I’ve turned in my book, it was accepted enthusiastically, and now I’m venturing out from my bunker and looking around at the piles that have accumulated in my studio over the past few months. Parenting? Oh, yeah. That. I’m a little out of the loop. My book was a departure from anything having to do with parents, children, daddies and mommies. The title is “You Look Fine, Really ,” and it’s for us. It’s for the ladies. It’s for the women over “a certain age.” So I haven’t been in “mommy” world for the past few months, although many mommies might really like this book; I’ve been in the world of beauty and fashion and lipstick and sugar & spice and all things nice, pounding out my particular opinions on how I think we women ought to deal with our rapidly aging bodies and faces, among other things. So the book is for women, but clearly a lot of our perceptions about beauty are formed when we’re young girls.
I know it’s not always easy for young girls. And it’s certainly easy for us to say “love yourself the way you are” when every billboard and TV show and movie is telling them that they aren’t measuring up to a very narrowly defined ideal of beauty. The Botox and cosmetic surgery frenzy that seems to have taken hold of actresses even in their twenties and thirties is now trickling down to regular people in regular jobs, and regular girls in high schools and colleges who are spending thousands of dollars to have their faces and bodies reshaped. The other day a friend of mine told me that her 22-year-old daughter was thinking it would be a good time to start getting Botox injections, to keep wrinkles from gaining a toehold. She has skin like a white peach, this girl; but she would rather freeze her face with botulism toxin than face the possibility of having a few lines around her eyes twenty years hence. This sounds crazy to me, and yet apparently teenagers are receiving breast implants and nose jobs as graduation gifts from their daddies and mommies in record numbers. Is this kind of a weird message from Mom and Dad? Congratulations on being so smart, honey, but you’re never going to make it in this world with that unsightly nose. And while you’re at it, you might want to plump up those breasts and have a tummy tuck.
Too many Mommies and Daddies want to smooth the way for their little darlings as it is; as if keeping them from having to undergo any hardships will actually help their kids have an easier time of it out in the world. Perhaps cosmetic surgery is just the latest of the quick fixes, just one more leg up they can give their child. Have they forgotten that giant noses and flat chests build personality and inner strength? Don’t the pretty cheerleaders and handsome jocks always end up alcoholically recalling their glory days and boring everyone to death at reunions, because they never learned how to be interesting people? The dorks in high school had to be funny and smart to survive constant humiliation and green stuff in our braces. We couldn’t just stand around looking cute, we had to develop skills to draw the eye away from the giant, inflamed zit peeking out from our unibrow. We had to bolster our quivering insecurity with humor and spirit. Getting through high school thinking your nose is too big for your face is a character-building rite of passage, and a nose with its own zip code will make you a much more fascinating person in the long run.
The other night I attended the second annual “friends of my mom” birthday party for the daughter of a friend who died last year. The birthday girl was turning 16, and at some point all the women in the group sat in a circle and gave her their own personal tidbits of advice; things they wished they’d known when they were 16. One of the things I told the birthday girl is that no 16 year-old girl ever has any idea how beautiful she is. It’s not until you’re in your forties and looking at old pictures and suddenly you see a photo of yourself in all your plump, adorable, shining 16-year-old-ness, and you think to yourself, “Why did I think my nose was so big? Why was I so tormented over the size of my thighs? What was I thinking?” And you remember all the time spent fretting over the tiny blemish and not seeing the big picture. All that time not reveling in our lovely, dewy, young beautiful selves, and too much time wasted believing we were ugly, wishing for long legs or blonde hair or pillowy lips.
We had zit cream, we put tissue in our bras and lemon juice on our hair in the summer; thankfully, making an appointment with the cosmetic surgeon wasn’t the first option for every girl who was despondent over her teacup breasts. Because what seems like the end of the world to you at age 16 will probably seem much less important, if not meaningless as you become older and wiser. Getting breast implants at age 16 is like having a butt-length hair extensions and a mini-skirt permanently attached. What happens when the styles change? Do you really want that D-cup to define who you are for the rest of your life?
I have two boys, so I don’t necessarily have the same issues as mothers of girls. But just as we should avoid exclaiming happily to our kids that we’re “so bad at math!” perhaps we might think twice before we parade around the house declaring how “fat” our tummies are, or how much we “hate” our hair, whether we have girls or boys. What can I do as the mother of boys? I can offer as many diverse and interesting female role models to my boys as possible. I’m lucky to have so many interesting women friends; my boys have grown up with them, and so they know that women are smart, funny, stylish, independent; they come in different packages, have wildly different faces and bodies, and the most interesting ones are not the ones who seem too concerned with being “perfect” by some manufactured measure of perfection.
Purchase “You Look Fine, Really ”