I will never be the "cool mom" Book Review: Bonding over Beauty

I will never be the "cool mom"  Book Review: Bonding over Beauty

Bonding over Beauty by Erika Katz is targeted to moms of tween girls and the book aspires to be a "comprehensive guide on hair, skin, makeup, hair removal, puberty and more."

The book offers information and advice about everything from hair care of the hair you want (on your head), with to the removal of hair you don't want (everywhere else) to skin care to puberty to "aromatherpy to feel beautiful."  There is a chapter on each subject and the chapters all conclude with suggestions for bonding activities for mom and daughter. The book is quite detailed. For example, Katz evaluates 4 different kinds of hair brushes and when each should be used.

I think most moms agree with Katz's goal of having a daughter come to her mother for advice about her body before turning to friends, who may or (more likely) may not be well-informed. To achieve that goal, though, Katz believes that it is important a tween believe that her mom understands her and that for that to happen, a mom must have a cool factor, because what tween wants to talk to an uncool parent? I like to think that I can be understanding even if I'm lacking the cool factor.

In her afterword that "I want you to be seen like the 'coolest' mom in the world to [your daughter]." When discussing menstruation, Katz says "be sensitive, understanding, and most importantly, be cool about it." Sensitive - check. Understanding - check.  Cool - no check. I'm just not cool. Never have been, never will be, and I'm good with that.

I don't aspire to be the cool mom, nor do I know if it is possible to be one. I do want my tween to feel that I understand her, but I also want to impart values and boundaries and I'm not willing to sacrifice either for the sake of being "cool." In discussing makeup, she advises not banning it altogether and agreeing to allow your tween to wear at least some, because even if you say 'no' your daughter will just do it behind your back at school anyway. I'm not okay with my fifth grader wearing makeup and I expect her to respect my rules and follow them.

Katz explains very early in the book that she does "not hold back my opinions, especially on subjects many women might find objectionable . . . . you may not agree with my suggestions, but that's okay; my purpose is to get you thinking about the dilemmas I present. I want every mom to put her daughter's self-esteem front and center, even if it means reevaluating the beliefs she herself holds." This is some tricky territory for moms, and different moms certainly hold different beliefs. As Katz had warned, I found myself often not agreeing with her.

The book's emphasis on appearance is front and center, literally, which isn't surprising for a book with "beauty" in the title. While I  get that appearance influences self-esteem, particularly for tweens, I don't think it's the only thing that determines self-worth. I don't know that Katz thinks that, either, but she doesn't really discuss other ways to feel great about yourself.

The focus on beauty could be shifted to a focus on overall health.  The chapter in which they are discussed is titled "Nutrition and Fitness," which is great, but the "Keeping up the Beauty Diet at School" section advises against going back for seconds at lunch and warns that that "salad bars can be the devil in disguise." While both items are valid, I worry that they put the focus on dieting and weight.  If my tween wants seconds of fruit that day, I'm fine with that. While she should be informed about what she's eating, I don't want her to see food as any kind of evil. I'm also not sure that the list of nutrition supplements that are good for hair and nails and a reference to the metabolic type diet are necessary.

Katz advises letting a 9 year-old shave her legs and is fine with bikini waxing at 11, a topic Tween Us has tackled before. Some of the advice does go against the conventional wisdom. One example is a girl who has hair on her upper lip.  Katz advises shaving it, saying that it is an old wives tale that it will grow back thicker. She also discusses electrolysis and laser hair removal.

This book advises gives tween girls a lot of control.  While we of course want them to feel they have control over their bodies, I'm not sure that I agree with the advice to let my tween pick my hair style the next time I go to the salon, although Katz says it's a good idea because "If you listen to her ideas, she might just listen to yours." I think that Katz has the right idea about creating a dialogue and engaging in a give and take. I think some of her suggestions for activities to do together certainly foster that.

There were aspects of the book that really appealed to me. I appreciated Katz's advice about the important  of spending time and having an ongoing, open dialogue with a tween girl and using a facial or manicure as a way to do so.  I liked the comparison of helping them care for their bodies as tween just as we used to bathe and lotion these children as babies. The "bonding" aspect of this book appealed to me, but I also plan to keep being the "uncool" mom who has rules about no makeup.

I liked the suggestion of making your own products together and was glad to find the DIY product recipes for scrubs and soaks and masks on the Bonding over Beauty website. I am excited to try some of those with my tween.

Like most parenting books, I think that the key with this one is to just take the nuggets of advice that you think will work for you and fit with your family as you envision it.

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