Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Eve's Curse is Not Her Own

I was just watching a brief lecture on advertising and body image and, of course, how these evil images and concepts demoralize women. I know, you've heard it all before--models who weigh less than the shoes they display, photo shopping gone mad on the sides of buses, women turned into objects and violated before our very eyes--all in the name of money.

Nothing new, really. Unless you are raising a girl, who will be subject to the same stresses and internal angst that you experienced for not ever being perfect...not even coming close, actually. Even today, when we look at women, brains and personality are not the first items on the checklist of perfection (I burned that list a few years ago, and continually find myself throwing other unrealistic versions of it in the fire). It is ALL about how a woman looks, and that message is being passed on to the innocent minds of girls who still have no concept of what sex is, or love, or pressure. They think horses are beautiful and that the most beautiful woman they've ever seen is a family member, probably Mom or Nana or a vibrant aunt.

These girls know the truth all along, that is, until, the world gets hold of them and rips their childhood, and the honest bubble they live in, into tiny jagged pieces--all lies, of course. But who knew?

I look at my gorgeous 4th grader and I cannot fathom what she will endure at the hands of impossible perfection. She is nearly 5 feet tall, her hair is a brilliant mass of black coils that shoot straight out of her skull, she has broad shoulders, legs up to her neck, the beginnings of what will be a and thick athlete's thighs. She is a powerhouse with a very big smile and even bigger brown eyes. Of course, I think she is the epitome of all things beautiful. She needs no adornment, no modification. A pair of denim shorts and a T-shirt is her uniform of choice. Yet, I can feel her doubt, even disgust, when she tells me she weighs 90 pounds. I can see her face harden when she looks at the trash magazines in the grocery store (why the fuck do they put those things there, anyway?!).

"Do you think I'll look like you when I grow up?" she asks, and I can't tell what my answer should be. Does she want to look like me? Is she horrified that she will look like me? Who knows?

"I think, Anna, that you will look a little like me but be a lot taller and more confident than I was."

At least, that is what I am hoping. The confidence part, I mean. That is where a crucial mistake was made in my raising. My mother is a tiny woman who has always been very into fashion. She has great taste and she and I would look at Vogue together commenting on the clothes, the models, etc. As I got older, Vogue became more a point of anxiety for me than inspiration. I remember reading an article about Cindy Crawford, I was about 16, and it said that she was 5'9" and 128 lbs, which by runway standards is monstrous. I nearly cried into the pages. I was only 5'5" and 135 lbs. And so, I didn't eat for weeks...drank black coffee, played soccer, and felt like shit the whole time. Did I lose weight, sure, but I was miserable.

I never want my beautiful daughther to know that side of me ever existed. I am ashamed to this day by how, when I catch a glimpse of a Victoria's Secret layout, I feel instantly unsexy and undesirable. How could an educated woman with a good career and two beautiful children ever be self-conscious? Or doubt that she, because her hair isn't tousled enough, her thighs aren't small enough, her stomach isn't anywhere near flat enough, is worth her weight in gold? Literally?

We have no fashion magazines in this house. Anna reads the New Yorker, mostly the comics. I compliment her whenever I can without being insincere, she returns the favor--saying that my arm flab really isn't that bad and that I have nice white teeth.

But even now, I can feel a little bit of the doom of adolescence coming our way. She will doubt herself, just as I continue to get mean little jabs in at my own appearance. Last night, in jest, my "gentleman friend" said that it was a good thing he didn't have a foot fetish.

"Why," I asked.

"Because you have man feet. That wouldn't work at all."

I looked at my wide, unpainted, calloused garden feet, my relaxation instantly ruined by the comment. I laughed when I felt like puking. And my first thought went to the weakest part of my brain.

"What else does he not like about me?" I should've told him to "f*ck off" which I did, but not before the needle entered the unprotected, soft tissue of my self-confidence. The heart part. If he doesn't like my feet, then, my god, what does he think of my legs? And my crazy hair and my big teeth and the giant scar across my abdomen? And my farmer's tan?

That's how I fell asleep last night. Worrying that I would wake up and someday soon it would all vanish because my shell wasn't pretty like the other turtles.

I prefer to burst out of mine, I hope Anna does the same.

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