“But if you’re not part of the ‘Beauty Olympics’, you can still become a very interesting person.”
Sex and The City pilot episode
Esperanza tweeted this article yesterday, which I read with a sinking feeling. Because although I had vowed not to use the word “pretty” with my daughter too much, or compliment her on her appearance, I still do. I compliment her on the way she looks more than I compliment her on cleaning up, or reading a book, or building towers or reciting her numbers properly. It’s like I am fighting an ingrained instinct and it is a knee-jerk reaction to say, “You look beautiful” when she’s dressed in a gorgeous feminine outfit. It’s like I just blurt it out. And it’s not just me: it’s my husband too. And most of our peers, friends and relations.
I know the way you look is important, but where I live it might be more important than almost anywhere else. I live in a very outdoorsy place where women are expected to be “fit” and hike and work out a lot. It is rare to see anyone in my town who is overweight. In my early 30s, I worked out more than any other time in my history: I hiked, I ran, I worked out at the gym. I ate normally though. I didn’t overeat and I didn’t particularly indulge in high-calorie foods. But I was not pin-thin. No one told me, “You look great!”
Then I had a really bad episode of acid-reflux disease a year and a half ago, and had to cut out most foods. Eating almost anything was extremely painful. I lost 10 pounds in about 2 months. I looked awful: my skin tone was poor, I had dark circles under my eyes, I was extremely tired.
And I got about 50 comments from people saying they thought I looked “awesome” and a number of questions about my “new” working out habits.
That’s when I realized that most of the women I would see looking “fit” in their yoga pants didn’t eat much.
All of this is a preamble to what is really bothering me. A friend of mine from high school, who had a terrible, life-threatening battle with anorexia back then, passed away at the age of 38 a month ago. We lost touch, partially because she was mad at me for raising flags about her eating with friends and a family member. I wasn’t the only one who was concerned, but for some reason I took the blame. I have been feeling awful about her passing. She was a sweet and good person. And I feel badly that I didn’t try to get back in touch with her. I don’t know what caused her death, maybe the anorexia was not involved.
But obsession with appearance is not good for our girls. The truth that beauty fades, that you need to have other attributes to make it in life is NOT taught in mainstream media. Women are praised mostly for being “hot”: like Jessica Alba, who lost all her baby weight in a few months and admitted to eating 1200 calories a day and working out 2+ hours seven days a week. Tween shows teach girls that being pretty and famous is the best path to follow (“Hannah Montana”). Even pre-school girls are shown parading around in bikinis and spray tans in “Toddlers and Tiaras”.
And let’s get down to it: it’s men. Men of all ages crane their necks at nubile teen girls. The “Barely Legal” category of adult entertainment is always most popular.
I don’t think it’s ALL men. I always hear about the guys who went to the “Take Back the Night” anti-rape rallies in college, who sympathized with women over being “objectified”. You know, the guys Ayelet Waldman is always talking about. I have never met a guy like that in my life, but I THINK they exist. Probably across the bridge in that very liberal famous college town? Slowmamma, can you confirm or deny? 😉
Anyway, I want my son to be a guy like that.
What can we do about society’s obsession with beauty? Is it possible to sidestep it?