Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It Hurts to be Beautiful

I am going to tell you a harrowing tale. One that makes my blood run cold, and makes me wonder what we're we making of our daughters? 

Every Monday night my 20 year old son plays poker with friends. These are, for the most part, good kids (yeah, there's a little pot, a little more beer, and a lotta bad language, but there's no crack or handguns or plotting to overthrow the Man), they're intelligent, respectful young men. 

They always play in the same place: in the basement at Jeremy's* house (*names changed to protect the innocent, or not so innocent--really, I'm only protecting myself, my son would kill me in my sleep if I revealed any real names). At 22 or 23 years old, Jeremy has managed to pull himself up by his boot straps (or in this case, by his keyboard) find work in an exciting, challenging career he excels at, and buy his own house, which he shares with his girlfriend. By most standards, it's impressive for a 42 year old to excel at their career and buy a house, but at 22 it's jaw-dropping. 

Well, as I reclined after supper on Monday night, after a indulgent repast, patting my growing girth, it occurred to me that my son wasn't performing his careful preparations for poker night (throwing on his favorite crumpled t-shirt from the bottom of a laundry basket and attempting to find at least one sock that didn't expose his big toe). When I asked him why he wasn't going to the game, he told me that the game was cancelled for the next couple of weeks. Why? I inquire. His answer shocked and saddened me: 

"Well, Jeremy's girlfriend is recovering from surgery."

"Oh my God, is she okay?" I say, alarmed enough to sit up straight (which caused an immediate cramp).

"Yeah, she's okay. She's just recovering from her boob-job." 

"What? She had breast implants!! Why? How old is she?!" Let me tell you, I, who am not easily shocked, was shocked. 

Evidently, Jeremy's 20 year old girlfriend, Laura* (*names changed to protect the recently up-cupped) has been dreaming of breast implants for years. She worked through high school and full-time when she graduated, saving and saving, not for university or a trip abroad, but for bigger breasts. 

"Why did she get breast implants? Were her boobs really small? Why would she do that?" I say, becoming increasingly agitated, to my increasingly uncomfortable son. 

"Well, no," he says, "she had nice boobs, you know, regular size. She's a really pretty girl. She wasn't flat-chested. Jeremy said she's just always wanted bigger boobs."

"How big did she go, like a C-cup, or something? And how does Jeremy feel about it?" I'm not naive, in fact, just the opposite, but this was something I was having trouble wrapping my head around. 

"Well, actually, she went for a Double-D, and..."

"What!!!! What the hell!!! Holy shit!!!! Why would she do that? Why would she do that to herself!!!!?????" I rudely interrupt.

"I dunno. I guess she just wanted bigger boobs," shrugs my son.

"Oh my God. What does Jeremy think?"

"Actually," says my son, "He's not very happy about it. He didn't want her to do it. But it was her dream, and he loves her and he said he'd support her." 

"Yeah, your damn right he's going to need to support her....him and WonderBra, for the rest of her back-pain filled life." 

As a woman and as a mother I'm saddened and confused. What are we telling our daughters about their worth? What are we telling them about their value as people? What kind of world is this where a beautiful, young woman is entirely motivated by bigger breasts? What kind of world does she need to feel safe enough, special enough, good enough, attractive enough? What kind of world makes it's young women feel so imperfect? What kind of world are we making for our daughters? 

And how did we come to a place that places more value on your waist to hip ratio then on your brain to stupidity ratio? 

I feel mute. I'm so filled with rage and frustration that I'm unable to articulate how enraged I am. But the next moment, I'm so saddened that I feel weak. 

I suppose, by the standards society sets, so consequently by our standards, it's pretty simple for our daughters to figure out where they fit and where they belong. Their achievements, self-respect, and strength is sitting in their bras, their noses, their haircut and highlights, or the seat of their jeans. 

I'm not wagging my finger at others. I'm not blameless. I've created the same atmosphere in my house, around my girls. I have and do constantly critique myself, my shape, my flaws. I was getting ready for work the other day and one of my daughters said, "You look nice mom." I could have been graceful and accept the compliment. But I didn't, and I wasn't. My answer was, "Yeah, nice for a fat girl." All she said was, "Ahhh, mom, you're not fat. " Then she walked away. And she's right. I'm not fat. But I'm plagued with doubt about my 40 year old curves. I'm uncomfortable in my less than perfect frame. But it's not me that I damaged with those 6 careless words (though I certainly didn't do myself any favors). It was my bright, beautiful daughter. 

How can she learn to grow into the kind of woman who's confident in her self, her beauty, her intelligence, her capabilities, when she sees me, her role model, so unable to be comfortable in mine. 

This is hard. And I don't know how to fix it. I just know that I need to, at least in my world. I know sex sells, I know that attractive people get farther, faster. I know that there's power in beauty. But I also know that that doesn't have to be all. I know that I want more for my girls. I want their power to come from inside of them, rather than inside their bras. I want them to recognize how beautiful and smart they are. And for my sons? I want them to see women for everything they are, not for everything they show

Maybe I can't achieve this. Possibly, my daughters are contemplating implants. But when my son and his friends tell me they feel bad that Laura felt she needed breast implants, I can hope a little. 


Jade said...

I think you are right. Our children look to us first. Regardless of what we say, how we pump them up, they see themselves through the lenses we see ourselves through. How can they believe that they are beautiful and perfect in their own imperfect bodies when we don't feel this ourselves?
We can SAY that looks or how people perceive us doesn't matter, but it does. A great deal of my achievement, my self-respect and my strength does come from the way I look (my bra, my nose, my haircut my tummytuck...). I am not sure that I can change that and I am not sure I want to. What I CAN change is to define MYSELF(as much as I can, obviously I don't live in a vacuum of positive feminine images)in my own beauty. And what we can do as women is to support each girl/woman in her journey to become someone she loves.

I feel like our struggle as women is to somehow reconcile our beauty, our femininity, our sexual power with our personality and our intellect. Our journey is to see all of ourselves, to grow and change and to be something we love and to show this to our daughters.

I worry about judging girls and women for choices they make for beauty. This seems a dangerous and slippery slope to me. This is what, unfortunately, we do best-we criticize and judge ourselves most. Of course, on an academic level we can discuss how religions, politics, economics, EVERY fucking thing our society is based on the tenant women's sexual power and femininity in general is a bad thing (I do believe this). And we can talk about all of the negative images that constantly bombard our daughters and our sons. However, when we judge girls and women in their attempt to somehow try on, define, or claim their beauty or their sexual selves (regardless of whether we feel it was well-guided) we risk becoming one of the damagers, one of the negative voices that reinforce the message that women's sexual, feminine power is something to put down

The Dani Lama said...

Jade, I think you're right too. Our society is engaged in stripping women of their sexual power, but I disagree that feeling angry and frustrated that a perfectly beautiful girl (and at 20, I would say she's a girl) feels the need for implants to own or exert her feminine power and beauty.

I'm not judging this girl. I'm judging a culture that approves, encourages, and rewards this behavior. She is not trying on a new kind of beauty, she is trying to recreate herself in the image of a societally-imposed notion of beauty (I would go so far as to say a patriarchal image of beauty, and then go even farther and say, a patriarchal image of beauty that hobbles women--Barbie as a real woman wouldn't be able to stand up straight as her breasts would be too big and heavy for her body).

This is like the feminist debate that suggest that men will see women as equal if women act like men by proving we can do everything they can do. So, as women, we embrace this testosterone version of womanhood and throw off what we think are weak behaviors, like nurturing and mothering. But there comes a time when we (women) realize that our power is not in being like men, but being like women and embracing and living that truth.

I want my girls, Hell, I want to be able to feel smart, sexy, beautiful, perfect and powerful without someone else's version of what that is....my ex-husband once told me that the perfect woman was "5'6", with blond hair and big boobs." As you know, I'm just the opposite. How can I ever achieve that ideal of beauty? Should I strive for it? Does his (and I dare say many Western mens) vision of the perfect woman make it the right one? And if so, what the hell is a 5'10" dark haired girl to do?

I'm angry that we as women feel we need to conform to these models to be sexy and powerful.

Could double-D breasts be her vision of perfect beauty? Perhaps. But I'm doubtful. We need to help ourselves and our daughters find their feminine power and sexuality in who they are, what they offer to the world, regardless of breast size, or nose size for that matter.

Sadly, I think the put down to feminine power is not in my concern that a young woman gets breast implants, it's the culture that encourages her, and then demeans, laughs, or desires her because of it and them. Frankly, I think she stripped herself of some of her power, and that makes me sad.

I think we're on the same side of this debate: the empowering of women. Allowing and enabling each and every woman to have the strength, confidence, and beauty to "shake what her mama gave her," without fear or shame. This is a tough and sensitive thing to discuss.....and I'm known to be wrong (more than regularly). But I can't help feeling sad for Laura.

Just one very flawed woman's thought.

Jade said...

I guess I worry that feeling sad for Laura somehow takes away even more of her power...that somehow she becomes even more of a dupe because we pity her.

But yes, we are on the same side of the debate.

And it IS a tough and sensitive thing to discuss because, well, we wake up each morning and fight with the multitude of images, feelings and perceptions about our bodies and our selves. We have some inkling of what we might like to achieve as a gender, as an individual, as a soul, but really, how do we work it all out?

And your flaws are beautiful, just like your ass.