I was watching something while folding laundry yesterday and there was this commercial for the Dove campaign for real beauty. I like this campaign; I don’t like Dove products, as I’d prefer products that do less damage to the earth, but if I were going to buy commercial soaps and creams, I would probably by Dove products, simply due to this campaign.
Many women grow up and continue as adults feeling inadequate in terms of their bodies or faces. We speak today about the constant onslaught of the media, the airbrushing, the dangerous eating disorders, etc., but while these particular attacks on our self-esteem are new, the issue is as old as gender-based division of labor.
As far as I know, we are one of the few species where female “plumage” is expected to outshine male plumage. It’s yet another aspect of women being all things to all people.
Later, I went to a meeting at my son’s school. We saw a young woman there, a good friend of my son’s, of whom I’m very fond. She’s one of the most high energy people I know, but she’s not giggly or flighty. She works her tail off, takes the hardest classes regardless of how she’ll perform, because she just “likes to *really* learn new things”, and she has a huge group of people who truly admire her and enjoy her. She’s far, far more popular than she realizes.
I asked her mom how their summer had gone. She told me, to my surprise, that her daughter had had surgery.
“Really? What for?”
I know this young woman has some congenital health issues, and I was concerned.
It was for correction of cleft palate surgery that she received when she was young. I noticed that this young woman looked different, but the difference hadn’t really registered. When she fills my mind’s eye, she’s just beautiful – she has luminous eyes, beautiful hair and a strong, lovely body that is never still. She exudes health, strength and her amazing personality. And I happen to know that a fair number of young men (and possibly women) were already perfectly smitten with her pre-surgery.
Her mom explained that the surgery became really essential to her daughter. Apparently, her daughter had felt “less than” due to the still-visible cleft palate. The whole surgery issue was huge for her mother, who’d always seen her daughter as others tend to, and her daughter, being more of an active, roughhousing kind of girl, had never seemed overly concerned with her appearance. Her mother told me that, much to her amazement, her daughter was now more bubbly and happy than she’s ever been. Her new face was really important to her.
For me, it will take some getting used to. I’ll comment the next time I see her – I wasn’t prepared the other night.
Thinking of her situation while doing yoga this morning, I thought of my own reactions to my inadequacies at her age. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, and while I was generally within normal weight ranges with a few, brief dips into overweight, I’ve always felt “fat”. In high school, past mid-Freshman year (the last of my “dips”) I maintained a classic 24″-36″-24″ frame and while I didn’t have the greatest legs, I was deemed pretty attractive.
I was from a family, though, with parents who had started off from working class Boston and Jersey City and in the atmosphere of shimmering Manhattan, they were of the school of “you can never be too thin or too rich”. While they weren’t real advocates of the latter (being long-term Leftists) the thin mantra was huge in our house. My father, particularly, scrutinized every bite that went into my mouth. He even maintained that my drinking ice water at a restaurant before the meal was served would expand my stomach and as a result, I’d eat more than I should.
Not only did this start an unhealthy relationship with food, but with men, as well. As soon as I discovered my power over boys my own age, I was keen to exploit it. I wasn’t particularly promiscuous – I was actually quite frightened of touch and deathly afraid of getting pregnant – but I was definitely a serial monogamist, and the more boyfriends, the better.
Also, due to other issues in my childhood, I always went after the guys who were the oddballs, the shy ones, those who probably didn’t have a chance in hell of being noticed by girls. So, um, yeah, I usually succeeded when I set my sights on someone.
Now, I wonder what possessed me to enter into these casual, two-week drama games. Most of the guys were social isolates for a reason. Generally, we had nothing in common other than low self-esteem. This is not to say that I didn’t have some longer, satisfying relationships along the way, and I certainly slowed down and found more appropriate partners as I grew more mature. But now I can’t really imagine how my 13- through 15-year-old self made some of the choices that she did, and I wish I could tell her to “buck up” and let her know how many fabulous qualities she actually had had.
Our girls (and boys, to a lesser extent) are hit with enormous pressure to look “just right”. Girls as young as 12 are asking for botox treatments.
Where are you with the whole beauty thing?