By Peter Schaller
There are few better ways to spend a rainy Saturday than kicking around with my daughter, Ximena.
We spend a slow morning poking around the farmer’s market, but she’s not in the mood to go home and cook. Instead, we head to one of our favorite coffee shops and choose the second story balcony to watch the rain fall lazily on the streets of Managua. Ximena leans over the railing and notes that all of the cars in the parking lot below us are white, except for one. We decide that the red car is much too flashy for our taste.
Ximena orders lasagna, which is unabashedly full of mushrooms. Without hesitation, she begins digging in with her fingers to pull them out. At 11, she is still very much a girl, unconcerned about the appearances and etiquette of women. The mushroom hunt turns into a game and with every capture, she holds up the culprit and says, “See, another one!” as if the kitchen staff had been plotting this terrible injustice against her.
While we eat, three young women sit down at the table next to ours. They are in their early 20s, and seem to float in on a cloud of perfume. All three are dressed very fashionably, complete with high heels, dangling accessories and not-so-discreet layers of makeup.
Even their cell phones seem to capture the subtle tones of their outfits and lipstick. They look normal. In fact, they look the way that we have come expect most twenty-something women to look in 2016, no matter where on the map—Minneapolis to Managua—they might land (with some obvious exceptions).
It worries me that our three neighbors are obsessed with their appearances.
They pull out mirrors and brushes, eyeliner and lipstick, making imperceptible corrections and adjustments. They primp and preen as if the rest of us weren’t there, but they know we are present. I wish they could relax, enjoy their coffee, talk and forget about the ridiculous standards to which they have been subjected.
Ximena is about done with her lasagna, having left a pile of condemned mushrooms on the side of her plate—guilty by way of their existence. Unwillingly, that classic, Neil Diamond song floods through my brain “Girl…you’ll be a woman soon…” I try really hard not to think of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.
As I watch Ximena lick tomato sauce off her fingers, out of the corner of my eye, I notice the young women taking selfies (heads tilted, teeth bright and broad) that will surely be surfing the waves of social media before we pay our bill. I look at Ximena, now making a table sculpture out of a spoon, salt shaker and my empty, coffee cup. How long will it be until she stops digging in her lasagna for sinister mushrooms? How long will it be until she feels the societal pressures to look, dress and act according to expectations?
I hope never.
I am grateful to have a daughter, to build that unique bond that is the purest kind of love.
But it is so sad that she has to grow in a world that expects women to look, act, think and breathe according to impossible standards. Beauty has been reduced to a cheap marketing trick, rather than the mystery that grows organically inside of each girl, as she makes her way towards the wonders of womanhood. How long will it be until Ximena begins to feel the burden? Can I really shelter her from the onslaught of popular opinion?
Last week, a 24 year old woman died in a private hospital in Managua, after complications from a liposuction. The surgeon says she had a heart attack, a normal risk, he claims (for a 24 year old?). The autopsy found particles of fat in her lungs and her heart, a major surgical screw up. The only thing that matters is that a 24 year old woman is dead because she submitted to a completely unnecessary surgical procedure, to adhere to some mythical idea of emaciated beauty.
Despite all of our advances, I am well aware, that my daughter (and all of the other girls in this world) will face risks, injustice, discrimination and abuse that I really can’t imagine. She will not live in the same world I live in, as the white male, poster child of privilege. Quite honestly, nobody expects much of me at all. Ximena, on the other hand, is not just a woman, but also Latina.
It’s up to us to build a society in which girls can be girls and women and be women, with no interference from men and marketing.
I will be there for her as much as fatherly possible, but my girl will be a woman soon.
Photo: Peter Schaller
Editor: Dana Gornall
Peter Schaller is an artist and activist who lives and works in Nicaragua. He spends most of his time trying to figure out how to reduce his karmic and carbon footprints. He is the author of After the Silence, a collection of poems, essays and photographs, and he can be reached by email or on Facebook.