I dread the day when this sweet little girl looks in the mirror and sees anything but a gorgeous miracle.
There comes a day in every girl’s life when she realizes that she is not the prettiest princess in the room. I’m not sure exactly when that day was for me but I know I was very young. Having a daughter myself, I can tell you that every girl is born into this world knowing she is the most gorgeous, amazing creature ever. Every body part, including her tummy, is just a body part and something to be examined (and possibly colored on) with delight. Jelly Bean is 4 years old and watching her frolic after bath time tonight assures me that she has not yet lost that fairy magic. But while some of us keep that wonder a bit longer than others – I think having parents who adore every inch of you helps – somewhere between babyhood and girlhood, it’s gone. Extinguished like a candle under a cup. The candle is still there of course but it no longer lights our way.
Before we even learn words like “glass ceiling” or “plastic surgery” we learn two irreconcilable “facts”: 1) That beauty is our currency and 2) That we will never be beautiful enough. And every girl (and let’s be honest, many boys too) then has to decide how to make sense out of this non-sense.
I’ve seen a lot of different reactions to this:
– The pretty girls who are pretty enough and determined enough to try and keep climbing that ladder. Maybe, just maybe, if they workout a little longer, eat less dessert, buy a designer dress, get implants and have just the right hair then they will be rechristened Prettiest Princess Ever. Or at least the prettiest princess in their particular room.
– The average girls who try to make the best of what they’ve got and then fight like crazy to be the smartest, funniest or wittiest instead. (Never realizing of course that these ladders go to the same nowhere as the pretty ladder – no achievement will ever be deemed “enough” either).
– The average girls who try to take themselves completely out of the game. They aren’t much into makeup, hair or clothes. Many (successfully) just try to blend in. Tall poppies get cut down, after all. And you can’t mourn the loss of something you never had, right?
– The girls who rage against the box they’ve been put in by getting mohawks and tattoos, buzz cuts and f*** you attitudes. And yet are still unable to hide the beauty they were born with.
– The girls who are afraid of their own beauty. Many have been abused or bullied. Often their beauty, or lack thereof, was cited as the cause — a way to place the blame for the evil committed against them, on them. Too many believe it.
– The girls that society marginalizes for a variety of “defects”: too fat, too thin, too much nose, too little lip, too pale, too brown, too shy, too talkative, too too.
I’m going to be completely honest: I’ve been all of these girls at different stages in my life and there is heartbreak in every one.
I was reminded of this the other day when I was interviewing a woman whose job is in the beauty industry, for an article. As she was detailing to me all the various services available (for those who can pay) – everything from teeth whitening to laser skin resurfacing to botox – I interrupted her to ask, “Do you ever just stop someone and say, ‘You know, you’re good now! You don’t need anything else!’ ?”
She sounded surprised and then answered, “Well nobody’s perfect. There’s always something else that can be done!”
I replied (and yes I did actually say this), “That is the saddest thing I have ever heard.”
While I know that she was looking at it purely from a an industry standpoint and probably didn’t mean it to be this meta, it still struck me as sad that you could get every treatment that money could buy and you still wouldn’t be beautiful “enough.”
This reminded me of a quote from the British Olympian and cyclist Victoria Pendleton. Pendleton wrote in her column for Zest magazine,
“It still surprises me that we have such a narrow view of what makes women attractive. I’ve been photographed lots of times over the years, but one picture sticks in my mind. I wore a dress that exposed my whole back and when I saw the photo on a screen at the shoot I thought “Wow! My back looks muscly,” and I felt really proud. But, when the picture was printed, my back was smooth and practically muscle free. They’d softened it all and I was so disappointed because I’d put a lot of work into that! I guess, in their opinion, being muscly isn’t that attractive in a woman. But surely if you take a picture of an athlete, you’d expect to see some muscle, wouldn’t you?”
She’s an Olympian. With her own column in a beauty mag. And she’s still not good enough.
So when will we finally be good enough? As long as we let others define us then the answer is a resounding never. But I’m convinced we can relight our candle. First is understanding that we may be able to purchase pretty but beauty cannot be bought. Second is recognizing what makes us feel truly, deeply beautiful – the way we felt when we were two and could stare at ourselves in the mirror for ten minutes without a single judgmental thought.
The other day Jelly Bean asked me, “What makes you so beautiful mommy?” My first reaction was to shush her and say something like oh I’m not but I stopped myself. She deserves a better answer. Instead I answered her, “You do. I love you so much that it makes me light up inside when I see you.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many things make me “light up inside” and truly it’s those things that make me beautiful. And the best part is that this type of beauty isn’t exclusionary because there is no comparison involved. Every single one of is so so beautiful.
What makes me feel truly beautiful:
– When someone’s eyes light up when I walk into a room.
– When I catch myself laughing uncontrollably.
– When I am able to do something for someone else that makes their day a little brighter.
– When I wear a dress that I designed and sewed myself.
– When I feel needed and able to meet that need.
– When my first grader tells me he thinks my “hair stuff looks very stylish”. (Stylish! Where did he learn that?)
– When someone writes to tell me that something I’ve written has made their life better/easier/happier/snort-laughier.
– When I can cry with someone else who is crying and laugh with others who are laughing.
– When I do something really hard. Even if it doesn’t work out the way I intended.
– When I pray. Sometimes I just need to be reminded: He made me beautiful. Everything else is just window decoration.
– When I watch my beautiful children. When I criticize myself, I’m inherently criticizing a piece of them as well. So when they tell me their mother is “the beautifullest”, I try my best to believe them.
None of these can be bought. But all are within my grasp. And when I do these things, I know I am enough.
Jelly Bean hasn’t asked me yet what makes her beautiful but I know that that question is coming. I want to tell her you do. The deep soul you are, the big heart you have and the generous way you live your life is what, in the end, will make you beautiful. No one can give you that beauty and do not let them take away what is rightfully yours. And then I need to look in the mirror and tell myself.
What makes you feel truly beautiful? What makes you light up inside? What is one thing you can do today to help someone else feel beautiful? (Hint: if you need an idea, start with a huge, genuine smile.)