Last week, when we were on our regular walk in the park, an elderly lady came up to us and pinched Lily’s cheeks. We exchanged greetings and as she walked away, I heard her mutter softly under her breath (not for my ears, of course): “She is cute, but her nose is too flat.”
At that time, I didn’t think to react. She seemed like a kindly lady, and she is of course entitled to her opinion. But that night, I found myself telling my husband about it. And over the next few days, it simmers and stewed in my mind.
Yes, the minute they placed Lily in my arms, she became the most beautiful thing on Earth I’ve ever seen. I’m sure other mothers can relate to this feeling. But of course, I don’t expect the world to feel the same way.
Without my special mummy lenses, Lily is a regular baby. Many people still can’t tell if she’s a boy or a girl. If you really want to run a physical audit like that elderly lady, you could also say her nose might be sharper, her eyes could be bigger, and her thighs a little thinner.
But couldn’t you say the same thing for just about 98% of us – non-babies included? If you were to look at me, I know there are at least 10 things that you could change for the better. Scratch that – probably substantially more than 10 things.
And I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my teenage and early adult years, I was fixated on these imperfections. At an unconscious level, I have always felt ugly. If you told me that I could fix my imperfections non-surgically, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.
Thinking back, I realise that ironically, at a time in my life when I was supposed to experience the most freedom, I was instead shackled to this overwhelming sense of imperfection and inadequacy. Before I ran in the rain, I’d worry about whether my dark eye circles would show after my concealer washes off, or if I was wearing the right bra for getting wet.
And I suspect it’s inevitable that my baby will feel this way in her teenage years as well. But she certainly shouldn’t feel this way at the age of ten-and-a-half-months old, not at the age of five, not even at ten!
What I want for Lily is to experience freedom in her childhood. To run till her clothes stick to her back, and she smells of salt, sunshine and grass.
To dash through the rain, splash across the river in our park, and roll on the floor with my chihuahua and cats. To know unbridled happiness, and free-spirited beauty without worrying about what others think of her and the way she looks.
I hope that even when she grows up, and even if the world catches up with her and she’s buried under makeup and corporate politics, she will always keep this sacred space inside her. Somewhere in her heart, she will always remember what true beauty is, and what real happiness feels like. And anytime she gets tired of the flavour of bullshit the world is serving, she can always return to this.
If I do this right (and I really hope I can come close), this is what I wish for her.
So for the moment, I really wish to protect her from debilitating self-consciousness. From criticism on how she might be prettier if her nose were sharper or her eyes were bigger. But I also want to protect her from well-meaning physical compliments – the most common one being how fair and translucent her skin is – which in my opinion, is a totally archaic standard of beauty in Singapore. I don’t wish her to concern herself with such vain and superficial things.
What I wish for her to know is how beautifully her eyes twinkle when she’s happy – like the fairy lights at Christmas; and how bright her laughter rings – like a wind chime just before rain. I want her to know how perfect she is in every way – because I am her mother, and I am allowed to be biased. And with that knowledge and security, I want her to explore the world with more confidence than I had.