Julia is almost always engaging in some form of imaginary play. Sometimes she’s a cat or a dog. Or Pipa the Pig. She is often a super-hero or a mommy or a princess. All of these things, I have felt, have been healthy ways for her to build her language, social and emotional skills while promoting problem solving and abstract thinking. I pay close attention to her pretend play, because it often gives me important clues about the issues at the forefront of her mind and lets me know how she’s interpreting the world around her.

Today, as she splashed in the tub where she is usually a mermaid, she completely surprised me by standing up, popping her hip, flipping her hair and saying, “Mom, I’m one of the Bratz.”

It took all of my willpower to keep from rolling my eyes.

Bratz. Ugh.

I do not approve of Bratz. The only reason Julia is aware they exist is because she has seen them in the store and on television commercials. It seems that’s been enough for her to decide that they are awesome.

I’ve tried to be careful about how strongly I’ve opposed Bratz. I’ve had the feeling that an emotional response would only make them more appealing. So, I’ve been cool, yet firm. When we see them in the store or on television, I gently redirect her attention. And when she has flat out asked for them, I’ve explained that I believe they are not appropriate toys because they wear too much make up, not enough clothes and their posture and poses look sexy and sexy is not for kids.

And so I repeated my usual explanation, but I knew it wasn’t enough. She was identifying herself with the Bratz. We had to talk about it. So, I said, “I’ve told you why I don’t like the Bratz. Now, I’d like to know why you like them.”

She said, “Well, they wear sparkly things and have make-up on their lips and their fingers and toes and that means they’re beautiful.”

And that’s when my brain flooded. I recognized that his was an incredible moment to teach her something. What I said next was really going to count. There was so much I wanted to say, but what do I say first? What is the most important thing she needs to know? How do I make her understand?

I took her hand, looked in her eyes and said, “Julia, sparkly things and make-up are lots of fun, but they don’t make you beautiful. Those things are extra. And the girls who use those things too much, usually do because they don’t know that they’re beautiful without them.”

She just looked at me. Did she get what I was saying?

I put my hand on her cheek and got very close and said, “Julia, you are beautiful. And do you know what makes you that way?”

She shook her head no.

I put my hand on her chest and said, “Your heart. You are beautiful because of who you are and what’s in your heart.”

Then she said, “And you love me?”

“Yes, I love you because you’re you.”

With that, she was back to playing. I sat there on the floor of the bathroom with a heavy heart. Here, at the age of three, at a time in her life when I monitor everything she does and sees and hears, she is still receiving this powerful message about beauty and her worth. And I am afraid when I think of the future, when she’ll move away from me and I won’t be there every moment to supervise and interpret and guide her and reassure her. Am I doing and saying the right things often enough, loud enough, with enough conviction that when the time comes and I’m not there, she’ll still know her worth? Lord, I hope so.