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...