When it comes to physical modifications for the purposes of beauty, I am conservative. I have exactly one pair of piercings (ears), no tattoos, never have had fake nails, never have dyed my hair. I am just me, more or less how I came out the chute. It might have something to do with my family culture, although I am much further over on this physically conservative spectrum than almost all the rest of my family members. I do fix my hair almost daily, and I do wear a bit of make-up. I also give myself pedicures and shape my eyebrows and generally keep groomed and tidy.  I like to feel pulled together, and although Bill swears by my appearance au naturale (and I believe him), I do like to give myself a bit of an assist at times.

As I sit here mulling over my words, I realize what an impossible post this is to write. How we decorate our bodies—and whether or not we do—is so personal, and there are so many forces that wish to control aspects of that self-expression. As soon as I reveal what I have done to myself, or not done, there are all kinds of assumptions then about what I might (but probably don’t) think about what other people do to themselves. Believe me when I say: I really don’t judge (or frankly much think about) what other people do with their bodies. Certain forms of expression may not be for me, but I understand (and so do you?) that any form of gilding is all on a spectrum. Any modification may be no more or less a modification than any other. Even permanent modifications (tattoos) may not really be permanent in this day and age.

I guess I have found artistic satiation more in my writing than in changing my appearance. I am a Jane Eyre as far as that goes, and I am okay with that. I’m just…me. Plain, beautiful, average, or whatever. The most pleasure I’ve ever received from creating my body is actually happening right now, in fact, as I fine tune its mechanics and strength and precision. I’ve always loved playing with my clothing and trying on different moods with different textiles. But that’s about it, really. Pretty boring on the outside? Generally, I am so deeply involved with my inner self that I don’t often give much attention to my outer shell. I happen to think my husband is more handsome than I am pretty, but either way it is our minds that came together and the physical attraction was a (albeit important) bonus. It is the inner self that makes someone most appealing to me, anyway. People tend to become more beautiful to me with every word they speak or write, or less so.

This paradigm has worked for me since just about forever. Then along came Katie. I fancy myself one kind of artist. But she? She is another.

Katie must express herself outwardly all the time. With her voice. With her clothes. With her dance. With her tears. With her drawing. With her writing. I love it. She’s big. She’s colorful. She wants to live, breathe, and be her art. She loves to dress up (who doesn’t?). It is her world to paint.

Here comes the other reason why this blog feels impossible to write. Parents of the world, I submit before you now a parenting decision I have made. Reader, I hope that you are not one of those judgmental types of parents reading this right now.  I hope you tend to be like my friends and I: in possession of straight up respect for the right of every individual parent to think rationally through a decision that is in the best interest of the child and to act on it without a committee review.  If anything, my point in writing this particular blog is essentially this: my child is not me, and I gave her her freedom this afternoon.

Sure, I have boundaries. I almost set a boundary here, in fact, with what she wanted to do. We had some conversations about how much she loves herself, how beautiful she is naturally. She knows she is “playing.” This is part of a performance for her. It is her expression, and this one is safe. I am not naive, though. I know there might be some readers who will exclaim, “You let her do what?? Shouldn’t children be all natural until age ____? Won’t it affect how people see her?” I know, because there was a time in my life years and years ago when I might have exclaimed the same thing.

Four or so months ago, a girl Katie knew from choir received her first box of hair chalks. Katie fell instantly into an enamored state. This girl is older, talented, and kind to the little ones. For the past many months Katie has been begging for hair chalks. Hair chalks are like pastels which temporarily color the hair. They come in all different colors, a big set of rainbow. She has been asking almost every day.

At first I resisted: not old enough. We have age requirements for ear piercings set in our house. Clothing comes under scrutiny, too. Color your hair? When I’ve never even colored mine?

Then I started to think. Really think. And I also had some craftier reasons at work, too. Katie is a hair chewer/hair sucker. We’ve been working on this with gentle (and some frustrated, sorry to admit) reminders for months. Nothing is working. We put her hair back, she takes it out. Suck suck.

But these hair chalks? One result might be that she feels big enough and free enough and that her hair is special enough to stop chew chew chewing along. Maybe she needs this expression, something to feel big and in charge of herself. Maybe she won’t want to ruin her pink/blue/green/yellow hair. Maybe she will like her awesome colorful hair so much that she will feel an extra glow inside that will make it so that she doesn’t want/need to chew.

Maybe she will feel loved for her free and wild self.

Maybe she will feel like I am not micromanaging her. Trying to make her me.  That’s the difficult part of parenting: we have to say, “Live by my values but also be yourself.” That’s a balance I am still trying to achieve.

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Katie was thrilled as I put the pink chalk into her hair.

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The back…

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Okay, and then I got carried away and we gave Eric green hair tips.

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They love, I love it, and I may or may not have a colored streak in my hair as well.

This was a difficult decision to make, and I had to reflect quite a bit. I’m standing by this one.

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