Saturday, April 28, 2012

Identity in Balance Guest Post: Jennifer on Lipstick and Daughters

Jennifer blogs over at mama nervosa, a site about motherhood, pop culture, feminism, and the aftermath of quitting grad school. 

Jennifer says, "I teach gender studies and liberal studies classes at a midwestern university; I have three daughters; my house is small and messy; I grow a garden with tomatoes and peppers for salsa and mint for mohitos."

Her submission in the Identity in Balance series is cross-posted from mama nervosa

I am a feminist mom, and I wear lipstick.

To be clear, I am not interested in the question of whether feminists can/should wear lipstick. We can; I do.

What I am interested in is what it means to put on lipstick in the morning while my 5 year old daughter stands next to me in the bathroom, wanting just a couple more minutes with me before I leave for work. I love these moments together. Sometimes I tickle her nose with a fluffy powder brush. Sometimes she asks me for lipstick kisses, and I press my lips to a tissue for her. I find them behind the couch, in her bed, tucked under her plate when I clean up the lunch dishes. She holds them tight for a few minutes at the start of the day, when she’s missing me, and then they drift out of her hands.

She loves princesses, sparkly shoes, tiaras. She loves dinosaurs, frogs, digging for worms. So far, so good. I worried that going to preschool would mean immersing her in gender roles and norms, but she hasn’t let on that she has much of a sense of toys or colors being only appropriate for boys or girls. But she has asked to wear makeup.

“Can I wear blue sparkly eye make-up to preschool?”

“Nope. It’s for grown-ups.”

She pointed out that one of the girls in her class wears blue sparkly eye make-up. “She’s not a grown up, Mom. She’s 4 like me.”

“Every family has different rules, sweetie, and in our family, blue sparkly eye make-up is for grownups, or maybe for dress up, but not for school.”  She wasn’t satisfied, but she let it go. I went to pack my laptop; she went to the toy room. She reappeared by my side with her Ballerina Barbie doll.
“Ballerina Barbie wears blue eye make up.”

“Yup. Is she a kid, or a grown up?”

“A grown up.”  Pause. Then the kicker. “But I bet if she had a little girl, she would let her little girl wear blue sparkly eye makeup to preschool.”

I could not have imagined that there would be a moment when my child would compare me to hypothetical mother Ballerina Barbie and I would come up short. But there we were.

We have tried hard to provide options, not restrictions when it comes to gendered toys: Barbie AND dinosaurs. But I wonder about what she is learning from the ways I perform gender and femininity, from my lipstick kisses. Is this how she sees beauty? Am I setting her up to see herself as inadequate because on some level, I see myself that way? How much will she think pretty matters?

I’ve lived a lot of different versions of femininity. I wear lipstick most days now, but I haven’t always; but this is the only me she knows. How much will any of it matter to her, my lipstick, my shaved legs, my unshaved armpits, my perfume? I know what beauty looks like and feels like in and on my own skin.  I want her to know those things too. I’m worried the lipstick will distract her. I’m worried she’ll waste time feeling ugly or unlovable, the way most teenage girls do, the way I did. I’m a feminist mom, and I wear lipstick, and I want to raise daughters who know they are gorgeous through and through.  

The Identity in Balance Writing Series is all about looking at how different parts of our lives and identities intersect. If you'd like to submit a post, you can find out more about the series here 


  1. Robin is also very interested in makeup. For some reason, I'm fine with nailpolish on little girls, and have given them lipsmackers instead of candy for Valentine's Day, but eye makeup? No. I remember rummaging through my Mom's drawers as a child, putting her deoderant and makeup on. I thought I would love to wear makeup as an adult, but most days I wear absolutely none (maybe foundation, maybe powder -- maybe). I wonder what I'll do if Robin wants me to teach her the ways of makeup?? I still feel like a hamfisted twelve-year-old when it comes to conventional femininity.

  2. We are definitely pro-nail polish and lipsmackers around here.
    They are expected to wear make up for their ballet recital (our first!) in a few weeks, and I'm curious to see how/if that experience changes the conversations on this issue.

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