Coo coo: It’s crazy to cluck about looks
I’m a new mother. I’m also a lot of other things: a world traveler, editor, first-generation American, and like the rest of you, I can’t be summed up in a single sentence. You can understand, then, why I cringe each time someone new approaches my seven-month old baby and coos about her appearance. Without being daft—as I am blessed and grateful for her health and physical wellbeing—I politely say thank you on my baby’s behalf. This piece is about what I wish to say instead of “thank you,” knowing full well that society is just not ready to hear it out loud.
“Smart” is not supplemental
Hearing that your baby girl is beautiful has incited pride in countless generations. But I do not feel pride when I hear this pervasive comment. I feel a gut-wrenching ache and the heavy burden of combating each statement about my daughter’s semblance with my own dose of, “You are also strong…kind…silly…capable…” and other gender-neutral terms that should not be the supplemental add-ons to the ubiquitous commentary on her looks. After all, if we want girls to eventually be women who are more than their looks, then we need to focus on the aspects of their person that go beyond such superficiality.
Create a personal definition of “woman” and stick to it
Baby girl will one day be a woman. The question is: what does “woman” mean to you? This piece was initially slated to be published in a magazine for women. Its cover articles drew appeal, in big, bold letters, to “REAL women” while still highlighting the trope of beautiful, light-skinned, symmetrical faces on more than half of its covers. Are those the women we are to believe are “real”? Or are the real women actually reading this and fed up with the perpetuation of unreachable, plasticized beauty that wraps around our society like a corset choking out our truth? I suggest that each and every one of you define what it actually means to be a real-life breathing, thinking, loving woman and defend your position with conviction and action.
Normal does not exist
I have been traveling the world and educating for the last five years. Doing so has made me realize that there is absolutely no “normal” on this planet. There are many ways to raise children and it’s easier to go against societal expectations when you know first-hand that those expectations are not fixed, but change depending on where you live. I’ve chosen to have a baby outside of my native USA, and I don’t read many lifestyle articles on parenting. Instead, I listen to my inner voice—and heed the advice of my partner, my baby’s grandparents, her trusted doctor, and read the academic research—to sort out how
to raise my daughter. When people approach me asking, “nina or nino?” (I’m currently in Central America), I smile proudly and say nina. When they follow up without skipping a beat, “Oh! No ear piercings?” I want to say, “No. No ear piercings. Why don’t you ask me if I’m going to tattoo her? That serves the same purpose of body mutilation, but it’s not socially acceptable, so of course you haven’t thought about why one is okay while the other is abhorrent.”
Flip the Script
I know it’s a long path toward everyone thinking for themselves instead of simply repeating the same habits of previous generations. For those who believe in evolution, our spawn should, by definition, be better than we are. But they can’t get there unless we make better choices for them than were made for us. Define what “woman” actually means to you, and then do everything necessary to create that safe and pleasant space for your child to grow into. Then and only then will we change the comments from “She’s so beautiful” to “She’s so incredible.”
Suzanne Mahadeo is a writer and editor born and raised in Queens, New York.
She currently lives in Panama with her partner and young daughter. Get in touch at