I spent that hour in the hair salon holding my breath. It was the afternoon of the middle-school semiformal dance, and my daughter was getting her hair done. I watched as the stylist twirled bits of her honey-colored locks around a hot stick. Each time a new “beachy wave” emerged, Grace looked in the mirror to size up the progress. My fingers were crossed behind my back. Oh, please, let her like how it turns out.
The eighth-graders were getting ready for the dance. We passed on the fake nails and pedicure – good for her for not fussing about it – but the rest of it was a carefully planned few hours. I was getting a glimpse of what celebrities go through the day of the Oscars.
Driving home from the salon, she was quiet. I don’t think she really liked her hairdo. But that’s a hard one, isn’t it? Does the picture we paint for ourselves ever match the reality?
“Even the models in the magazines don’t look like that in real life,” I said, reminding her of the great Photoshop lie. Beachy waves just don’t spring out of a person’s head in the perfect configuration.
She wasn’t saying anything, and so I just shut up and drove.
At home, she went up to her room. Hanging in her closet was her dress, a frothy frock the color of mint jellybeans; the bodice was bedazzled. When we shopped for it that Saturday in February, I worried that she wouldn’t find a skirt long enough to reach her knees, but we hit the jackpot – with the first dress she tried in the first store we walked into.
She was quiet upstairs. Maybe putting on her makeup? How is it that your average 14-year-old knows exactly how much makeup to put on, and in what shades? When I was her age, I hadn’t a clue. Bright blue eye shadow comes to mind. I still wince when I picture it.
“You need help?” I called up the stairs. No, she was OK.
She and all her friends had been excited about the dance for weeks. They would go together, as girlfriends – without dates – the best way to go to a middle school dance, if you ask me.
It was getting late, and I called upstairs once more. I heard a clomping sound – her strappy sandals with the four-inch heels on the hardwood floor – and then she appeared at the top of the stairs. I’ve seen this very scene in a hundred movies.
I caught my breath. How did she do it – put herself together, from a gangly 14-year-old in Ugg boots and a hoodie sweatshirt, to this? How did she manage to grow up into this?
I told her she looked beautiful, and she did her shy giggle. We took a photo, in which I came up to her shoulder. With the shoes, she was about 6-foot-2. Her hair was perfectly beachy.
Like many moms, I worry a lot about the messages my daughter is getting from the culture, about youth and beauty and impossible standards of physical perfection. First lady Michelle Obama is appearing in TV spots, saying that she doesn’t talk to her girls – or kids in general – about appearance, only about health.
And I get that. The older we get, the more we realize it isn’t about how we look, but how we behave and think and feel.
But remember 14? When you’re 14, looks are important. And some days, beautiful is everything.
My Grace hit her mark that night, one of those bedazzled times when dream and reality line up perfectly. She floated out the door on her stiletto heels – maybe a bit wobbly – but she definitely floated.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.