Naked face politics

There is no preamble, no set-up. She simply looks at me and says:

“Mom? Why don’t you ever wear make-up?”

And I look back at her, and pause. And ponder. What do I say? It has been years—not decades, but more than a decade, more—since I’ve thought about my always-naked face. What does she need to know? What does she want to know? Should I tell her that I’m too practical-busy-lazy, that when one naps in the middle of the day with babies and toddlers, one doesn’t want to smear mascara-eye-shadow-foundation on pillows? Sort of true, maybe, except I don’t think that’s quite how it happened.

I can’t quite remember when or why I chose a naked face. Or if it was even a choice…

I could tell her it’s because I exercise in the middle of the day and I love that clean up involves nothing but the quickest of showers, a wipe with a towel.

I could tell her it’s an aesthetic thing and choice and preference, one devoid of any merit, because most of the women in her life dress their faces, and I love them, she loves them, and I want her to honour their choice. And, in a couple of years, she will long for mascara and eye-liner and blush and all those things—I wallpapered my face enthusiastically as a teenager too—and I don’t want her to, ever, think that I’m judging her, denigrating her preference of the moment.

If she was older, I might tell her that in my experience lovers always prefer the taste of naked skin to the taste of cosmetics… but no, not now, I won’t tell her that.

I could tell her I like my skin. My eyes. My lips. Just the way they are. And I like to smear on lipstick for special occasions, sure, but it gets on wine glasses and her daddy’s shirts and… TMI. Stop.

I could tell her… oh, so much. Too much. I’m an anthropologist by training, after all, and I know too much about the “why” theories for most of humanity’s quaint customs.

I don’t know what to tell her, because she’s an almost-pre-teen girl in a sick culture that warps beauty and body image and aesthetics and personal choice and turns everything into a weapon, a war, a conflict, an assault on her own sense of beauty and self and joy, and oh, why-does-raising-a-daughter-have-to-be-so-fucking-hard and oh, why-do-I-always-overthink-everything, why-can’t-I-just-say, “Because I don’t want to” and be done with it?

I should tell her… what? What the hell should I tell her?

But then, she answers herself:

“Is it because it wouldn’t be fair to the other moms? Because you’re so beautiful already?”

Flora, my most beloved child, I’ve said before I know I’m not supposed to have a favourite… but at moments like this… it’s really hard for your brothers to compete with you.

I wrap my arms around her. Press my naked face against her naked face. Kiss her. Love her. And she says:

“We’re so lucky we’re so beautiful, aren’t we?”

Flora, my most beloved. We are. You are. Hold on to this feeling as you grow.


N.B. I wrote this post before Avital Norman Nathman of The Mamafesto brought the #365FeministSelfie project, masterminded by Veronica Arreola from Viva La Feminista, to my attention. Naked face, painted face, happy face, sad face, angry face–REAL face. Real people. An aesthetic of the real, as seen-captured by the subject, without a mediating eye. That’s power. And also… play, joy. I’ve been in since Day 2. Come celebrate the reality of you with me, on Twitter or Instagram with #365FeministSelfie–or, you know what? Privately. Just for yourself. There’s power in that too.

The photos, Week 1. Do I love them? One of them is awesome. Two of them make me cringe. All of them are me.

Naked Face Politics Pin

Poisonous Volvo, Redux

We were uber-heavy on Tuesday, weren’t we? Today, you need to laugh, as do I. Actually–a little secret–as you read this, I’m locked in a hotel room in Banff with my laptop. Wrestling with existential angst. And winning. Meanwhile, for you, from Life’s Archives (December 9, 2006, and first appearing on Nothing By The Book on May 22, 2012), I present… Poisonous Volvo. Flora’s 2.5 and Cinder is five (Ender is still undreamt-of cosmic dust). They’re in the tub. And, cue action:

WAIT! Stop! Warning: yes, this is one of those penis stories. I have warned you, have I not, I am never profound and wise on Fridays? OK. Penis warning completed.  Read on.

Cinder: Flora, stop trying to grab my penis. Flora! No! Stop!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It’s poisonous. Poisonous! Like the giant red milipedes in the
South American rainforest!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: It will bite you!

Flora: hee hee hee

Cinder: OK, Flora, I know you want to play with it. But you can’t. Only I can play with it. Play with your own.

Flora: Oh… no pee pee!! Brother! No pee pee?

Cinder: Oh, I forgot, you don’t have one. Well, maybe one day, if you are very good, I’ll let you borrow mine. If I can. Mom! (I’m in the next room) Can I borrow my penis to Flora for a while?

Jane: Um… no. It doesn’t work like that.

Cinder: I didn’t think so. Well, sorry, Flora.

Flora: No pee pee? Why?

Cinder: Don’t worry, Flora. I’m sure we can think of something fun to do with your… Mom! What’s Flora’s not-a-penis called?

Jane: Um… (Still haven’t decided if Flora should have a Volvo or a Gavina… OK, I know she has BOTH, but you know what I mean. Go for the Volvo today) A vulva.

Cinder: We can think of something fun to do with your vulva. Hmm. Let me think. Maybe we could attach something to it?

Flora: Yeaah!

Cinder: Or… we could stick something in it.

Flora: Nooooo.

That’s right, sweetie. You should keep on thinking that for another 15 years, okay ma-baby? Twenty, if you want to make your Daddy happy…

But wait. It’s not over yet. The next day…

Cinder: Flora! I will smite you with my poisonous penis!

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

You might think this is the punch line. But it’s not.

Sean: Well, if Flora turns out to be gay, we’ll know why.

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? I think it would make the teen years a lot easier, don’t you?

Jane: Sean!

Sean: What? All I’m saying is, if she ends up a lesbian, being chased by her brother’s poisonous penis may be one of the reasons. And don’t you think you’d worry less about boys and teen pregnancy and all that?

Jane: What are you…

The punchline is coming… NOW:

Cinder: Ok, Flora. Now it’s your turn to smite me with your poisonous volvo.

Flora: Aaaaah! Run! Run!

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis bee...

The genitalia of the Callosobruchus analis beetle. It is covered in spines from base to tip. Referenced in Rönn, J., Katvala, M. & Arnqvist, G. 2007. Coevolution between harmful male genitalia and female resistance in seed beetles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 10921-1092. and Hotzy, C. & Arnqvist, G. 2009. Sperm competition favors harmful males in seed beetles. Current Biology 19, 404-407. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note: you are none of you allowed to make any kinds of connections between this post and Tuesday’s body image post. NONE. Thank you.

But speaking of which…

As you may have noticed,  Nothing By The Book’s Tuesday post  “Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. Yes, you will…”  set off a bit of an maelstrom. If you haven’t read it yet, and you’ve got a girl… or a body… give it a read. And if you do, spend some time on the comments, especially that by Tirzah Duncan of The Inkcaster.

And if you’ve got daughters and body image issues weigh heavily on your mind, check out these posts the commentators wrote/forwarded to me in the resulting discussion:

Introduction to Eating Disorders by Urban Moo Cow — Deb didn’t have any issues with her body… until her encounter with this whacked teacher

Body Image by Tao of Poop — Rachel’s daughter still loves her belly. For how much longer?

and, wow, this one:

My body is amazing from Villainy Loveless — this one arrived in my in-box via Tarot by Janine the day I was being ripped to shreds for my body image post on Reddit. Thanks, Villainy. Much love and appreciation.

And a big thank you for those of you who defended the post–and by extension me, Flora, and little girls everywhere–in the various fora where it was ripped apart. I have no stomach for such battles, but I appreciate your passion and indignation on my behalf very much.

Fight on. And love those girls.



“Please don’t give my daughter an eating disorder. But you will. You will…”

2011. Flora is six and lives in a bit of a bubble. There’s no TV—and thus commercials—in the house. No glossy magazines. The meme videos she watches on Youtube are big brother-tested and, while generally in poor taste, rarely an assault on the self-worth and identity of a young woman. She chooses her clothes among her favourite friends’ hand-me downs, and loves them because of who they came from. “Designer jeans,” to her, are an ethically troubling line of scientific research.*

She eats real food—and lots of delicious, sweet things. She never has to clear her plate. She can eat dessert first. Or never. For breakfast or in the middle of the day. She eats when she’s hungry, and does not eat when she’s not.

She loves herself.

And then, that stupid bastard, he tries to wreck it. When she’s six.

He’s not a bad man, you know. Just a guy. With a TV and without a daughter. I think he was just trying to be nice, make conversation.

This is what he said:

You’re eating a second ice cream? You are going to get so fat.

To my six-year-old daughter.

He moved on. Forgot. The effect on her? That evening, as she comes out of the bath, my six-year-old daughter looks at herself in the mirror—for the first time in her life, critically. She thrusts out her belly. And asks me:

Mom? Am I fat?

And I, who have spent much of my adult life struggling against the eating disorder and body image damage inflicted on my teenage self, I freak. But manage to hold it in, for her. And hear the story, what’s prompting this. And engage in a little bit of deprogramming. And tell her, that the next time I see him, I will explain to him why what he said was inappropriate and wrong and ensure he will never say that to another little girl again.

I figure by the time I see him, I will be… less angry. Because, you know, I know he’s not a bad man. Just a guy. With a TV. And no daughter.

But I’m still furious, seething. And so, what comes out of my mouth, instead of the rehearsed, rational statement I practiced, is this:

I understand you tried to give my daughter an eating disorder.

And he’s shocked—hurt. Doesn’t understand. Then, as I explain—a little appalled. Both at me, and I hope, at his lack of reflection? But perhaps not. I do think, however, he won’t call a little girl fat again. Or suggest she might be getting fat because she’s eating an ice cream cone.

But he hasn’t changed, he doesn’t understand. No, I don’t think I was that effective.

He’ll never do it again, because he’s afraid the little girl’s psychotic mother, who clearly has issues, is going to go medieval on his ass. As I did.

And you know what? That’s good enough. Not perfect. But good enough. That’s what I think in 2011…

Green tea (matcha) ice-cream with red bean.

2013, now. Flora’s eight and a half. A specimen of physical perfection: healthy, strong, athletic, beautiful. She kicks ass in Tang Soo Do. Does one-handed cartwheels for fun. Can outrun just about every boy on the Common, except for her big brother.

Eats when she’s hungry. Doesn’t eat when she’s not. Snacks on chickpeas. Loves ice cream. There’s no TV or glossy magazines in the house. She’s still lives in a bubble, at least some of the time.

But when she gets out of the bath tub, when she’s in the swimming pool change room—not always, but every once in a while, I see her looking at herself in the mirror—critically.

It rips at my insides.

I thought I could save her. But how can I? She has nine-year-old friends who talk about diets—who are on diets. Too many women in her life, around her torturing themselves, hating themselves. Unhappy with themselves. Passing the message on.

It’s everywhere. She’s learned “fat” is a horrible insult when thrust at a woman. She’s learned the look, shape of her body is what matters the most to too many people.

She’s not even nine yet. She still doesn’t know about designer jeans. But she knows this.

I thought I could save her.

But you won’t let me.

Inspired by Urban Moo Cow‘s guest post on Finding Ninee in the This is Our Land Series: The Greatest Gift

* My kids are brilliant. Deal with it.