"Mom? Will you brush my hair?"
The question takes me by surprise; usually if I come within four feet of her head with a hairbrush, Greta runs away screaming.
"Sure, honey," I reply, smiling. "I love it when you let me play with your hair."
We sit thoughtfull for a few minutes, while I work out the summer snarls. She loves to wear it loose and flowing around her shoulders, but it's so long now it tangles quickly. In the summer it's a battle that isn't worth fighting, the please-lets-cut-your-hair-no-I-won't-I-hate-how-I-look-in-short-hair fight we have dozens of times during the school year.
"Do you know why I want you to brush my hair out?" Greta asks, quietly. "Because I want to look like the teenagers on those posters."
My stomach gives a little tug of fear. "Which posters?" I ask, keeping my voice neutral.
I know the posters she means; they are all over the store. Oversized homages to perfection: teensy women in bikinis in the bathing suit section, dewy complected women in the facial cream aisle. And shiny-curled teens in the shampoo section. I caught her staring at those posters the last time we were there, while I perused the wrinkle creams. She gazed intently at the beaming teenagers, with their full heads of bouncy waves, before running her hand self-consciously through her own hair.
The irony that my daughter was being drawn in by those posters while I searched in vain for a cream that would instantly take ten years off my face didn't escape me, but I left it alone.
"Your hair is beautiful. What's not to love about the Chocolate Waterfall?" I say with a smile, using our pet name for her hair, which falls - stick straight - all the way down her back. It is an impossible deep, rich, dark brown.
"It's just that is doesn't have any curls," she pouts. "How do those Target girls get such pretty curls?"
Fat isn't a word we have ever used in our house. Even during my diet, we carefully avoided the f-word. I try my best not to let her see me gazing critically at my own body. I never let her hear me disparage my own looks. But who am I kidding? I fall for the same ideals she does. Why else would I spend so much on wrinkle creams?
She will run her hand over her impossibly tight, muscular belly, and tell me her stomach isn't as flat as so-and-so's.
I swallow my fear and ask her what she means. "My friend Melissa talks about how fat her tummy is all the time. But her stomach is smaller than mine, so I must be fat, too?"
Oh, God, I think. It's starting.
It's a slippery slope, though. Even as I part the curtain and show her what goes on behind the scenes to create images of perfection designed to make us feel badly about ourselves so we'll buy more product, I'm showing her that the world values long necks, big boobs and small butts.
"Do you think these women look better like that?" I ask.
She stares at the pictures for a while. "No," she says, firmly. "They look too skinny. And like big, awkward birds or something."
"We'll have to keep talking about this," I say. "Women spend a lot of time thinking about how they look. I do it sometimes, too. Instead of appreciating all that is beautiful about our bodies, we pick it apart. I hope you will keep talking to me about how you feel about yourself, even if you know I'm always going to tell you you are beautiful just the way you are."
She nods. "Is that why you always say that? Because you want me to be happy about myself, and not sad?"
"Yes," I smile. "There are all these images our there that just aren't real, and it makes me sad that they can make us feel like somehow we aren't beautiful because we don't look like something that never existed in the first place."
Later, we're walking in the mall. As we pass the Victoria's Secret store, she points to the life-size and scantily clad advertisement hanging in the front window and says, "Look, Mom!! False Advertising!!!'
Score one for Mom.