Her little face is all over the magazine covers again. I hate to see it; I hate it. She looks so empty and soulless and lifeless, and it’s unbelievable that she has been dead for ten whole years. I hate even typing her name, JonBenet, like it’s giving the whole issue more press than ever when all I wish for that little girl is that she be able to rest in peace. At this point of course it matters if, in fact, her killer has been found. But so much of the damage was done before her little life was ever taken. The makeup, the teased hair, the adult clothing…what are people thinking? And of course hers are not the only parents who’ve done this to their little girls. There was a spate of special reports at the time, “Baby Beauty Queens” and the like, and we were all exposed to this bizarre phenomenon of taking your little girls and making them look like grown women, well, kind of like grown women—though most grown women look nothing like that. The saddest picture ever, to me, of JonBenet, was a candid Christmas photo that made it into some magazine, People probably, and she was finally dressed like a little girl—in a red velvet dress with white tights and Mary Janes. Her hair was straight, not teased into a bouffant. But her roots were showing. Plain brown roots, at least an inch before the platinum blond started. And I thought, “What kind of people make their child feel that her ordinary hair color isn’t good enough? At 5 years old?”
With the reopening of her case, there are more talk shows and moms interviewed who insist their daughters love being in beauty pageants. One mother (though I’m sure there are many) puts elaborate extensions in her daughter’s hair and false teeth. To cover over her wonderful, gapped, slightly crooked 8-year-old teeth. And the result is some sort of creepy fembot. A fembot who wins lots of awards for her beauty.
I think about this a lot as the mother of two girls. Before either of them were born, Darren and I confessed shamefacedly to each other, “I hope our baby is cute. I just don’t want an ugly baby!” Each of them—we were thrilled. They were so beautiful, Lucy like a gorgeous baby doll lifted down off a Christmas tree and petite Elaine, her little moon face with the dimples and the bright blue eyes. What a relief.
I don’t tell them this though. I don’t tell them how cute and beautiful they are. What an aesthetic treat for our eyes. I tell them how gentle they are, how generous, how funny, how good at hopping, singing, pulling their socks off, whatever. Anything but how pretty they are. They get it though. From well meaning friends and relatives and grandparents. And Lucy stands in front of her full length mirror sometimes after getting dressed for the day and asks me, “Mom, am I so, so pretty?” This is what I tell her, “Better than being pretty in the mirror, you’re so kind. You love your sister. You’re pretty on the inside.” She says again, “But do I look so pretty in this beautiful dress?”
I hope eventually she hears me.