Why "You Look Like Your Mom" Is the Worst Thing to Say to a Teen Girl

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It happens often. When I'm out with my daughter, someone invariably exclaims, “Well, aren't you just the spitting image of your mother?” Outwardly, my daughter smiles. To the stranger, she seems thrilled to be given the comparison. To this mother's eye, I notice a faint twitch beginning to form behind her grin. Or maybe it’s just a bit of nausea coming on. Either way, she's clearly not pleased.

Personally, I think it’s meant as a compliment. I don't have a third eye in the middle of my forehead. I have yet to grow moles with long black hairs curling from them. I have managed to maintain a slim physique, and have few noticeable wrinkles. So why is the comparison so fraught with angst?


Credit: irelynkiss.

To hear Mabel tell it, it means that the stranger is saying that she herself looks old, like a 47-year-old woman old. As if they think that her youthful 15-year-old face looks just like my aging, sagging one. I think she's missing the point, of course. Our features resemble one another at quick glance; the untrained eye sees the same shape face and same full lips. Upon further inspection, one might notice that I don't have a multitude of freckles dotting the bridge of my nose and cheeks and our eye shape is nothing alike. And though we both have dark hair, hers falls in beautiful waves down her back and mine can barely hold a curl. And the list goes on.

Perhaps my daughter is just frightened of not being her own self, or more accurately, of being just like me both in outward appearance and in personality. No teenage girl wants to be just like her mother in any way, shape or form. In fact, they do whatever is necessary to distance themselves from any possibility of comparison. So when the woman behind the counter at Lululemon, a woman who doesn't know us at all (but should because we frequent that store more than I’d like to admit) innocently remarks that “you look just like your mother,” she has committed a sin of epic proportions: Thou Shalt Not Compare A Teenage Girl to Her Mother. Thou could lose thy sale if thou wasn't selling merchandise that teenager covets. Oops, Thou Shalt Not Covet. The sins are just piling up.

I guess when you are 15-years-old and your sense of self is so in flux and so dependent on what others think of you, it stands to reason that you want to be like the girl in your Chemistry class and not the girl who is your mother. You want to believe that you will always be fun and carefree. You’ll always be the girl who flips her hair to and fro and takes pictures of herself at every waking moment. You’ll never be serious and demanding and worry about silly things like college tuition and a clean house. Turn your head away from that woman so you can’t possibly become her.

Until the day that you are her and you realize that it's not such a bad thing after all. You hear her words come out of your mouth and you see her hands in your own hands and it's all good. You no longer flinch when someone says, “you two could pass for twins.” It’s ironic really—in order to become a whole and unique woman, you first have to accept the part of you that is just like your mother. Because, child, you can run and run but you can't hide from your genes or your upbringing.

So, my dear Mabel, I will stick by you through the eye-rolling and sarcasm. I'll be here for you even when you do your best to avoid me. I love you, and I can’t wait to see the woman you will become once you embrace the girl that you are.

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