"Why did you read that book?" Papa said, frowning. "Girls shouldn't even be reading books. Your pretty little head should only be worried about being beautiful and making good coffee."
|Starting beauty regimens early.|
So at home, I was told constantly I was beautiful. Outside my home, however, it was a different story. All of our relatives and all of my parents' friends told me, "You are so skinny. Ugly skinny. Your teeth are too big. Your ears are huge. Your face is long, like a mango. Sometimes, you look like a horse with your big teeth sticking out like that. Too bad you didn't take after your mother. Your mother is beautiful. You are not."
At a very early age, I learned that beauty is subjective. So I decided just as early on that beauty isn't valuable. I can dress up, make up and fix up all I want but there will always be someone out there who'll think I'm ugly. But being smart—that's undeniable. If I were smart, I can talk to anyone in the world and they can think whatever they want about my face but they'll always agree that I have an amazing brain. So screw beauty. I wanted to be smart.
* * * * * * *
This week, a soap ad went viral. It was a very nice ad about women describing themselves to a forensic artist. Then the artist drew a second sketch of these same women based on the descriptions of others. The women were then shown their portraits and they were so amazed at how ugly they saw themselves (first sketch) and how beautiful others saw them (second sketch). It was rather melodramatic, with tears being shed and all. I thought it was cute.
The next few days, however, were filled with reactions from women I know to be smart, talented and accomplished. They loved the ad because it spoke to them—they never felt beautiful and this soap campaign assured them otherwise. I was dumbstruck about that. In fact, I went livid for a good few hours. How is it that we tell girls that it's what's inside that counts, that we must be women of substance, and then an ad comes along and our real feelings are exposed—that deep inside, we really don't believe that? That what we really believe in is it's physical beauty that matters. If you really believe that what makes you matter is your talent, intelligence, accomplishments, relationships and your family, then what people think of your face does not matter.
Look, I like looking good. I like nice dresses and having my makeup done. I love coloring my hair. But I can look in the mirror and say, "Ugh, pimples again!" or "Okay, fat day! I'm wearing a loose dress today!" or "Bad hair day. Bun!" That doesn't mean I have low self-esteem. That doesn't mean I think I'm ugly. That just means I have pimples or I'm bloated or my hair is having a tantrum. No big deal. It shouldn't be a big deal. Why does it become a big deal for most women? Is it the fault of our parents, of media, of society?
|My former job demanded I look good all the time.|
Even though my parents raised me to value looks, even though I worked in an industry that pushed for good looks, even though I'm bombarded with images of gorgeous women in media daily, I have an objective view of myself and of other women. There will always be people prettier and uglier than me. So what? In the great scheme of things, I would never want to be remembered for my face.
* * * * * * *
I'm a mother of two boys. I've noticed a difference when my friends and I talk about our kids. My friends with daughters always gush about the cute clothes they bought, how the little girls are already into makeup, how they're teaching their girls to care for their skin and hair. Meanwhile, my friends with sons talk about how their boys are in soccer camp, or enrolled in gymnastics, or are really into books and music and math. Girls are raised to be the best-looking. Boys are raised to be the best.
|We may have the same parents but they didn't raise us the same way.|
How do we do this? How do we raise our daughters so that they see that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain? How do we teach them to value their character, to improve their mind, to nourish their soul, to make their bodies healthy? How do we protect them from the flattery of duplicitous men? How do we build for them a self-image so strong that they will be secure and confident in who they are and not what they look like? No matter what they look like!
In a world with empowered women, being told "You're more beautiful than you think" will not be met with tears and relief. An empowered woman would snap, "Whoever told you I thought I was ugly anyway?" If the ad is to be believed that only 4%—just 4%!—of women in the world think they're beautiful, we are clearly doing something very wrong with raising our daughters. That's the conversation I want the ad to provoke, not gooey warm feelings that will evaporate anyway.
* * * * * * *
My husband seldom tells me I'm beautiful. Sometimes, on fat days especially, I fish for a compliment and Vince will always be exasperated and say, "Of course you're beautiful! You know that already!"
He does always say that I'm hardworking, smart, funny. He always says, "I'm so proud of you," "You did well," "That was good writing," and my ultimate favorites: "You make me happy," "You're a great mother." My husband sees beyond my face. He sees the real me and I am glad.