“Don’t be ugly,” she used to say.
Still, being on the receiving end of “ugly” in any context isn’t generally welcome. Certainly not from your mother, from siblings who tease, from bullying kids on the playground, or careless, callous adults who name call because they have nothing more intelligent in their arsenal.
But when your own reflection in the mirror whispers what you don’t want to admit – that you aren’t like everyone else, that maybe you are ugly – then what?
Is inner beauty really enough?
In my childhood and adolescence, I was chided for my nerdy look, for being fat, and like many children, I compensated any way I could – in my case, pouring myself into academic achievement.
The Ugly Experience
Earlier this week I read an article in the August issue of Elle Magazine. “The Ugly Truth,” written by novelist and essayist, Ann Bauer, gets to the heart of her personal experience as one who was deeply affected by being “ugly.”
Offering examples from childhood into adulthood, Ms. Bauer describes a lifetime of feeling scorned for her unruly hair, her pale skin, her broad face, and her prominent nose. Only after a trip to Eastern Europe where she resembled the women around her, did she begin to see herself as not ugly, and possibly – beautiful.
Bullied into Surgical Intervention
According to the article,
The number of American teens receiving surgery in general is on a steep rise. According to American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), nearly 219,000 cosmetic surgeries were performed on people age 13 to 19 in 2010. More and more are seeking procedures upon graduating from high school so that they begin their college years with a fresh “look.”
“Beginning with a fresh look.” As if that would do the trick!
Beauty over Health
Yet another source, PsyPost, features its coverage of college students and their preoccupation with appearance over health. Focused on young women and body-image, PsyPost reports on one study’s findings:
… how body image is associated with engaging in restrictive diets, irregular sleep patterns and over-exercising…
“We receive so many conflicting media messages from news reports and advertising about how we should eat, how we should live and how we should look”…
The Beauty Trap
So what about “inner beauty” – is it a myth? What about the millions of interventions that take place each year, that one could argue are necessary to self-esteem? In a world that grows increasingly superficial, is our appreciation of an exotic face or even a different one now a thing of the past?
What about 200,000+ procedures for 13 to 19-year olds? What about physical attributes that can’t be “fixed,” like extremely tall or extremely short?
Raising Daughters to Fit the Mold
Thirty years ago, the only plastic surgery a 19 year old might undergo was a nose job, and usually as a matter of “fitting in.”
So is a nose job okay? Or a breast reduction on a 19-year old, so she may feel physically and emotionally more comfortable? What about raising our daughters to expect boob jobs as the prize that comes with a high school diploma?
Will this be enough to solidify psychological well-being, or does it trigger a chain of “nothing is ever enough?”
Ugly Duckling into… Something
Cobbling together a functional female self was a slow process. Looking back, it’s clear that more than “ugly,” I lived with the fat fake-out – shame and blame for not conforming to societal norms in terms of body size, and feeling woefully undeserving as a result.
As an adult, I know my mother’s language for what it was – both ignorant and damaging. The use of “ugly” (and far worse) still rings clearly in my memory. Certainly, we now have a better understanding of verbal abuse, and most of us try to choose our words more kindly with our children.
Coming Into Our Own
It took decades for me to see myself as neither ugly nor beautiful but somewhere in the middle. On an upbeat day, I might even say that I look pretty good! Yet esteem issues have been a lifelong battle.
As in Ms. Bauer’s case, in Europe I felt a certain kinship; I wasn’t the only small dark woman with curves and prominent features. I was another face in the crowd, but an attractive one, and that was an enlightening experience.
But what if I were 15 or 18 or 21 now, and finances allowed for changing this or reshaping that? Why should any girl – or woman – feel pressured into procedures and diets – not to do with health, but simply because she’s made to feel that without them, she isn’t good enough?
“Valentine” image, courtesy of the artist, Sharon Shapiro
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