July 27, 2013

The Beauty Monster.

Here is my deep dark secret.

Don’t tell.

I am not beautiful.

Like many little girls, I spent hours mugging into the mirror, trying to make my round child’s cheeks look angled and my innocent eyes look sexy. I stared at pictures of Brooke Shields and Cindy Crawford, coveted my issues of Vogue, and dreamed of being stopped at the mall by a modeling agent, who would say he had been watching me as I drank my McDonald’s milkshake and wanted me to sign a contract and move to New York right this minute.

In reality, I was plain as a plate; my hair was blah, my waist thick, my smallish eyes neither blue nor green. If I had one distinguishing characteristic, it was my loud (some might say obnoxious) voice, but that certainly wasn’t going to get me on the pages of any fashion magazine. Nope, I was just a regular kid, from a regular town in boring old U.S. of A.

In high school, I masked the curse of my normalcy by bleaching my hair white, rimming my eyes with kohl and wearing black from head to toe. Pre-Emo, I guess you’d call me, or Goth, but in those days it was still a pretty radical move. My parents sent me to therapy.

After college I moved to New York. I was a waitress, not a model, but I was surrounded by models on all sides. I worked hard to look like them, but I never really did. I had their height, but not their physique; I could manage to be pretty, but I was never beautiful. The truth of that was exhausting.

Eventually, I left New York (A.K.A., Model World), moved to a normal town, started a family, raised my kids, started practicing yoga, and learned how to teach it. I thought I was over my lifelong obsession with how I looked, but the Beauty Monster wasn’t dead, she was just hibernating.

Then (because I am nothing if not a woman of the times!), I started a blog. I just wanted to write a little about cooking and yoga, instead of wasting time stalking old friends on Facebook. But I quickly discovered one of the unfortunate byproducts of blogging about “health and fitness”; the categories that cooking and yoga seem to fall into was my sudden re-exposure to gangs of beautiful women. Women obsessed with fitness, posting pictures of their own bodies and the bodies they covet, often, strangely, headless. I couldn’t help but gawk as I scrolled down, looking for kindred spirits on the ephemeral web. All the flaws in my 43-year-old body seemed to jump out at me, like eager kids playing in a pool yelling, “Look at me! Look at me!”

What’s the big deal, you say. We are surrounded by these images regardless, leering down at us from billboards, televisions, and even toy shelves in the form of Bratz and Barbies. In those contexts, though, the pushers of these ideas are trying to sell us something, and they are remote corporations. Somehow, individual women using their own bodies or pictures of the bodies they want, as a primary way to define themselves seems so much worse. There might as well have been a caption on every single one of these posts begging,”Please tell me I am beautiful!” I could understand where they were coming from.

As women, we have learned that it is our job to force ourselves into certain shapes. Despite occasional departures, like the Dove campaign and the emergence of plus sized models (which, though promoting images of normal women is still promoting, playing off the damage which has been done by promoters before them and as such, still profiting from our pain), the predominant feminine ideal is still a Giselle Bundchen-esque genetic freak. Unless you are 25-years-old and a size two with at least C cup breasts, you are probably trying to change something about yourself.

I hate to admit it, but those headless photos of skinny young women with carved up abs and epic asses still have the power to ruin my day. Not all of my days, but some of them, and even one of those days is one day too many. If I had truly moved beyond the “beauty myth,” the monster would be dead. I would be able to get into a downward facing dog and gaze happily at my aging navel without giving it a second thought.

We need to stop buying into the idea of selling ourselves. I know our culture is based on barter and trade, and that we believe if you don’t offer anything of “value” (beauty being the most valued commodity of all), you will end up gathering dust on a shelf. But that’s only if you put yourself there.

My wish for women, my wish for myself, is that someday, we’ll post pictures of ourselves at unflattering angles, in bad light, with no make up, smiling freely. And that as we scroll past those pictures, we won’t make snarky remarks about that muffin top, those jiggly arms, and sagging eyelids. We will simply see the whole woman as she emerges through her smile, and we will smile back.

As it always seems to be, the bottom line here is kindness. If we could simply speak to ourselves the way we would speak to a cherished friend, all this silliness would fall to the wayside.

I already told you my secret, my ugly secret, so I guess it’s not a secret anymore. Here’s my new one; it’s much juicer. I think I am beautiful, and I think you are too.


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Ed: B. Bemel

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