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What does it mean to be feminine?

I was getting ready to take the kids to school this morning, putting on the "finishing touches" you could say, when my daughter comes into the bathroom and asks "Does it hurts to put that on your eye?" referring to my eyeliner. I told her it doesn't hurt. And then she asks,"Mommy, why do you wear make-up everyday?"

I smiled and looked down at her sparkling blue eyes and her flawless ivory skin. She is an absolute beauty at only six-years old. And like me, she has two brothers and no sisters. I am who she is looking at to reflect her face, her femininity. She is so much more "girly" than me and often times it is her engaging that girly-ness that gets me to tap into my own femininity. I replied, "Well I don't wear make-up every day but when I do wear it, I wear it to draw attention to a particular part of my face. You see some people wear make-up as a way to hide their face, but I don't want to hide my face. I like my face and I want people to see my eyes, so I put on eye-liner so my eyes will stand out. See? I have pretty eyes."

I lean my face towards hers, opening my eyes wide so she can take in all the colors in my hazel eyes. She smiles and giggles a little and then asks if she can have some sparkles on her eye-lids too.

This interaction got me thinking about what it means to be feminine, and where did I come to learn what it means to be feminine? I have a very clear memory of the first time my mom taught me how to put on eyeliner: I had graduated from high school and was about to start college. It was September 2001, literally days before the 9/11 attacks, and she and I were in Washington, DC for a medical conference. As we were in our hotel room that overlooked the Pentagon, she was putting on her make-up and I asked her how she put on eyeliner without hurting her eyes? Nearly the exact question my own daughter would ask me nearly twenty years later.

To some, learning to put make-up on at 18 would seem rather late to the party, and in someways it absolutely was. I had not really worn make-up in high school, and when I did it was usually at a sleep over at a girlfriends' house or for a school dance. Make-up was not a part of my regular high school routine, and truth be told, it didn't make the regular routine in college either. Does that make me a "Tom-Boy?" I wonder...

Even today, I don't think of myself as being "girly"or especially feminine. What does it mean to be feminine? And who decides what that looks like? Is it a dress code? A style or "look"? Is it "being in touch with your emotions" or having soft desires? One thing I know for sure is that being a strong woman is seen as a threat; a man is assertive or influential, that is praised and respected. But when a women is that way, she is seen as a man-eater or a b-----. Is having drive, power and leadership not feminine?

I don't want my daughter, or any of our daughters, to have their imagination of what their future can hold be determined by their gender. My girl is a power house. She knows what she wants and she wants to do it her way, on her own. She's fierce and lovely. And in the end, I did put sparkly eyeshadow her, very lightly. She doesn't need glitter to make her shine, she radiates all on her own.


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