Beauty isn’t always as plain as the nose on your face

I rarely get on soap boxes, at least publicly.  It’s just not my thing.  But there is one topic about which I am passionate — little girl’s self-esteem and the constant messages about what is “beauty” and “pretty” and “normal”.  If you’ve ever seen a three-year old little girl in a bathing suit, she is completely body unself-conscious.  Visit her again in about 4 years (6 if you’re lucky), and you will find a little girl who has already started to worry about weight, who has already started to compare herself to the other little girls to see if she “fits in.”

It makes me livid.  Because self-conscious little girls can grow into self-questioning little girls, into teenage girls with self-esteem issues, into girls that make poor choices in a desire to be accepted, in hopes of being thought pretty, in pursuit of fitting in.  And what rips me is just whose definition of pretty and fitting in and acceptance is it?  Whenever I look at a magazine or TV or any mass media, I want to take a Sharpie and draw bulges and lines where the model’s body really is, pre-Photo-Shopping.  I have two beautiful nieces, and I dread the time that they believe that the world’s expectations of beauty are based on photos of people who have themselves been altered to represent an unrealistic vision of beauty.

I am ranting based on my experience and my own non-scientific analysis of the world in which we live.  I haven’t read formal studies, but  I remember my own childhood.  I grew up in a very female-dominated atmosphere.  My mama had 6 sisters and, on most Sundays, the sisters and their families gathered at my grandparent’s house.  Thus, for the Sundays of my childhood, my cousins and I spent time in a house full of females, discussing their lives.  A common comment that we girl cousins heard from these aunts’ and mothers’ mouths was “I am so fat.  I need to lose weight.”

This statement was never directed to anyone else.  It was always self-directed and normally met with a chorus of “No, you don’t.”  Yet, the message that we heard was “Fat is BAD!  Bad. Bad. Bad.”

Regardless of the fact that we children were told “You are beautiful.  You do not need to worry about how you look.  You are beautiful”, it didn’t matter because our female role models were always talking about being fat.   I internalized that message and in talking to my sister and my female cousins, so did they.  My self-esteem about my looks suffers now because of this and because I am not 6’4″ tall and 95 lbs., which is the body type for all clothes.

My mama used to say “Pretty is as pretty does” — and it is so true.  But no one should think they are ugly.

As an additional thought, I have some songs that I think are good songs for sharing.  These songs underscore the beauty to be found in all “little girls”:

Who Says?

Selena Gomez & The Scene


Christina Aguilera

Free to Be Me

Francesca Battistelli

The Beauty in Ugly

Jason Mraz

Happy Girl

Beth Nielsen Chapman

Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful

Kellie Pickler

Mama Mia — Day 10

Today I am grateful for mothers.  Specifically, I am grateful for my mother.  She’s a pretty darn good mother.  My sister and I turned out well.  We’re kind, responsible, competent women.  My biggest issue is that I tend to put a lot of people into the category of “Idiots”.  Matt might argue that I have more issues than that, but I think that is idiotic.

I am especially grateful that she taught me that I shouldn’t take myself too seriously.  She is the kind of mother that won’t be mad at her daughter at all for posting this picture of her in a blog.  A picture that she hates.  She will laugh and laugh and say, “I’m not going to take myself so seriously!”  Cause that’s the kind of mother she is.

I love this picture.  She was 17 at the time, competing in a beauty pageant.  And I love to think about her that young, that carefree, that bold.  Go, Girl!  You are as beautiful today as you were at 17.

Lady Mama

I named my blog “My Mama Always Said” because someone once pointed out to me that I started a lot of my stories with the phrase, “Well, my mama always said…”  And she really did have a lot to say, as I wrote about in one of my very first blogs.  I didn’t realize until I was Googling one day that most people associate that phrase with “Forrest Gump”, followed by “that life is like a box of chocolates.”  My mama never said that.  She said life isn’t always fair.  She said that you should eat chocolate if you get the chance.  But she never put life and chocolate in the same sentence.

So, I’ve spent my life hearing, listening (because there is a difference between “hearing” and “listening”) and repeating my mama’s words of wisdom, I was nonetheless shocked to realize just how hip she is.  This morning as I was driving to work, Lady Gaga came on the radio singing “Born This Way”.  Compare my mama to Lady Gaga.

me as a teenager:  I feel ugly / fat.  My hair is ugly.  I’m stupid.

My mama:  You are none of those.  You are beautiful.  God made you the way you are.  And He doesn’t make any mistakes.

Lady Gaga:  I’m beautiful in my way, ‘Cause God makes no mistakes

Who knew that my mama and Lady Gaga had so much in common?  I’m thinking of buying her a meat dress for Christmas.  My mama, that is.  Lady Gaga has been there, done that.

Hunger Made Me Write This

I have been thinking a lot about food lately.  OK, actually, food is ALL I have been thinking about lately.

I’m in my 40s, and a slow metabolism, gene pool, unhealthy eating and dislike of exercise have caught up with me.  I can no longer ignore the mirror — it’s time to diet.

The breaking point was last week at work.  I was meeting with someone when a late attendee (whom I had never met) walked in, looked around, and asked, “Is this the Weight Watchers meeting?” while making eye contact with me.

While he may have meant it as a joke (A POOR ONE), it was a figurative slap on the fat ass to get my eating habits in order.  So, I joined Weight Watchers.  (That is irony.)

When chubby cheeks were cute

Now I am hungry all the time.  I think about food all the time and my self-esteem isn’t at its highest at the moment.

I worry about my nieces and the images and the pressure that they receive to be skinny in order to be considered beautiful.  Television, movies, magazines, Internet — the list goes on and on.  On a good day, I can almost convince myself that my outside doesn’t decide the kind of person that I am.  On a bad day, I don’t even try to argue that point with myself.

How does a pre-teenage or teenage girl have the ability or maturity to have the same argument?

And as I feel myself getting all outraged about the unrealistic size and beauty expectations placed on women in our society, I feel guilty that I went to see “Magic Mike” this afternoon, a movie that blatantly exploits nice looking men.  Am I being a hypocrite by turning around and gawking at men that don’t look anything like 99% of the men in America?

Screw it.  Those men were hot.  And I think that I burned some calories watching them.  And I didn’t eat any popcorn.  I feel no shame.

Beauty Is In the Eye

Insomnia has been my nighttime companion for several years. Normally, a sleeping pill and 30 minutes reading will cure it, but recently, even these reliable helpers have been unable to ease me into sleep. I toss and I turn, then I finally turn on the TV. Nothing great is on during the middle of the night, because, let’s face it, if it were great, it would be on during prime time viewing hours. But I do catch some interesting shows, at times. Like the time I saw on the viewing guide that The DaVinci Code was on, but when I turned to that channel, it was two naked women (ummmm) enjoying each other. Having watched the movie with Tom Hanks once before, I knew that I didn’t remember that scene, so I double-checked the guide. I was watching The DaVinci Co-Ed not Code. See, interesting, but not great TV. And I’ve learned to read carefully.

Last night I was flipping late into the night and I came across a show about little girls and beauty pageants. I assume that they were little girls, but it was hard to tell under all the make-up. They could have been 3 or 33….the anklets with the patent leather Mary Janes were what made me first suspect that they couldn’t buy their fake eyelashes by themselves. I was immediately hooked–I think it is called “fascination with the abomination”.

Let’s be clear–none of the little girls that I saw were abominable. They were actually all quite cute, but they in no way resembled little girls. The big hair and the make-up and (I kid you not) spray-on tans masked the things that I think make little girls beautiful–pony tails, missing front teeth, chocolate milk moustaches and skinned knees.

More than being a little disturbed by miniature versions of Joan Collins, circa Dynasty, I worry about the emphasis we place on physical beauty. Anyone who has access to a computer, a TV, a Smartphone, or just waits in line at the grocery store is inundated constantly with images of what is considered beautiful. Tall, painfully skinny, sun-kissed, clear-skinned, big breasted, no hips, women. We are bombarded with ads for products to help us lose weight, firm and tone, get rid of cellulite, pouf up our hair, fill in wrinkles and whiten our teeth. There are TV shows dedicated to turning the ugly goose into a swan, such as Dr. 90210, Extreme Makeover, What Not to Wear. We see images of unattainable looks (let’s face it, not even the model attained those looks in real life, it’s all due to air brushing and Photo Shop) and then get hit with the double whammy of all the things we need to make us acceptable. Could your self-esteem sink any lower?

I am having some self-esteem issues right now. Most of them, I think, stem from the fact that I am not dealing well with aging. Getting older never seemed to bother me until the last year or so and maybe I’m now having a problem because I’m staring down a birthday that ends with a zero. In our world, young is beautiful….hence, my self-esteem issues.

And the thought that has been running through my head a lot over the last few months has been “What’s great about getting older?” I am developing new issues, like cholesterol problems and the inability to eat onions (oh, the heartburn). My joints sometimes hurt; I can’t stay awake during a movie, I NEED coffee in the morning. Tell me–what’s so great?

The answer hit me out of the blue while I was talking to one of my younger co-workers the other day. What’s great about getting older can’t be seen on the outside–it all resides on the inside. My life lessons, my bruises, my failures and successes, my experiences that translate into the wisdom that only comes with age. I had book smarts as a child, but only as an older adult have I found a modicum of wisdom.

I know my limitations, I know my abilities, and I know when to ask for help (and not to be ashamed). I know my priorities and I know what really matters in the long run. I know how to say “Thank you” and how to say “I’m sorry”. I know when to say that I messed up. I know when to take a stand and when to lose a battle in order to win the war. I know about diplomacy and office politics, I know about telling my husband that I love him every day. I know that I am not perfect and that I will fail, but I know that doesn’t mean I am a failure.

Thus, when I’m worrying over my weight, or my not-nearly-so-perky boobs, I remind myself that on the inside things are pretty good. I may not be happy with my looks, but on the whole, I am content with my decisions and my actions. I am beautiful because I acted as beautifully as I could, or as my mama always said, “Pretty is as pretty does.” She was so right. So, instead of What Not to Wear the real show should be called How Not to Act, because in the end, who remembers what you were wearing? But everyone remembers how you acted.