I lay in my bed and prayed: “God, please make me beautiful.”
Of all the things I could have prayed for, this now strikes me as a sad choice.
I was a skinny, bony, pale pre-adolescent. Puberty had already struck half of the girls in my class, while I still looked like a tiny beanpole, sans any visible curves.
Add in the glasses and mousy brown hair and you can understand why, in a world where Farrah Fawcett was the gold standard, I prayed for beauty.
I am fairly sure none of my male counterparts in elementary school were praying for physical attractiveness. Athletic prowess? Probably. Good grades? Possibly. A better opening line? Likely. But physical beauty? I’m guessing not.
The difference, dear friends, in case you have missed it, is this: boys tend to focus on their skills. Girls, at least in my generation, were taught by society that their worth lay in inert beauty.
Despite having a mother who focused on my talents and abilities, a father who told me I was beautiful and a house with very few mirrors, I had absorbed what society wanted from a woman. And it wasn’t my ability to ace a test.
While society’s expectations were slow to change, I was not. I got contacts, reached puberty, became an aerobics instructor. The curves magically appeared. The unruly hair was tamed. I grew into the knobby knees. And I still aced my tests.
Voila. Problems solved.
But surely you know I jest.
When you measure yourself by an unattainable standard, the problem is never “solved.”
There is always someone with a more luxurious mane, longer legs or a derriere to die for.
Flash forward 30 years and how far have we come? In my view, we’re inching along. And I ache for my friends’ teenaged daughters, who seem to struggle with many of the same issues we would have put to bed decades ago in a more enlightened culture.
Sure, we have the Mia Hamms and Serena Williams of the world—the capable female athletes who have become role models for little girls across America. But, we still also have plenty of vapid young starlets whose only claim to fame is their doe eyes and curvy sashay.
Physical beauty is fine. I have nothing against it. The issue is when it takes center stage. The result? An alarming number of anorexic and bulimic young girls and some very nice vacation properties for a bevy of plastic surgeons who nip, tuck and cut our female population into an unrealistic version of beauty.
It is not just our young girls that are hurt. I see so many friends, including myself, who struggle with midlife changes. I never realized that my quick service in any retail outlet by a male clerk might have been because my chest was perkier, my eyes bluer, my abs rock solid. I was not ignorant of the fact that looking good helped, but neither did I realize how much weight appearance truly was given. Until I started to age.
And it’s hard to realize I’m not immune, not more mature about it. That little girl that used to pray for beauty remains a part of me.
I still look pretty good for my age. I know this. Far from perfect, but far from awful also. Does it rankle when the butcher that used to run over to take my order trips over his own feet to wait on the Blake Lively look-alike first? A little, yes. But I remind myself of what I have told my nieces all along–that external beauty is fleeting. That who you build yourself up to be and what you bring to the world matters. Do you want to be Kim Kardashian or Madeleine Albright? Which one has a true impact on our world? Which one will be remembered as a bright light?
I am one voice. Amidst a chorus of other, not so positive, voices. Voices like the media and peers who seem to know every detail of what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast and very little about how the world changed due to Albright’s efforts.
How about Judith Rodin? She was responsible for more than $171 million in charitable contributions last year. Oh, and at 68, her fine lines are showing. Pity. Maybe she finds it hard to find time to shop for anti-wrinkle creams with all those pesky charities clamoring for funds.
And don’t forget Ertharin Cousin. She fed over 97 million people this year. She doesn’t wear much makeup. Must be busy eradicating world hunger.
I hope I have granddaughters. I hope they pray to be astronauts. And I hope it’s because of what their Nana has whispered in their ears, about women like these and the possibilities in a world that needs their talents more than it needs their baby blues.