By Ricky Wilson, via Wikimedia Commons
I am the mother of four teenagers, two of them girls. Being the best mother that I can be, and instilling self-confidence in my kids has been a top priority for me over the years. Whether I have given them the tools to become loving, self-sufficient, capable adults is a question I regularly ask myself. This week put a spotlight on those questions again.
The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her third child on April 23, 2018, and walked outside a few hours after to present him to the world. While there appear to be few comments on how Prince William looked at this moment, much has been made of the fact that Kate Middleton had full makeup and hair done before she made her appearance.
What does her glamorous appearance on the steps of the hospital have to do with motherhood? It is the message it sends to women about what is expected of us, of how we should present ourselves to the world, that troubles me.
For most of us, giving birth is a long, difficult (even when not life-threatening) event. It has been likened to running a marathon. But once you have delivered your baby, and utter exhaustion sets in, you must somehow find the strength to look after this small human. Physically, labour and birth are the most difficult things you may ever have to do. It requires time to recover from it. Just walking can take herculean effort — let alone doing it in high heels and with a smile on your face, as the Duchess was able to do.
I am aware that there are expectations and traditions the royals must deal with, that the rest of us do not even need to consider. But it seems to me, as the mother of two teenage girls, that having to don full makeup and get your hair done after having a baby sends a message that you need to look perfect all the time, even at a time when all you really want to do is hold your baby, and get some sleep.
We keep trying to teach our children that their looks should not be the thing that they set their self-worth and value by, and yet we salivate over pictures of the rich and famous, especially in the most intimate moments of their lives. We are savage in our critiques of them, and how they look. Had Kate Middleton come outside in a comfortable pair of baggy pants, with her hair unkempt and not wearing makeup, the ballyhoo would have been heard around the world, with people lambasting her for not cleaning herself up a bit first.
The Duchess was in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. The expectation was that she would show off her newborn son to a waiting world, and would do so in style. And pull it off she did. She looked amazing. (And in heels! I could not have worn my husband’s shoes after I gave birth, let alone high heeled ones.)
But in a world of constantly updated Instagram and Facebook posts that overwhelmingly showcase only the best versions of ourselves, comparing ourselves to others has been shown to be detrimental to our sense of satisfaction with our own lives.
When Kate and William stepped outside to show us their son, Kate, whether she intended to or not, made every woman watching her react in one of several ways: admiration (or as it is more commonly expressed “goals!”), with a snort of derision that anyone should look so well put together six hours post-partum, or with the sinking realization that short of a miracle, most of us will never achieve that level of glamour so soon after having a baby.
Worrying about what message they had received from the whole thing, I asked my daughters what they thought. The older of the two, nearly 16, was quite dismissive, stating that of course Kate Middleton had looked like that. “She’s supposed to,” she said. “She’s a princess.” And the younger one, aged 14, was not overly concerned about it either. “She has a team of people to help her,” she shrugged. Neither girl felt any pressure to look like Kate, or any other celebrity for that matter. “Why would I?” said the oldest. “I’m beautiful the way I am.”
If nothing else, Kate’s glamourous appearance led to a conversation between me and my girls about looks, and what society accepts as beautiful. It seems that my daughters have managed to grow up without the insecurities that plagued me and my friends as we navigated the teenage years. As their mother, I am glad to see that they have that kind of self-confidence; I pray they never lose it.
Barbara Lilley writes from Ottawa, Canada.