There comes a day in every girl’s life when she realizes that she is not the prettiest princess in the room. I’m not sure exactly when that day was for me but I know I was very young. Having a daughter myself, I can tell you that every girl is born into this world knowing she is the most gorgeous, amazing creature ever. Every body part, including her tummy, is just a body part and something to be examined (and possibly chewed on) with delight. Jelly Bean is 2.5 years old and watching her frolic after bathtime tonight assures me that she has not yet lost that fairy magic. But while some of us keep that wonder a bit longer than others – I think having parents who adore every inch of you helps – somewhere between babyhood and girlhood, it’s gone. Extinguished like a candle under a cup. The candle is still there of course but it no longer lights our way.
Before we even learn words like “glass ceiling” we learn two irreconcilable “facts”: 1) That beauty is our currency and 2) That we will never be beautiful enough. And every girl (and let’s be honest, many boys too) then has to decide how to make sense out of this non-sense.
I’ve seen a lot of different reactions to this:
I’m going to be completely honest: I’ve been all of these girls at different stages in my life and there is heartbreak in every one.
I was reminded of this the other day during a conversation with a woman whose job is in the beauty industry. As she was detailing to me all the various services available (for those who can pay) – everything from teeth whitening to laser skin resurfacing to botox – I interrupted her to ask, “Do you ever just stop someone and say, ‘You know, you’re good now! You don’t need anything else!’ ” She looked surprised and then answered, “Well nobody’s perfect. There’s always something else that can be done!” I replied (and yes I did actually say this), “That is the saddest thing I have ever heard.” While I know that she was looking at it purely from a an industry standpoint and probably didn’t mean it to be this meta, it still struck me as sad that you could get every treatment that money could buy and you still wouldn’t be beautiful “enough.”
Reader Sarah sent me an interesting e-mail today. In it she included a quote from the British Olympian and cyclist Victoria Pendleton. Pendleton writes in her column for Zest magazine,
“It still surprises me that we have such a narrow view of what makes women attractive. I’ve been photographed lots of times over the years, but one picture sticks in my mind. I wore a dress that exposed my whole back and when I saw the photo on a screen at the shoot I thought “Wow! My back looks muscly,” and I felt really proud. But, when the picture was printed, my back was smooth and practically muscle free. They’d softened it all and I was so disappointed because I’d put a lot of work into that! I guess, in their opinion, being muscly isn’t that attractive in a woman. But surely if you take a picture of an athlete, you’d expect to see some muscle, wouldn’t you?”
She’s an Olympian. With her own column in a beauty mag. And she’s still not good enough.
So when will we finally be good enough? As long as we let others define us then the answer is a resounding never. But I’m convinced we can relight our candle. First is understanding that we may be able to purchase pretty but beauty cannot be bought. Second is recognizing what makes us feel truly, deeply beautiful – the way we felt when we were two and could stare at ourselves in the mirror for ten minutes without a single judgmental thought.
What makes me feel truly beautiful:
None of these can be bought. But all are within my grasp.
What makes you feel truly beautiful? Are you able to tap into that little girl? What is one thing you can do today to help someone else feel beautiful? (Hint: if you need an idea, start with a huge, genuine smile.)