving or make-up wearing with anything other than a beautiful human being trying to express herself in the way in which she feels most comfortable. I figure I’m a solid enough parent that I can offer her some guidance in this department — here’s how to apply eyeliner, for example — but the end game is all her. I can’t wait to see her little personality develop as she explores who she is and I hope she knows she can always come to me for support, guidance and, most importantly, unconditional acceptance.