Why I'm grateful that my mom never called me beautiful
Every little girl is supposed to want to grow up to be a beautiful princess. How can you blame her? She grows up knowing that a glass slipper from the prince will change her destiny.
She also knows that she may fall into a deep slumber only to be rescued by a Prince's kiss. Let's not forget the fairest of them all: She manages to be loved for cleaning after seven short men. Wow, the world we have created for our beautiful creatures.
I watched all these cartoons. I imagined my prince choosing me over all the others. I imagined dancing across the ballroom while everyone's eyes followed my graceful steps. I was the envy of every ball in every childhood fantasy.
These fantasies were quite a contrast to my reality at home. Now allow me to elaborate before you jump to conclusions, I had a fantastic childhood.
From as young as I can remember my mother kept my hair short. As a toddler this meant wild red curls. The majority of my pictures were of me in funny poses. One with my father's big glasses, another with ketchup all over my face and another swinging off a gate at our home. There are very few pictures where I am sitting like a pretty proper girl with perfect clips in my hair. In fact I remember always getting scraped and having yet another bruise on my knee.
As I got a little older, my classmates had perfect pigtails and long ponytails or fancy clips. I remember looking at the flowing locks of hair wishing I had the same. I had a boy cut. Yes, famously known as the "Diana Cut." Surprisingly, I looked nothing like Princess Diana. Instead I looked like a skinny boy with bruised knees and short black hair, wearing a dress. In fact I once went on a strike and refused to go to the salon so my mom was forced to grow out my hair. I think I lost the battle when I started looking like a 1800s philosopher with sideburns and thick hair on top.
According to my mom, it was so I could enjoy being a kid. So I could run, jump, swing from the monkey bars without having to worry about a ponytail or braids getting undone.
Finally, I started looking like a girl. Nonetheless, it was a long journey. I still was not able to do what other teenage girls did. For some reason, I was not allowed to wear lip gloss, blush or mascara. Instead I would get a Nivea face cream, some nice clothes and I was sent on my way.
This actually lasted all the way to high school. I finally put on eyeliner during senior year in high school and also experimented with lipstick. But by then, all the girls were way ahead of me. They had been putting on makeup for years. They knew what foundation, blush, concealer and primer was. I was just getting started, there was no way I could catch up. After all, I just realized I could straighten my hair.
So, I am assuming when you read the scenario I describe above you feel very sorry for me. I sound like a plain Jane feeling like an ugly duckling when all she needed was a pretty set of pigtails and lip gloss.
Well, here is the catch: I never felt ugly, and never even knew I was a plain Jane. I never felt I needed lip gloss and I certainly never felt I needed any concealer to conceal anything, ever. Other than wanting long locks of hair, I was simply perfect in my mind.
In fact now that I look at pictures of the plain Jane I am so surprised about how pretty I felt inside. I only know that because I was able to try so many new things, take risks and excel in so many different things in school that I must have honestly thought I was pretty amazing all the way around. I am not saying this to brag, I am simply analyzing how a plain Jane surrounded by beauty queens managed to be a well-rounded, extremely confident young girl. I did see not myself the way I see myself in those photos now. Now that I know the power of concealer, blush and eyeliner. I also did not see myself perhaps how others saw me.
I saw me how my mother saw me.
My mother never called me beautiful. In fact she never called anyone beautiful. My mother only talked about other girls as smart, funny, classy or confident. Thus, naturally I started to appreciate those qualities in other girls and wanted to emulate myself to be a girl with such attributes. Thus, in turn, others responded to me in kind. I thought I had it all and knowing that I knew that, they believed it too. What a lesson for life.
Beautiful was powerless to me. It was a word that had no value in my mother's eyes. It was a happy accident and perhaps why it was never impressed upon in my home.
When I look at my pictures as a teenager, I see the brilliance of it all. The calculated strategy my mother imposed on me to help me gain inner confidence without relying on my exterior. In fact it was not until I reached adulthood, mid-20s did I realize how others viewed me physically. It was through the eyes of strangers that I realized how much people really respond to and judge you on your looks. Luckily, I had blossomed from a plain Jane to someone who understood the power of MAC and Prescriptives makeup by then. It was actually a disheartening reality. Especially when I realized that older women analyze the beauty of younger girls. Women are unnecessarily tough on others. Perhaps it is because a lot of women have been victims of the cycle themselves, always feeling that they were not pretty enough.
Just last week, my mother was casually telling me why I had a boy cut when I was 4. It went beyond the fact that she wanted me to run and jump without hair in my face. She simply looked into the face of her granddaughter (my 2-year-old daughter) and elaborated, "You looked so cute, the short hair was part of your charm." How wonderful I feel even now to hear those words. My mother really thought that, even as a child, her daughter's charm was the most important.
I have a daughter with wild beautiful curls and I let them run wild. They jump as she jumps. I can only hope I make her feel beautiful in the same way my mother made my feel beautiful: by never telling her.