I think beauty can be just as subjectively ranked. We've all known people who were objectively beautiful and who couldn't get a date, perhaps because something about their personality made them unattractive; or, conversely, people who others think are plain and yet who never suffer a lack of romantic attention, again because they're projecting something to the world beyond their own physical package - they have a charisma or joy in life that shines through.
For myself, in terms of where I fit on the attractiveness continuum, I've long been fond of saying that while no one has ever asked me to put a bag over my head, I've never been asked to model for any magazine covers either. In fact, I've liked saying that so much, some of my characters have said similar things. Imagine my surprise, though, being as ordinary in the looks department as I am, when I happened to spawn a daughter who is stunningly beautiful.
From the moment she was born, literally, there were signs the world was going to find J a great beauty - she was born pink! And for her first two years, everyone made a huge fuss about her looks. I told myself that of course I thought she was beautiful, but other people were just being nice. After all, no one would ever say, "Ooh, look at your ugly baby!" But then came the day we joined Gymboree. Hard to believe it, but that was the place where the writing was written on the wall. A famous actor/director – no, I won’t name names! – had his two young twins, a boy and a girl, enrolled in the same class as J. Usually, their mother or the nanny brought them, but occasionally he would. I can distinctly remember sitting in a circle on the floor, all of us with our legs stretched out, holding our precious treasures perched upon our knees, preparing to commence that wonderful classic, the one you just can’t hear enough times in your life, “The Noble Duke of York.” The famous actor/director couldn’t keep his eyes off J. After a long time with him just staring, he uttered the words I’d already heard uttered so many times, by so many other people: “That’s the most beautiful little girl I’ve ever seen.”
And that’s when it hit me: for, while it might be the usual course of events for other people to say, “Oh, what a pretty baby,” people weren’t referring to her as the most, they weren’t using a superlative just to be polite…certainly not when their own children were present! It was as if they couldn’t help themselves, it was as if they were almost involuntarily giving in to something that was, quite simply, empirically verifiable: J, my daughter, was the most beautiful little girl that any of them had ever seen.
This makes me worry about her future. (Of course everything makes me worry, but since we're talking about beauty today this makes me worried today.) I know from having been friends with some extraordinarily beautiful women in my life, that this comes with advantages but also disdvantages. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, when you’re extraordinarily good looking, people have a tendency to make assumptions about you that have nothing to do with who you are. Come to that, people make assumptions about people based on what they look like, no matter what they look like!
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Indeed.
We have a tendency in America, I’ve long noted, to scorn the very ends of any spectrum, preferring to hew towards the middle, meaning that most people don’t want to be either the smartest or the dumbest kid in class and that while surely no one wants to be the ugliest, there are definite downsides to being the most attractive too: people who think you’re stuck up, an overabundance of people making passes at you, loneliness.
“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” Indeed.
I find myself hoping that it will be to J's benefit, having a non-fashion mother, a mother who only pulls out a tube of lipstick on rare occasions, like in the winter when her lips get so chapped she runs the risk of passing for Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Having a mother like me is, I think, good for J, because while I tell her she’s beautiful every day – how could I not? – I am far more likely to place emphasis on things that are inside her than on things that are on the surface. Yes, she’s dressed in clean clothes every day – sometimes, they’re even pretty clothes – but we spend more time playing and telling stories together and just plain living than we do worrying about what matches or if our hair is messy. We live and we love and we have fun.
In one of my books published for adults, A Little Change of Face, a novel about an attractive librarian's ambivalence about her looks, I concluded that there are no easy answers. We all want to be judged for who we are and we want to be found beautiful.
Beauty is a blessing. Beauty is a curse.
Someday, when I send J out into the world, I will not be sending out Just Another Pretty Face, not just another face that can launch a thousand ships, though she is certainly that. I’ll be letting loose the girl who, even at a very young age, showed astonishing compassion for other people; who when she was two, upon seeing a baby’s distress, approached and said in her stilted toddler voice, “Little Baby, why are you crying?”; who the first time she ever saw me sad, said, “Don’t worry, Mommy, I’ll make you feel better”; who used to get reprimanded in preschool for being too nice, because she always wanted to hug every kid goodbye when she left; who always forgave even her most difficult friend any transgression.
When I let J go, I’ll be letting loose someone who is bright and funny and resilient, not to mention a great storyteller, and who is so much more than the sum of her most beautiful external parts.
That's my loooong story and I'm sticking to it.
QUESTION FOR THE DAY: WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOUR OWN FAME AUDIT WOULD BE IF WE FOCUS ON PHYSICAL BEAUTY? ARE YOU HAPPY WITH IT? DO YOU THINK IT MATTERS?
As always, take care and don't forget to write.