Saturday, 28 September 2013

On Raising A Daughter Part IV: You're Already Beautiful

I was sitting in the corner of the living room listening to the same ol' spiel I'd been hearing ever since both my sisters hit their growth spurts and grew up, up, up and away, while I...did not.

"Oh you should see them now. They could be models, in fact [x] did get approached by a modelling agency. They are both so tall and gorgeous and fashionable. I mean truly fashionable." And then, as if all of sudden remembering that mossy fungus in the corner was actually a person, me, the other sister, this person tried to save face with the following line: "And our Caitie is so smart."

Thanks a fucking lot.

***

Maybe this is where I'm supposed to insert some 'roar-roar-roar' prose about what a tough cookie I was and how I never looked in the mirror and rejected my reflection, but that would be a lie. Because I believed I was ugly. I was fat. I was less-than. That what I looked like on the outside had a degree more of worth than what was going on between my ears.

When family members ask you when you're going to lose weight, it's pretty hard not to go home that night and not feel like total, utter shit while looking in the mirror and wondering what fault they see in you that you didn't see before. 

When people ask you if 'you're really going to eat that?' or 'do you think you should be eating that?', it's sort of hard not to pause for a second and wonder why they care so much. Heart health? Nope. Waist health.

When you get stuck between two people--in countless photos--who are four inches taller than you and have a completely different physique, it can be hard not to see yourself as the short, dumpy one.

And please, this isn't meant to inspire any, "You're beautiful!' comments. Ugh. Spare me. I'm not fishing for compliments. I'm simply stating that I am an average person and therefore I know that I am not the only girl who spent time alone and lost in worry and tears, fretting that what I looked like from the outside didn't hold up against someone else's measuring stick of attractive.

I never once asked myself if I was enough for myself.

Not once.

And I reject this for my daughter.

***

Women's worth being tied up in how they look is epidemic, and I am categorically sick and tired of seeing smart, talented, loving, amazing, women spiral in personal tornadoes of hell because they don't feel beautiful. Thin. Special. That they are only 'enough' if they are able to be squeeze their legs into a certain size.

It's for this reason that I reject those ridiculous Dove beauty commercials. You know the ones: where they talk down to the consumer to remind her: "Hey look! The model is just photo shopped to look that way! You're the really beautiful one!" At first bite it's palatable, but when you start to chew it that's when you come up against the gristle because even though the commercial is telling us no one is as beautiful as the magazine cover--including the model--they are still reminding us about beauty.

That it's still important.

They are still selling something, Internet, and what they're selling is a product that's supposed to make you realize you are beautiful. So yes, basically, you still aren't enough on your own.

You still need something.

***

All over Facebook women are re-posting tips and recipes for 'getting fit' and 'eating healthy' and 'being active'. It's numbing. It's really and truly mind-numbing. It's not an exaggeration to say that this is what--based on wall posts alone--most of my FB friends are concerned with. No one is linking posts to truly excellent books they've read; musicians who've inspired them; charities they're passionate about; clubs they're interested in.

Fitness and health. 

Health and fitness.

An unhealthy obsession with being healthy.

This is the new language of thin.

Of beauty.

It just sounds more empowering than it really is.

***

The day I found out I was having a girl, I went home and lay on the couch for a solid hour and realised that I need to be better for her. I need to be the example I want for my daughter, because up to that point I was not a role-model I would want for her.

At that point, I was not enough for her.

***

LB is already beautiful.

I am already beautiful.

You are already beautiful.

Each in our own wonderful, weird, way.

It would be impossible to pretend physical beauty doesn't exist. To ignore it. I can't just tell her: being beautiful isn't important, just be smart! I can't do this because people who are never, ever told they're beautiful inevitably feel ugly.

God it's a black hole, isn't it?

But we can be intelligent about beauty. We can be savvy. We can be aware. We can look at a magazine and think, "Yeah, I don't look like that but I am still utterly fab." Lying on the couch that day I realised that if I want my daughter to be strong enough to not feel the pressure of a woman only being 'enough' if she meets a certain standard of beauty, I will need to teach her how to feel secure with herself.

I will need to teach her how to pay herself her own compliments so that if--as happened to her mother--a guy walks up to her and says, "You might be hot if you showed some cleavage," she can rally and tell this spineless prick he can "fuck-off and die" without then spending thirty minutes in the toilet having a quiet sob and feeling quite awful about herself.

His definition of beauty isn't hers.

Hers is hers and it's enough.

***

How am I going to do this?

Leading by example.

Firstly, I have already vowed that I will never criticise myself in front of LB or measure myself against anyone else, and thus far (thirteen months into this parenting gig) I am succeeding. I have also vowed that I will not be involved in mindless chatter about weight loss: wanting to lose ten pounds is vanity, and I will not sit around and listen to smart women worry about something so stupid. Wanting to lose fifty pounds because you have a health situation on your hands is a totally different discussion.

I am not going feed her society's new obsession with thin--thinly veiled as health--by preaching over and over again that it's important for our bodies to be fit and healthy. I'll just do it. I don't need her to become preoccupied by something that doesn't actually need to occupy as much grey matter as people are devoting to it.

I will show her that Mom likes clothes, has fun with clothes, but that style is different from materialism. Also, that it's totally cool to compliment people on their style, because it makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside when someone tells them they're rockin'. Learning how to pay yourself your own compliment doesn't mean you are void of wanting a little affection from others.

We're human.

I want her to have an unshakable knowledge that she is interesting and original and exceptional, and the only way to do this is to talk to her. To engage her. To get her brain whirring on topics that are bigger than where our place is in the the line-up from fat to thin, because what I want to curate in LB is an inherent knowledge that the most interesting people in the world are the people who are creating beauty, not trying to follow it.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? is a heavy question, and vanity is a fragile thing. 

I don't want her to break that easily.

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