My younger sister posted a disturbing image on Facebook of a young girl, surrounded by a sea of beauty magazines, about to take a pair of scissors to a chunk of her own belly flesh.
We agreed that this was tragic, an illustration of the very sad beauty culture with which we were raised. We were taught by our culture to despise ourselves if we weren’t thin enough, pretty enough — if we weren’t attractive enough to the opposite sex, or even to the judgmental in our own.
The thing is, we do it to each other. Even good people. Even the “victims.”
I remember this very sister visiting me after she hadn’t seen me in many years, grasping my upper arm, testing it for firmness, and — thank God I’d been exercising vigorously at the time! — pronouncing it “Good. Very good!” If she tested today, I wouldn’t pass. And I think of that gentle, probing squeeze often when I look in the mirror, when I watch my arms looking more and more like our mother’s every day. And I feel a little rage every time.
I remember my dear brother — who I know loves me — seeing me after he hadn’t seen me in many years — pointing out and ridiculing a long hair growing from my aging throat. I know it would pain him to hear that I check my throat obsessively for stray hairs, plucking them, grateful to find them before someone else notices and laughs. And I feel a little rage every time.
I believe that taking care of oneself is important. “Go to seed” too soon, and you are likely to be put out to pasture, even by your nearest and dearest. But I wish our culture would be more reasonable. I remember seeing a magazine photograph of Catherine Zeta-Jones looking unbelievably gorgeous, and thinking how we can never measure up to that. Forget that there may have been a little Photoshop involved. Forget that she is twelve years my junior, and that we don’t even try to compete. (I don’t believe she writes.) The photo devastated me.
And on the other side of this ridiculous egometric is a photo I posted when we were preparing to make Aliyah. Someone said of my (apparently somewhat blurry) self in the photo: “I didn’t know Catherine Zeta-Jones was Jewish.” And I was over the moon, full of myself with that momentary assessment of my apparent beauty. (Somehow, I think La Catherine would be less flattered by the comparison. Unless she reads my posts.) Oh, my God. How ridiculous we are!
I hope with all my heart that — short of getting silly, and refraining from telling girls they are pretty and boys they are handsome, without over-the-top gushing about how intellectual and physical girls can be and aggressively pushing boys to cry copiously — we somehow help this new generation to be themselves and proud of it. Not homogeneous. Not bereft of those wondrous distinctions between the genders, however stereotypical they may be. But happy with who they really are, and with their own gifts and God-given missions in the world.