06 October 2007

about six years ago, i spent an evening sitting outside a friend's room on UVA's campus, talking with him as the sun went down. we'd taken a study break, ostensibly to watch the sunset, but our break lasted long after dark as we talked. for some reason our conversation wandered onto the topic of girls and beauty and before i knew it i was crying. because of the painful knowledge i had as a girl of 8 and 10 and 16 and every age in between that i was ugly. skinny yes. but ugly. because even six years ago, at the age of 25, i still only felt beautiful in flashes. but mostly i was crying because of my beautiful nieces and knowing that they, too, would experience that pain. being told in every way imaginable that they were not beautiful enough. that if only they could poke and prod and cut and snip and paint and dye and conceal and smooth and style enough, maybe--just maybe--they would be beautiful enough to be loved. it starts when they're so young. and it never stops.

i've blogged before about my perception of my own beauty. i am mostly comfortable with my appearance. i don't spend a lot of time trying to conform to preconceived ideas of what it means to be beautiful. but the pain of not being beautiful enough still lurks. mostly it has to do with the fact that i don't date. i can't help but think, in some of the dark moments when i wonder what's wrong with me, that if only i were beautiful--more fit, more striking, more sexy--then maybe men would be interested. i don't know why this thought process happens. maybe i really haven't accepted my body the way it is. maybe that awkward, gangly eight-year-old is still trapped inside me, looking in a mirror trying to figure out how to smile with a mouth that's just too big. or maybe it's easier to believe it's my body, and not my mind and my soul, that is unattractive. maybe wishing i was beautiful enough to attract some interest is just a defense mechanism meant to stave off the infinitely darker pain of wondering what's wrong with my self, rather than merely what's wrong with my body.

my tears six years ago ended happily, with my friend taking my hand and telling me how beautiful he thought i was. an articulation of an attraction that we had both felt since the day we met and which had been growing for months. a beginning of a relationship that left me happier than any other i've ever had. but i wish the cause of those tears didn't exist. i wish somehow we could let our girls simply be without cramming a beauty myth down their throats at every turn. so take a moment and watch a bit of what i'm talking about.

and yes. i realize the irony of that being a product of the very beauty industry it critiques. but honestly i'm desperate enough for something to change that i'll accept any consciousness-raising tool no matter where it comes from. even if it comes in the shape of advertising...


  1. OK, I know this is not going to help, but when I met you I thought you were extremely attractive. Fit, tall, curvy, with a pretty face framed by pixie hair. Natural. Feminine! I couldn't believe what you had written on your sidebar that people mistake you for a man. It can't be true. I'm glad you realize that the beauty industry is sick. I don't know why we need men to admire us to feel beautiful. I do it, too. Even though I'm married, and old, I still want men to find me attractive. In fact, I crave it.

    As long as females feel this way, we are susceptible to this type of advertising. I have no answers, just sadness.

  2. This makes me sad as well. I have actually had this on my mind lately. I actually laid in bed this morning when I couldn't go back to sleep and thought how I NEED to change my inner thoughts. Whenever I am down my inner voice starts telling me how ugly I am, how I am fat, and how I am lacking in general. I realized that I get enough of those feelings from the outside world and should not let myself, the person who should love me the most, repeat those feelings. I decided I will start telling myself I am beautiful. Not only a physical beautiful but an inner beautiful. I think our minds have so much power over our actions. If all I hear from myself is I'm lacking...that is what I'll be. It's amazing as I laid in bed with my quiet mind and told myself I was beautifl. I almost felt like I was smiling on the indside. Yes, it's kind of weird repeating in your head that your beautiful and it might feel a bit prideful but it is not that. I guess if I do not accept myself as a beautiful person, who does so much good in the world, I will not accept it when others tell me. Thanks for a great post that helped me. I love you tons and know that you are a beautiful person!

  3. This image of what is beautiful starts so young too! My 4 year old already has experienced the "judgement" of other children... Whether it was her shoes weren't pretty enough or she was wearing pants instead of a skirt somewhere... It's really quite sad - but it isn't just the kids, a full grown adult (whom I love dearly) once told me my daughter just had to be the cutest one in the class ~ My response... No, she should to be the smartest!

    I like Zeeny's thought process... I need to change my internal dialogue (isn't that what Dr Phil calls it?) to remind myself that I am beautiful - even if by society's standard I am not.

  4. I get mad at myself for buying into the ideas of beauty that are shoved in our faces. My favorite passage in the scriptures describes Jesus as having "no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him." Which I interpret as having no worldliness about him, sharing no part of something so awful and destructive. Also made me think of the film "The Merchants of Cool," and how I should boycott anything that promotes such ugliness.

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  6. ...actually the film I was thinking of was Jean Kilbourne's "Killing us Softly," but the one I mentioned above is also a good one.

    Thank you for sharing your beauty!

  7. BiV--thanks for your kind comments. i find it unbelievable that people mistake me for a man, too, but in a highly amusing way. it really does make me laugh. and it happened just a week ago. my favorites always happen when the people have no excuse for making the mistake--like the cop who had just written me a ticket (amelia is really not a very masculine name, plus i'm pretty sure my license says i'm female) or the airline worker who looked at my purse and my floral shirt and still called me sir. hilarious.

    zeeny-- i agree with you that our minds have incredible power to shape our lives. for some reason a few years ago i started responding to depression by forcing myself to write down the beauties of my world and myself. i think it actually started with understanding that in prayer we offer thanks because it forces us to contemplate our world, to think beyond ourselves and beyond our troubles. in my mind, prayer works as a mechanism for forcing us to stop wallowing in our problems and to actually think about things in perspective. which is, i think, very much related to forcing oneself to think about the good and beautiful, both around us and within us. so i started making lists using a dry erase marker on my mirror. every day i had to add something about my world and about myself to that list that made me happy. it works wonders. for some reason we succumb to thinking negatively so easily and it can be so much more difficult to think positively. but the world and life are beautiful and why should that be obscured by negatives? especially negatives as arbitrary as those that dominate cultural conceptions of beauty?

  8. lallie-- your comments about your daughter get at the heart of what causes my desperation over this problem. i'm not desperate for a change in my own thinking. the pain i describe at my lacking beauty is a transitory one. i don't feel it except when i allow myself to get down. but the despair i feel over the rhetoric of beauty in our society is much more pervasive--something i feel almost daily. precisely because it is unavoidable. it's not just the beauty industry. it's everything. it's books, movies, tv, advertising of all varieties. it's so pervasive that it simply cannot be avoided. and i see it and i wonder how my precious little nieces will ever survive without it twisting them. i despair because i see no answers. how do we help our girls know that being beautiful and sexy is not a prerequisite to being loved and valued? i just don't know.

  9. i'll have to check out those films someday, alise. thanks for recommending them.

    and i appreciate your sharing that scripture. i've often wondered about it. because i can't help but think the savior must be the most beautiful person i could ever encounter. that his love and goodness and compassion must attract everyone around him. because for me beauty is so very contingent upon someone's character. it makes sense to think about that verse in terms of worldliness--that the savior will not attract us to him with the superficial trappings of this fallen state.

  10. Amy-
    I love your post.....it has made me think about the way I have tried to help M over the years. I use AWARENESS first - I *often* point out the things that are thrown in our face and communicate how ridiculous most of it is. This only helps a bit. I still worry because you are right, around every corner is a reminder of the value society places on being perfect!

    I brought home a couple of prints that Mansour gave me of his art. I tried to keep them safe from creases and crumples....but it was a two day trip and I had a new daughter who was exploring many "firsts" and well, the prints got a bit crumpled. I showed them to Kelley and Polly and accepted that the creases gave them character....and as I think more about it....it will be the creases and crumple marks that remind me of our travels home. We need to work at accepting our own "creases and crumples" and celebrate the experiences that caused them instead of focusing so shallowly on what Satan would have us focus on......the surface. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL....thanks for sharing the video clip.
    love you!

  11. There are days when I really hope that, if I am blessed to have children, I only have boys and that I can teach them to love a woman for who she is, not what she is. It is so hard.

    Thanks for sharing this.