Do you know that voice? I grew up with it. My version of The Mirror in Snow White. First I was scrawny. Then I was scrawny with coke bottle glasses. Then I was scrawny with coke-bottle glasses and boobs before anyone else in my class. Then I stopped growing and everyone else started. I was certain I was hideous.
My mother, like so many of her generation and our neighborhood, was always looking at what came next. When you get contact lenses, you’re going to be so pretty. When your braces come off, you’re going to be so pretty. If you would wear a little make-up, you would look so pretty. If you would gain weight–oh my God, did you see that girl, she’s so fat! did you ever think of trying blonde, you know they have those colored contacts….
The thing is, I grew up. And I educated myself. And I got a wee bit political, aware of the unrealistic pressures put on women to look a certain way, act a certain way, the keep-women-under-your-bootheel history of so many of these expectations. And of course, the magic of make-up, photo processing tricks, and plastic surgery. All that stuff that makes the women on tv, film screens and magazines look like no human being can really look. I was not going to be stomped on by those pressures, the false gods of retail and advertising. But I still thought I was ugly.
A year or two ago I came across a picture of myself in my late teens. You know what’s funny? I wasn’t ugly. In fact, I looked pretty damned good. Like every other girl/young woman in their youth. Firm and smooth, a little overly made-up but ready to go kick some ass.
After a lifetime of being skinny, I’m now not. Still slim, just not skinny. I’m not sure I’m ok with it, but not bothered enough to get back to my yoga routine. I know myself well enough to know there’s a disconnect between what I see when I look down, the voice whispering from the mirror, and what the rest of the world sees. There have been three other times I haven’t been skinny, after the birth of each of my kids. Strangely enough, I never felt more attractive, never felt sexier, than I did during those times. I thought it was the extra weight. It was the fucking hormones. Oh those postpartum, breastfeeding hormones. I swear I might as well have woken up and snorted an eight ball every day. I didn’t have postpartum depression, I had postpartum euphoria. Life is wonderful, my babies are wonderful, your babies are wonderful, I’m beeyootiful! evidenced by my beautiful babies.
I was not going to raise my kids with that other bullshit. I was going to let them know how beautiful they were, all the time, no matter what. Lucky for me, that’s been the easy part, they are, in fact, the three most beautiful people in the world. I know, it’s strange, because you’re sitting there thinking your children are the most beautiful people in the world. I was going to point out the politics behind false advertising, what matters and what doesn’t, what’s real and what isn’t. Because the whole concept of ugly is bullshit, dictated by others (except, of course, for me). That was going to take care of that voice.
All of the women like myself were arming themselves with awareness of what to say and not say to their children. But none of us raised our children in caves, and society’s focus on the external gets in. Generation after generation of kids (girls and boys) coming home talking about who called who ugly, who has good hair, who’s too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too light, too dark, nose too big, nose too flat, eyes too small, eyes too big. Who am I kidding? It’s already in. In the way I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror, buy jeans that are too large because when I’m looking online I’m certain that I’m two sizes bigger than I used to be, in the way no matter who says it, no matter how many say it, I don’t see a hint of myself in any of my kiddos’ faces.
Several years ago I was sitting in a dr’s office with Flower Child, who was having a particularly rough stretch medically, no answers in sight. Dr Ologist shrugged and said, “But she’s beautiful.”
What? Did I mishear? Did that medical degree come from the Maybelline factory? What a fucking world, where even specialologists see this as something to offer. I was stunned, wanted to scream. Pretty sure I cried on the way home instead. Once again, fucking hormones.
With salt and pepper hair and skin that’s become intimately acquainted with gravity, now I’m more comfortable with who I am and how I look, but it would be nice if that voice wasn’t even a whisper.
It isn’t that I don’t think appearances matter. They do. How you’re dressed, if you’re clean, style…these things tell others about you. How you see yourself, how you’d like to be perceived, what is or isn’t important to you, maybe what type of job you have. But beauty is a whole different thing.
The standards and definition of beauty change. But the message of you aren’t this hasn’t.