By DENENE MILLNER
I know there’s a special place in Mom hell for me, but I let my daughters watch America’s Next Top Model. (There. I said it out loud.) Every Wednesday, without fail, they dutifully take their baths, get into their jammies, and line up on the carpet for their must-see TV—an hour’s worth of need-a-macaroni-and-cheese-I.V. stat!-thin model wanna-bes, climbing into fabulously impractical clothes, slathering their faces with more colors than a 64-pack of Crayolas, and striking poses that defy all realm of logic. My girls are all in from the re-cap/preview in the first minutes to the very last moment when Tyra sends the weakest mannequin packing—they roll their eyes during the makeover melt-downs, crack up over the model mishaps, shake their heads and tsk-tsk when the contestants get catty, and pour over the elimination photos, making predictions about who had the best shot, and, naturally, who sucked (my word—not theirs).
Of course, the model who takes their breath away every week is the queen of it all—Tyra Banks. Tyra alternately clowns her subjects and plays mama, too—shows them the tricks of the trade, and disses her model-wanna-bes hard when they fail to live up to her supermodel standards. And my girls cling to Tyra’s every word—talk about her slick dresses and her perfectly-coiffed hair and how pretty she looks when she “smiles” with her eyes.
They. Love. Them. Some. Tyra.
Total stans, I tell you.
So much so that one recent week, Mari asked me if I thought she looked like Tyra.
Now, please understand: I’m the president, CEO, and executive director of the Mari Is The Most Beautiful Girl In the World (Next To Her Little Sister) Fan Club. She’s a delicious little girl—got these thick, juicy lips, and high cheekbones, and these incredible chocolate-brown eyes, framed with sleight eyelids that make her look like she’s got a little Japanese in her family. Nick and I recognize that when this kid hits her teens and gets the Beyonce booty and hips going, it’s a wrap. Rifles. Threats. Intimidation. We plan on using the full arsenal to keep the boys at bay.
But my baby doesn’t look like Tyra.
Nothing of the sort.
(I guess I should be happy that she didn't say she wanted to look like Paulina Porizkova, or Heidi Klum--that she picked a black woman as her ideal beauty. I mean, at her age, I wanted to look like Farah Fawcett. That's another post.)
But since I’m a stickler for keeping it real, I had to tell her: “Um, no, baby. You don’t look like Tyra.”
No matter that I broke the news real gentle, no matter that she had no verbal response, the defeated look on Mari’s face spoke a thousand words. It was the look I remember seeing in the mirror when, as a little girl, I’d examine my eyes and lips and skin and hair and wonder why I just couldn’t measure up to the prettiest girls in my school—the ones who seemed to get all the attention, all the boys. In my daughter’s face, I saw vulnerability. In telling her she didn’t measure up to the woman she idolizes, I had, in effect, delivered a southpaw uppercut to her self-esteem.
So I went into damage control mode—told her the truth, but added a little sugar to make it go down better. “Tyra is beautiful, but so are you, in your own special way.” I told her how much I loved her twists, and adored her cheekbones, and the way her face was shaped like a perfect, juicy apple. “You are lovely, sweetheart—a beautiful, special little girl,” I told her. “But if you want to be like Tyra, be like her in the ways that mean something. Be smart. And independent. And fierce. And run your own business and call your own shots and be the one to tell everyone else what to do. Tyra is dope like that. And I know you’ve got the beauty to be as pretty as her, but I also know you have the smarts to be just as successful as her, too. That’s what makes you special, and that's how you can be like Tyra.”
She was quiet.
Thought about what I said for a moment.
And then she smiled at me with her pretty eyes.
Crisis averted (for now).
And I’m still in the running to be the Next Top Mom.