Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Feeling Beautiful?

Our shallow culture has our girls obsessing about their looks at increasingly younger ages.  And aging gracefully? Forget it. The idea of wrinkles and fine lines or gray hair keeps us tied to both the mirror and pricey products. I'm not going to pretend I'm above that; I'm not. I'm not apologizing either, for a whole host of reasons, a lot of which are tied to traditional (and I think healthy) femininity. I think it's sad when women completely give up on their appearance--blog post for another day.  Recently however, I ran across something that reveals how much young girls need some balance modeled for them in this area.

A recent trend on Youtube is teen and preteen girls making videos asking viewers to weigh in on whether or not they are pretty. My first response is to look at their luminous skin and silky hair and to want to shake them for even asking the question now, knowing how long and mighty the struggle with that question is going to be.

I  noticed something as I watched these girls seek validation online. While my initial response to the images of them was that they were all beautiful girls, the display of teen angst and desperation for approval made me feel sorry for them. For the girls who shared that they were regularly told that they were ugly, my heart just broke. In some cases, however, I noticed something else. Girls who clearly knew they were pretty, given their commentary, seemed to be seeking a little extra ego boost. "Everyone tells me I'm beautiful, but I just don't KNOW." Yes, you do but hearing it is pleasant. It is however unattractive to be soliciting praise this way. Pretty is as pretty does. Mothers used to say that.  I'd like to know what happened. I look around and wonder if lots of adult women don't believe it anymore.

When I look at those darling little faces, all beautiful from what I can see, I remember an age when I didn't care at all what I looked like. In those days it was possible for untamed girlhood to last until puberty. I'm sorry for this generation of girls who will never know that freedom. There was a casual wildness in that childhood oblivion to appearance. I regularly had hair that was uncombed, feet that were dirty from going barefoot, and an older sister who was embarrassed to be seen with me. There were all kinds of exciting and important things to do, most of them outside--who had time to look in a mirror?  Freedom from the mirror is still something I practice occasionally. One of the times I feel the most beautiful is when I'm working in the garden and covered with sweat and dirt. Or in yoga class with no make-up and bare feet. Maybe those times are just moments when I'm calm and happy. Perhaps calm and happy feel beautiful.  It's possible to feel beautiful even when you don't look it. Embracing that idea frees us up to feel lovely and graceful even when the fleeting youthful glossiness fades...and it will. If there is a lesson in all this it could be the one that we need to teach these young girls by modeling it for them:

It is going to be so much more important in the long run to have a beautiful life than a beautiful face. And you have so much more control over one than the other.

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