Recently, a friend of mine in Cincinnati posted on Facebook that she was feeling out of place at a park. She went in typical mommy attire: comfortable and sporty. She was shocked to discover that many of the other mothers there were wearing dresses.
I instantly had negative feelings toward these women. Thanks, ladies, for violating the unspoken mothers’ pact that dictates that unless you are going to date night/girls’ night/a formal occasion, you do not put on makeup/wear nice clothing/brush your hair. We aren’t supposed to care how we look on a playdate.
Someone asked my friend at which park she encountered the dressy women, and she responded (truthfully) that it is called, “The Land of Make Believe.”
Oh, the irony.
As mothers, how often do we say that we just don’t care about how we look because there are too many other things to focus on? Additionally, how quick are we to incite mommy-on-mommy hate when we encounter someone who looks, by our own standards, “better”?
I have two nagging thoughts that I can’t shake:
Do we live in the land of make believe when we tell ourselves that we don’t or shouldn’t care about our looks? Are we doing ourselves a disservice by devaluing the desire to look nice?
We do care. I care. The woman at the playground who wasn’t dressed to be at a royal ball probably cares.
I’m not even talking about the pressures we may feel to reach a certain societal standard of beauty; I’m talking about being comfortable in our own skin, which can be a big struggle when our skin has been chewed on, stretched out, cut open or wrinkled with the worries of parenting.
Being a parent is no fairy tale. It is hard work. The easy part is putting our looks way down at the bottom of the to-do list.
And because of that, it’s easy to think that making time for the way we look is a superficial thing. We start assigning guilt to the feelings that urge us to buy the nice under-eye cream instead of the generic, or splurge on a manicure instead of getting the toddler the toy he has been wanting.
So we compromise; we go to the gym to exercise and feel good but spend all day a hot, sweaty mess because taking the time to shower and dress would interrupt the kids’ schedules (heaven forbid). We go to play dates straight from the gym and then feel a little put off by the parents who do look nice.
Long gone are the little girl days of wanting to be a princess; we have come to terms that we are more like Cinderella, and there are no glass slippers in our futures.
As much as I would love to tell you that I don’t care, there is a little part of me that does.
I oscillate between the reassuring thoughts that I’m beautiful because of who I am, not how I look, and nagging reminders that I haven’t washed, dried and fixed my hair in weeks because I have been prioritizing parenting over something that makes me feel good about myself.
I hold my head high and claim that as a feminist, I believe my value comes from somewhere other than my appearance. But admittedly, I still feel “less than” when I encounter women who look like they stepped out of the fairy tale. They ate poisonous fruit and lost weight faster than I did. They climbed the beanstalk carrying their 6-month-old and got a freaking six-pack.
Maybe they made it a higher priority. Maybe projecting on them is a reflection of my own insecurities. Maybe, just maybe, I caught them on the one and only day they washed their hair and felt beautiful, and I should celebrate them instead of admonishing them.
Does it only happen in the land of make believe that we remember that it’s OK to take the time to do something for ourselves?
It does feel good to know you look good, however you choose to define it. Maybe the mothers who were dressed so nicely at The Land of Make Believe did the right thing by bringing a bit of the fairy tale into the real world. I may never achieve it, but it’s a good reminder that I can take a little time for myself and still be a good mom.