My daughter, not quite 4, stood at the bathroom counter and rifled through my makeup bag. She curled her toes around the edge of the step stool as she leaned forward toward the mirror, sweeping huge circles of blush across her cheeks. I stood behind her and watched as she maneuvered the cap of a bubblegum pink lip gloss—a sample that had come in the mail—before smudging it slowly across her mouth, her tiny hand unsteady.
She leaned back and smiled. "I look beautiful!"
I felt something near my ribcage clench and rushed to clarify, "It's fun to play with makeup sometimes, but you look beautiful no matter what you're wearing."
In response, she turned her head slowly from side to side, admiring her work. "Pink shirt, pink cheeks, pink lips," she beamed, and then for the first time I noticed the tiny plastic My Little Pony, her favorite one, that she'd toted with her into the bathroom. She lifted it beside her reflection and punctuated each word with excitement: "I look like Pinkie Pie!"
I laughed. She did look a little like Pinkie Pie.
Right now, our job as her parents is simply to present her with diverse examples of a person's beauty.
Perhaps we're still a few years away from having to navigate the real trenches of normative beauty standards with our preschooler, but she isn't too young to already be paying attention. Right now, our job as her parents is simply to present her with diverse examples of a person's beauty—regardless of their size, shape, ethnicity or gender—alongside the many attributes we value that have nothing to do with someone's appearance.
But this isn't always what's being mirrored in our culture. When Kim Kardashian West posted a "naked" selfie (blackout bars hide almost as much as a two-piece) to Instagram last week with a flip comment about having nothing to wear, there was no shortage of people who rushed to wag their fingers.
Actress Chloë Grace Moretz admonished on Twitter, "I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer…"
@KimKardashian I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than-
And singer-songwriter P!nk (who has herself posed nude for magazine covers and a PETA campaign) jumped in a day later on International Women's Day with a message of pseudo-empowerment that challenged women via hashtag to #upyourrealworth.
But worth isn't mutually exclusive here. Kardashian West's fame may have been cultivated by a sex tape scandal (well over a decade ago, by the way) and an extremely popular reality TV show, but she hasn't squandered her platform. Though she started with some very clear privileges with regard to capital and connections, she's done plenty of work to build her success. She manages a successful L.A. boutique, Dash, with her sisters, was able to raise tens of millions for her venture ShoeDazzle and has proven herself again and again to be a savvy social media maven.
I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality.
The truth, however, is that she actually doesn't need to have done any of these things to be a role model as far as body positivity and empowered sexuality are concerned. Our bodies are ours—to dress or use or share as we see fit, and this remains a fact no matter what our other accomplishments may be.
In an open letter penned on International Women's Day about the buzz over her naked selfie, Kardashian West wrote:
"I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world."
At night my husband and I sometimes read to our daughter from "Rad American Women A-Z." We teach her about Kate Bornstein and Jovita Idar. On the drive to school in the mornings, my husband plays (edited) Nicki Minaj songs and points out verses in which she raps more skillfully than her male colleagues. When our daughter dons a cape and tells us she has ice power like Elsa, we remind her that Elsa is a queen.
There are plenty of strong, empowered, fierce women role models we'll help point our daughter toward (and plenty more she'll discover on her own): Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai, Bell Hooks, Michelle Obama—the list goes on and on. And despite what Chloë Moretz insists, Kim Kardashian West can absolutely be one of them.