From the moment she can recognize her face as her own, I will sit her down with a front-facing camera and say, “Go for it.”
On days when she is feeling particularly nice, I want her to be in control of how she captures how she is and where she is on that day with an incredible command. I want her to find what makes her feel pretty, what angles work best for her, and what lighting she like herself best in.
For clarity, this is not an effort to coach someday daughter into being a narcissist, but I want to know when the digital age made it problematic for little girls to both feel good about themselves and know how to properly navigate an Apple product. I want to know who wrongfully blamed Instagram, Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg for perpetuating the myth that humility and confidence cannot coexist, especially for anyone who posts selfies.
Selfies, unfortunately, do not exist in a vacuum. I suspect that I’d be accused of teaching my daughter to play into the male gaze instead of protecting her from it, and you’d be right. I know preschoolers who pose to make their arms look skinny. I want to raise a girl who lives in a world where she does not have to ready herself for battle every time she wants to walk to the convenience store. I don’t want to have to teach her my “Brooklyn” face. I don’t want to teach her to knit because the needles can double as subway weapons, but until then, she’s going to learn how to respect the space her body takes up and know that it belongs to her and her alone.
Should she grow up to be a vain, impossibly pretty popular girl, I’ll explain to her, “Darling, your face has nothing to do with you. Your face is only the summation everyone who has come before you avalanching down in the form of genetics to arrive at one point in the universe: your face. It is natural to love and hate it in equal parts, West Indian colonization and the Middle East conflict is a lot to hang on the tips of your eyelashes. It will feel heavy at times, but it’s yours.
“I know that someday, someone will want to sext you. I trust that you will learn the difference between ‘show me your tits,’ and ‘I want to see you.’ You are above back arches and duck faces – I gave you a creative brain and a handsome jawline, so use them. Your boobs are so much better in person, so don’t quarter yourself into cropped shots like you’re auctioning them on eBay. If you must show someone that you’re sexy, send them those birthmarks I gave you, your muscular shoulders, the bits of red in your hair.”
Mothers of her school friends will shove iPhones in my face and say, “Look at this!” and I will.
“Your daughter sent my child a picture of the freckles on her neck!”
“Yes I know what those are.”
“She said they were in the shape of Orion.”
“Now my child bought a telescope and won’t stop looking at the stars.”
“So? That’s nice. My chest freckles look like Cassiopeia. Isn’t the universe expansive?”
(That line will backfire. Cassiopeia was supremely vapid.)
Her friend’s mother might not want you to play with him/her/hir anymore and it will sting. When you come to me red faced and tear stained, asking me if you did something wrong, I’ll say, “She only wants to tell you what to do because she wants to be your mommy – jealousy sucks sometimes,” and it will be true.
“She thinks that picture makes it look like you’re bad at math and science. She thinks that picture is your report card. She thinks that picture forgot to say please and thank you and may I be excused from the dinner table. She thinks that picture makes you look uninformed about birth control and consensual sex. But mostly, she’s afraid. That’s what bullies are; they’re mostly just scared. She thinks you’re the boogey man. She thinks that you’re Peter Pan and you’ll never grow up, that growing up is something that only happens to rule followers, she thinks that you’re being silly and she’s right. Growing into a body is something very silly.”
Then, I’ll show her a picture of me side-eyeing a digital camera wearing a trucker hat and pigtails and I want us both to laugh.
“Don’t forget where you’ve come from, it maps out where you’ve been. It’s every moment that’s come avalanching down in the form of pictures arriving at the now. You’re beautiful right when you get out of the shower. You’re beautiful when you hug your grandparents. You’re beautiful when your retainer makes you lisp in social studies class. You’re beautiful if you say so, and you can claim that whenever you want. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”