As a girl, my hair was not the color of Barbie’s. My eyes were not the color of Barbie’s. My boobs were not… they were just… not. Moreover, I didn’t walk around on my tip toes all the time.
Barbie was everywhere. My friends had Barbie. Barbie was on the TV. I wanted to be Barbie. Barbie WAS BEAUTIFUL. One of my favorite shows growing up was The Facts Of Life, and Blair was the pretty one – she looked like Barbie.
As I got older, I tried to cling less to the image of Barbie, knowing that it was impossible to change my ethnicity. I was a ballet dancer, thin as a rail, and had fairly clear skin. As a teenager, I started to feel beautiful because people around me told me I was. I was also lucky enough to have the body type that qualified as a “hanger” and began modeling, and walking the runways at a young age.
I was given ridiculous amounts of money to show up and be beautiful. And if I wasn’t beautiful, I was sent home. My outsides were worth a lot. The travel and the money – it was a tremendous opportunity, and I am grateful for it. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on my self worth until later.
After high school I went to a performing arts college, and felt confident in the talents that got me there. The very first day we had to do monologues in front of the freshman class. A boy, who later became a very close friend, said to me that day, “I’m sure your monologue was very good, but I was too busy looking at your legs to hear a word you said”.
Later, I went to work professionally as an actress. A director once said to me,
When you first step out on stage, just stand there – don’t speak for five whole seconds. The audience needs time to look at you, because they’re not going to expect you to have something to say.
There are many times when I feel I’ve surprised people with something to say.
The word “beautiful” has made me feel special.
“Beautiful” has made me feel privileged.
“Beautiful” has made me feel hated.
“Beautiful” has made me feel small.
When we tell our daughters they’re beautiful, what are we really saying?
The words that we often use to describe our little girls are “pretty”, “cute”, “beautiful”, “gorgeous”. I got the message early on that what people liked about me was on the outside. Society and the media have told me, and the women around me, what is “beautiful” and what is not. Then the finger gets pointed, and we are told who gets to have “beauty” and who doesn’t. The box is a tiny one, and you either fit inside it or you don’t. Throughout my life, I’ve felt beautiful… then not enough… then beautiful… then not.
Being tall wasn’t enough because I wanted blonde hair. Being skinny wasn’t enough, because I needed bigger breasts. My environment taught me that I would probably never be enough. No matter what skin color, hair color, weight, or bust size – if you’re a woman, your self-esteem has taken many hits because of your appearance. It will never be enough because we can’t fill the inside with the outside.
Yes, it’s a problem that most women we see in magazines do not represent the common body type. Yes, it’s a problem that “beauty” is being defined by people who want to sell us things. Yes, we need a re-definition of beauty… a real-definition of beauty…
But it’s more than that. The small problem is that we’re being bombarded as women with what “beautiful” is. The bigger problem is that we’re being taught it is all. The value placed on the outward appearance is disproportionate. It’s also heinously limiting as a woman. It effects how we see ourselves, it effects how society sees us, and it effects how the men in our lives see us.
A woman’s voice carries less weight in law making than her breasts do in the selling of liquor. Limiting women to their outsides is the first step in objectifying them. That leads to taking away their voices, and taking away their choices – the current war on women is proof of that. I also believe this mode of thinking is what can lead to the dehumanization of women – to violence against women.
Beautiful is not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be. Every woman wants to feel attractive. As I sit here, with my face scarred from postpartum/adult acne, and my extra belly skin flapping in the wind, I wouldn’t mind hearing the word beautiful.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t use the word. I’m saying we should watch how we use the word. I’m also saying we should build on it.
Every girl wants to be told they’re beautiful. Every girl is. They are also more.
I encourage you to tell the daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives in your life that they are beautiful.
But I challenge you to consistently tell them they are beautiful, AND…