At thirteen, my stepdaughter is becoming more and more aware of the importance placed on beauty. At bedtime, she told me that she felt her body didn’t live up to the standard of beauty and wondered how to not feel self-conscious about her body in a bathing suit. I generally prefer easier questions at bedtime like “what’s for dinner tomorrow night?” so it took me a second (or 60) to come up with an answer. I thought about saying “beauty is only skin deep” and “some day looks won’t matter to you” or “just stop caring.” But I didn’t.
It was important to me that she not feel shame about the fact that she wanted to be attractive. There is a kind of debilitating cycle that women can go through with believing that we shouldn’t care about looks and then feeling guilt and shame when we do, which makes us tend to believe that maybe it really does matter since we can’t shake it, thereby enforcing the belief we set out to change. Or at least I do.
I also didn’t tell her “beauty is subjective. I promise that someone will believe you are the prettiest girl ever.” To some people Angelina Jolie has huge lips and to other people she’s beautiful. While all of the above is true, it still places the emphasis on what other people think. It still chains her to believing she will be happy with herself if she finds someone who thinks she’s beautiful.
So here’s what I said: trying to make yourself stop caring is a waste of energy. Some days you will care more than others, and maybe one day you won’t care at all, but to some degree you will probably care and that’s normal.
But don’t buy into the lie of Enough. Even if you have plastic surgery or dye your hair or lose weight or gain weight or somehow change your eye color, it still won’t be Enough. Think of the people in your category of “most beautiful.” Even they compare themselves to other people. It’s not like Katy Perry doesn’t compare herself to Taylor Swift—you know she does. She sings about it.
So if you believe you can ever be skinny enough, pretty enough — whatever enough — you will fail.
There will always be one more pound to lose (or gain) or one more area that could use just a little more toning. You might get your breasts enhanced but what about those freckles? What if your eyes were just a little bit further apart? You get the idea. No matter how close to perfect you become, there will always be something you could make just a little better.
I once heard the supermodel Cindy Crawford tell Oprah that she has ugly days. Cindy freaking Crawford.
And if you did achieve it, you’d probably be terrified of losing it, so it still wouldn’t truly be Enough.
Ask yourself what price you’re willing to pay for beauty. Sure, I want to be attractive. But am I willing to starve myself to achieve it? Nope. I like going to happy hour with friends. I like chocolate. A lot. I could hire a personal trainer and work out seven days a week and follow a strict diet, but I’d rather have time to read books and go for walks. Plus I. hate. running. Six-pack abs just aren’t worth that price to me.
It’s not that this is simple and it certainly isn’t easy. Some days will be pretty hard. But if you always come back to the question of what you’re willing to pay, it’ll help tip you back to balance.
Once you start to decide the costs of striving for an elusive definition of beauty are too high, it starts to look less and less valuable. Because the things we are willing to pay the highest price for, we value. What will you pay a high price for? Healthy friendships, a job you’re proud of? I’m not saying it will for sure disappear forever, but it will loosen its hold on you.
In the end, nothing is worth the price of your self-worth — certainly not small (enough) thighs.