Thinking Aloud: Beauty in the Eye

When I was 16 years old, I told my parents I wanted a nose job. I *hated* my nose. For a long time, I blamed my nose’s appearance on the spill I took down the stairs that broke my front tooth. I figured I should get it “fixed” because it had to have been broken. Why else did I have that stupid lump in it?

(Spoiler alert: I have my dad’s nose. I didn’t break it when I broke my tooth.)

My parents didn’t dismiss me out of hand (i.e. “Don’t be silly! You look fine.”), nor did they take me to the nearest plastic surgeon. They encouraged me to look into rhinoplasty, and said that when I was done growing, we could revisit the issue.

Do you know what they do to your nose when you have rhinoplasty? (Or at least how they did it *hurmph* years ago?) They break it. It takes up to six weeks to heal, and in the meantime, you’re walking around with black eyes and a broken nose.

After doing the research, I decided my nose was just fine. Or if I felt differently when I was an adult, well, then I could proceed accordingly.

As an aside in this conversation: I never, ever, not once asked for or (seriously) considered a boob job. Not as a teen, not now as a grown up. And if I was going to look into any plastic surgery, I would’ve thought this would’ve been the go to. I am ridiculously under-endowed in the chest area. Thank goodness for (lightly) padded bras is all I’m saying.

In the news this week is the story of a 14-year-old girl who was being bullied at school, reportedly because of her looks, and so her mom appealed to the Little Baby Face Foundation, which offers corrective — CORRECTIVE, not cosmetic — surgery to children with facial deformities. The girl got $40,000 in free cosmetic surgery. Because she was being TEASED.

I learned of this story through an opinion piece at The Nation, and I whole heartedly agree with a lot of this article. Especially this part: “There may be a bit of head-shaking over young girls going to drastic measures to feel beautiful, but we never seem to question the idea that feeling beautiful is a worthy goal in the first place. We should tell girls the truth: ‘Beautiful’ is bullshit, a standard created to make women into good consumers, too busy wallowing in self-loathing to notice that we’re second class citizens.”

Like my happiness post a few weeks ago, here’s another area where we (in general, as a society) are being misdirected. The point isn’t to be beautiful in order to have self-esteem. The point is to have self-esteem, to be confident, period, full-stop. Yes, we should seek to be well groomed, well dressed, hygienic. That’s just polite.

Beauty — superficial, how-you-look beauty — shouldn’t be the goal. Will I encourage my children to be beautiful people? Yes, especially on the inside, where it counts. Will I tell my kids out of hand that they are beautiful, or for that matter, smart? Probably, in small doses, yes. I think it’s more important to tell my children that with hard work they can do whatever they want in life. I think it’s more important for them to grow into confident people, and they can do that only through their own effort. I can’t give them confidence by telling them how beautiful and smart they are — would that it were that easy! I can and will, of course, tell them that I love them without reservation (because I do).

I still have the nose I had when I was 16. But I don’t have the self-consciousness I had then. I’m sure the mom in the above story was well-meaning, but what about telling her teenager to wait? (Which is basically what my parents told me.) What about looking into other resources to help her teen cope with the bullying? “Solving” the problem through plastic surgery isn’t the answer. Slapping a new coat of paint on something that is weak on the inside doesn’t strengthen the inside. (I don’t mean to call the girl weak — of course she’s vulnerable and self-conscious — she’s 14!) She needed a better outlook, not better looks.

What do you think? Does the emphasis on beauty do girls a disservice? What should be be telling our children?