By Patrice Gopo
Because society calls girls sugar and spice and everything nice. And turns their rainbow to pink, magenta, and wisps of purple.
Because we sell them glossy magazines with headlines like, “Get Your Best Bikini Body,” “Look Cute All Summer,” and “What No One Tells You About Your First Time.” Because we give them bendable dolls that look nothing like the bodies they will grow.
Because there are contests that reward them on the curve of their hips, the lack of flab in their thighs, the way they spin in ball gowns and bathing suits.
Because we teach them to be smart—but not too smart.
Because we decide that if they can crack glass ceilings, they must. Not just for them but also for the ones who follow. We forget their shoulders can buckle under this burden.
Because we teach them being fearless is spending a day without make-up or posting their postpartum pictures. Because we tell them they are beautiful even as we diet and exercise and give up dessert. Because we ignore them when they ask, “How can I be beautiful when the most beautiful woman I know doesn’t think she is?”
Because society says they can have it all.
Because they are berated for not leaning in to their careers. And for not staying home with their children. Because we pity them for not leaning in. And we pity them for not staying home.
Because we tell them that to lean in, they need to adopt an assertive spirit, embrace strong ways. But if they are too assertive, too strong, if they ask for fair treatment or stand firm for equal pay, we label them “spoiled” or “brat” or both.
Because we say they need a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Because we teach them to hide in their relationships and tolerate the unacceptable for far too long. Because when they wonder why marriage is passing them by, we tell them they should fix themselves up, stop being so aggressive, lose a little weight, hide their degrees, quit expecting perfection.
Because we train them to be the caretakers, the nurturers. Because we never tell them that their broken bodies and emaciated lives can heal no one.
- * * *
Because my mother has always called me beautiful. Because she gathered glue, ribbons, and lace and made hair bows to slide against my scalp. Because she taught me how to pull the bed sheets taut and make diagonal folds before tucking the fabric beneath the mattress.
Because she read my graduate school entrance essays.
Because she didn’t wait for an unknown wedding and instead gave me new pots and pans when I moved into my first apartment. Because she suggested I end a relationship. Because I got upset with her for making that suggestion, but now I’m grateful.
Because she never showed me how to apply mascara or chop up a raw chicken. Because after the birth of my firstborn, she scented my home with the aroma of roasted meats and savory gravy. Because in those quiet hours of new motherhood, she held my soft baby while I slept.
Because she wipes the streaks and smudges off my windows and calls me when I’m sick.
Because her conversations cradle advice, suggestions for improvement, tips for life, but I still know I make her proud.
- * * *
Because I was once a girl. Because I am now a woman.
Because I imagined my daughters sitting on a stool between the curve of my legs, their elbows pressing against my thighs while I unraveled their braids.
Because I wanted to teach them to crack eggs in metal bowls and find the derivative of a quadratic equation. Because I wanted them to discover the satisfaction of feeling a perfect thrift-store sweater snug against their bodies. Because I believed they could learn to create gorgeous phrases from the music of an ordinary day.
Because I kept my deep red, hard-covered Introduction to Chemical Engineering textbook, believing their fingers might one day rub the dusty spine, read the title, and know they could become that too.
Because I stay home and fold fresh laundry, pull duvets over crisp sheets, stir fragrant pots of soup, and stand in my bare feet sweeping the floor. Because at nap time I hold my warm toddler to my chest, brush my lips against her forehead, and touch her hair with the tips of my fingers.
Because I called one laughter and the other miracle.
Patrice Gopo‘s recent essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Gulf Coast, Full Grown People, and online in the New York Times and The Washington Post. She lives in North Carolina with her family.
Photo: Daria Nepriakhina | Unsplash