Before I had children I told myself that if I had girls I would not buy them princess outfits and vanities, and I would be sure to include trucks and tools in their toy boxes. I didn’t want my girls to have princess toys and fairytale decals because I thought I would be protecting them, for as long as I could, from certain expectations of what women “should” look and act like. Later, when my girls got to the age where they could select their own toys, they immediately begged for dress-up clothes and toy vanities that when you pressed the button in its center would say, “Welcome to the ball.” As much as I had shunned it, I realized, at that moment, that for many of us it is in our DNA to embrace femininity and have a desire to feel beautiful.
“Watch a person look in the mirror and you will see a person trying to please himself.”(Nancy Etcoff, Survival of the Prettiest, Anchor Books, 1999.)
I grew up reading fashion magazines. As a teen, I looked to them as a guideline for growing up into a woman; what to expect when menstruating, how to date, and how to be sexy. As I moved into early adulthood, I wanted all of those items that jumped off of the pages as if to have them would make me beautiful. I wanted what the girls on those pages were selling and what they stood for as they languidly and effortlessly trumpeted the message of what it means to be a woman of desire. I am not sure how the magazines jumped from a cool resource to a bible of what I must be in order to fit in, be happy, and be loved. But they did. I would scour the pages like a detective seeking answers. I read each word from front cover to back, clung to diet outlines, and studied the how-to articles. Most of all, I stared at the models and longed to be like them. I wanted their bodies, hair, smiles, and faultless, frail images. Stamp!. The images imprinted deep within my psyche each and every time I flipped through the pages. I wanted to be glamorous and perfect. To be fair, it wasn’t just the magazines. It was TV shows, commercials, pageants, our culture, and my need to fit in at any cost. It was, in part, the women who had gone before me, who measured their worth by the image they saw in the mirror. It was a combination of lies and my vulnerability that led me to take this information as factual.
I come from a family history of big hips and pear-shaped bottoms. I am part Maltese Malta is a tiny island opposite Sicily. I come from women who have toted their children on one hip, their groceries or washing baskets on the other, and expressed their love by doing so. Other women come from a lineage of women who have no hips, their eyes almond-shaped due to their climate, protecting them from harsh conditions during winter, their faces often moon-shaped and pale. Others come from a line of dark skin, voluptuous bottoms and tiny breasts. All of us inheriting the art of our ancestors within our body types. All of these, in their own right, are stunning and inspiring.
Yet, in our culture, we mostly praise uber-thin, fragile women who convey puberty and perfection. Many of us women consider ourselves “has-beens” at the age of thirty five or forty. Our current vision of beauty ignores our ancestors, our tapestry, and our bloodline. In a culture where we are blessed with rich diversity we seem to be striving to conform to a make-believe image. These make-believe images saturate our media and culture, harassing our conscience. Why is our culture’s list of attributes that make a person beautiful so short? What if we all set about to expand this short list rather than trying to squeeze into it at any cost?
Consider defining your own beautiful as if you actually have a vote about what is beautiful . . . because you do! Espra provides the following tools:
• Learn about your cultural heritage: Look for physical characteristics that represent the uniqueness of your heritage and the generations before you. Accentuate them in your fashion and makeup.
• Consider your personality traits: Take note of your personality traits. Wear your favorite colors and styles even if they are not “in fashion.”
• Pick a culture and try it on: If you do not know to which cultural heritage you belong, look at your body and let yourself wonder what kinds of conditions your ancestors might have experienced to mold the physical traits that you see. If you are a product of many cultures, as many of us are, even better . . . your beauty list just got longer.
Like many of us, I love feeling beautiful. I like to paint my nails or get a nice haircut. I like makeup and heels when I go out to dinner. I like certain fabrics on my body, fabrics that accentuate my curves, and sometimes, I like clothing that slims me down. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel beautiful or wanting to honor our daughter’s desires for “beautiful things.” Beauty, after all is a value of many. However, let’s broaden its definition beyond lipstick, heels, and a one-size-fits-all body and open it up to an expansive and colorful world that encompasses our heritage.
Owning who we are, honoring who we are,
makes us the most attractive.
Today, own it. Love it. Live it.