Letter To A Budding Feminist

by Tracey Watts
Originally Published: 
daughter feminism makeup beauty
Brian Rinker / Flickr / Creative Commons

Dear daughter,

This is the second time in two weeks that you have decided to name an inanimate object “Lipstick.” Enough, I say to you. Cease and desist. You are 4. You want to name that 3-inch bear Chapstick? You go right ahead. But this Lipstick business needs to wrap up. And while you’re thinking about that, I’m going to remind you one more time that you may not steal my Lancôme makeup brushes and repurpose them as household keys while I am cooking dinner.

Your time for lipstick will come. While you are waiting for it, I’m going to give you a few pieces of advice:

Not Everyone Needs to Be Elsa

Back in October, as Halloween was approaching, I was feeling a little arrogant that you had this one beat. Of the 16 girls in your class, I think 5 had decided to dress as Elsa for Halloween. You had planned to go as Peter Pan, and I had bought your costume. I had some misgivings; Peter Pan isn’t an especially forward-thinking film. In fact, it recycles some terrible stereotypes. But the character himself is quite charming and charismatic. He lives by his ideals. His creativity inspires others. He is irresponsible, yes, but considering that you yourself are only 4, I wasn’t so worried that you might model yourself after another immature being.

But on Halloween day, you woke up with a plan to be Headband Girl. I was baffled at first, I admit. I tried to convince you that this character doesn’t exist. I lobbied for the Peter Pan costume. But you, in your headstrong, 4-year old, I-will-die-on-this-mountain, willful way, you were unrelenting. It was Headband Girl for you or bust. So you dressed as Headband Girl. You put three or four different headbands on your head, one of which was one that you had made. You threw on a cotton-candy-colored cape, and you marched off to school.

As I was photographing you that morning, you explained that the rope in your pocket was for pulling people out of lakes. At that moment, I decided that you were right on this one. It’s your call when and how you want to create a superhero, especially if that superhero is actually you, dressed in your own clothes, wearing your own headbands. I teared up, in fact, at this realization and wondered whether you were in fact the more progressive one of us.

But then last week, one of your classmates came by, and I found the two of you crying because you both wanted to be Elsa. That incident brings me to my second point.

Everyone Can Be Elsa

I know I probably sound like I’m contradicting myself, but I want you to think about this one. Everyone—and every woman, especially—has it in her to be strong, to be powerful, to make incredible magic that inspires everyone around her. Just because you want to be Elsa doesn’t mean that another person can’t. The world is a really big place, and it’s certainly big enough for more than one Elsa. You need to make room for more Elsas. We need them. Just like you saw in Frozen, you’ll discover in time that the world will sometimes pressure you to hide your strength away, to experience its enormous power only in isolation. Don’t let that be your destiny. Be powerful with other people. Be powerful with other women. Exercise power together. The world isn’t used to seeing that level of camaraderie in powerful women. Make it happen.

It’s Not Happily Ever After If You Decide to Stop Being a Mermaid

Speaking of princesses, I need to say this, too. You love Ariel, and I get it. Mermaids are awesome. They can effortlessly discover the most secret of worlds—the depths of the oceans, a place that we humans can only go if we lug a great deal of gear around with us. And even then, our abilities to explore are limited. Ariel can sing like the dickens too, and that must be enticing to you. Your teachers are trying to get you to sing all the time. Christmas performances, end-of-the-year shows, music classes—everywhere you go, it’s sing, sing, sing. Certainly the very idea of a singing mermaid must be quite enticing to you—she’s good at the very thing you’re asked, in your less stressful classroom environments, to be quite good at also.

And you don’t know this yet, or maybe you do on some level, but there something about a mermaid and song—the siren song is what I’m thinking of. It’s potent. That song has the ability to draw people in from far and wide, helpless to resist your enchantment. There’s something very attractive about having that kind of power. And even if Ariel doesn’t have it, not exactly, she does have a commanding voice. She opens her mouth, and a signature sound comes out. A sound that other people conspire to steal. It’s her magic, it’s unique, and it’s powerful.

You have a powerful magic too, my daughter. I think to some degree you know that. You made up a superhero just like you, after all. But what I want you to know about Ariel is this: You don’t have to give up your mermaid tail to get your happily ever after in this world. You don’t have to stop being who you are. Sure, there will be times when you have to compromise in order to work with others, but happiness should never be pursued at the cost of your very identity. Keep the tail. Despite what Disney tries to tell you about happy endings, it doesn’t have to be an either/or.

We all want happy endings. I want you to pursue your heart’s desires, but never at the cost of your mermaid tail. That’s too important. That’s your signature. That’s the thing that you absolutely must keep.

You’re Still Not Getting My Lipstick

I digress sometimes when I get to my feminist agenda. There are so many things I want to tell you, and it’s easy for me to detour into an important subtopic. So let me bring it back home. No on the lipstick. You’ve been putting on that shiny lip gloss and puckering up, asking me, “Do I look beautiful?” This is a habit that worries me. I keep telling you that, yes, you look beautiful. You always look beautiful. Lip gloss isn’t what makes you beautiful. It’s your own inner shininess, the light that sparkles in your eyes. That’s the glitter. That’s the thing I can’t stop looking at. You don’t need any other magic besides that, my love. You are 4, you are bright, and you are amazing.

March on, dear daughter.

Love you,


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