Monday, May 12, 2008


...because every so often, I have to talk about something other than my lack of knitting and my sucky job. Not often, but sometimes.

Bells wrote the other day about how she grew up convinced she wasn't pretty. That got me thinking about childhood, and how I'd always felt the same. Now, I'm pretty sure our family situations are different, but if that's the case, how did we both end up growing up feeling inadequate? What is it about us, and a startling number of other women, judging by the comments left, that we didn't feel beautiful?

I have always been loved, and surrounded by my wonderful, warm family. My mom has always told me I'm beautiful. But for some reason, I grew up convinced that of my parents' three children, I was the plain, stupid one. I know now that I'm not, but for a long, long time, I was convinced that I was ugly and dumb. My sisters got to be beautiful and smart, and here was I, stuck in the middle, just floating along.

I think, from some comments that my girl friends have made, that they may have grown up feeling un-pretty (which is such a great song). Now, I always take care to let them know that they are lovely young women. It's no less than the truth, but I try hard to compliment them.

And all this has got me wondering about women and how we treat ourselves and view ourselves, especially in a group. When you're out with some lady friends, and you say, "Man, I really need to go on a diet and lose X number of pounds, I'm so huge," they may or may not rush to tell you you look great the way you are (however true that may or may not be), but then, and this is the scary thing, no matter how skinny or how beautiful the people you're with are, at least half of them will say, "Oh, I'm so huge/have such a big nose/have such ugly hair/have this third eyeball in the middle of my forehead. You look great, but I need to lose weight/get a nose job/change my hair color/get the third eyeball in the middle of my forehead removed." And then other women will continue the trend. We spend so much time bonding by tearing ourselves down. And we try so hard not to be too arrogant, or too proud of our bodies. Besides, if you were to look at your lady friends and say, "I look great the way I am weight/nose/hair/extraneous eyeballs and all, please pass the cake." you would probably be lynched. At the very least, you would never be invited out again.

When men get together, it's all about the bragging. Trust me, I've seen and heard a lot of man gatherings. They're all God's greatest gift to the world. And they all agree. Women can only bond that way by tearing ourselves, and sometimes whichever mutual acquaintances happen to not be with us, to shreds. No matter how pretty or how smart or how happy we are, we are always too unattractive, dumb, or discontent. This isn't even always the truth, but it's how we communicate. And this, my friends, is why we need to bolster each other, and ourselves. We need to not be afraid to love our bodies and our lives (though, if you have a third eyeball, it's okay to get that taken care of. nobody would judge you for being a little self-conscious about that) and to admit that in public. But I'd bet you a lot of yarn that this is a thought that won't take hold. Which is a weird thing, since there are several psychological studies showing that people who concentrate on positives in their lives are happier. Maybe women need to change the way we relate, at least a little.

What are your thoughts on beauty? This is enough of me babbling for one night, but this is a topic that has fascinated me for a long time. Let's discuss it.


Olivia said...

What you describe is true, and it is a shame. We all just have to keep fighting those instincts. But at least it's not all bad! I've just emailed you an article that one of my dearest friends recently sent to me, about a research finding that women's friendships may to help them handle stress better than men.

Rose Red said...

It's interesting isn't it. I do remember feeling self-conscious as a child/teenager (especially teenager) but not overly so. Now, while I am honest about my looks and body, I am totally fine with it - by that I mean I say that I'm fat - because I am - but I also don't care. I don't feel less of a person because of it, and I don't hate myself because of it. I guess I figured most people were like that, but it seems like I'm wrong, which makes me sad.

You are totally right that women and men bond in a different way - but is that nature or nurture? I have no answers to that question, unfortunately!

Donna Lee said...

When I was in 8th grade a teacher (Homemaking) asked what we would change about ourselves. I said "nothing". She said of course I wanted to change something. She made me stop and find something about myself I was unhappy about and would not leave me alone until I did. I don't remember what I chose (probably to be taller). There I was, perfectly content to be who I was and she was letting me know that I was not good enough. It's societal and it won't change until we all change. So we can all do our little bit to make each other feel good. And you were always beautiful and smart! Or did you forget all the straight A's on those report cards? I know you worked hard for them but there they were. It hurts my heart to hear you say you thought you were "stupid and ugly". I tried so hard to convince you otherwise.

Amy Lane said...

My friend once took me shopping with her--she was a size 6 and I had just grown out of a sized Stately and was at the time wearing a size Vast. As we stood in the mirror, I said, "Oh, gods...I miss being a size Stately" and she had three choices:

A. You could be a sized Voluptuous, too, if you'd just lay off the cookies for breakfast and stick to your diet!

B. You are so beautiful--that dress really makes your eyes look pretty.

C. My third eyeball is looking bloodshot, and my troll-whiskers need bleaching--I'd rather be a size Vast any day!

My friend chose option B, which is why she is my friend forever and ever and ever.

Option C might not have had that same bonding effect--So maybe it all starts with a few people being willing to embrace the positive, and hoping it spreads. I know that I'm firmly an Option B person from that moment on out.

Galad said...

Good discussion topic Em. I don't know one woman who is totally comfortable with her physical being. I did find as we hit middle age that we had more of a sense of humor about it! The support of a good friend is a wonderful mirror for reflecting back our true worth.

Bells said...

It's one of my sincerest wishes to make sure any children I have know they are beautiful. I thought telling them they were was the secret. It seems maybe it's not the case, if you felt that way too, despite having a good, loving home full of good messages.

It takes a conscious effort to outgrow it. It's only in the last few years that I have not been plagued, on some days, by the very real wish to not leave the house for of fear of being looked at. How very sad and scary.

I'm still vain. Just not so neurotic about it as I once was.