Vanity is a funny thing. It’s based on comparison and as we all should know by now, comparison is the death of happiness. I met a beautiful girl the other day whom I knew when I was a kid. She’s a sweet person, a mother of two beautiful children and has always been pretty – really pretty. We met at the market and I wanted to scream. She was unrecognisable. Since the last time I saw her she has had so much plastic surgery that she has erased any trace of herself – the girl she was is gone. A strange amalgam of beauty ideals has replaced her natural expressions. I wanted to cry, shake her and beg her. Looking at her face was looking at pain and self loathing – a culture that pushes us too far. The greatest tragedy is she has a daughter.
I also have a daughter and I also have scars – really, really bad ones. When I was pregnant around week 28 with my son, proudly flaunting my round belly on the beach, admiring its ever expanding size and the little kicks within, I noticed a weird red scratch on my bikini line. Turns out it was the beginning of some ripper stretch marks that hurtled their way up my belly and stopped somewhere around my rib cage. Nice. Really stylish.
Let’s just say the bikini thing is officially over.
So, I understand plastic surgery and the desire to ‘fix’ stuff. I breastfed two kids to 15 months each. More plastic surgery desire there. ‘Nough said! Some days I look in the mirror and I’m just a little pissed off… would anyone notice if I took three weeks off work? Went in for a little nip and tuck?! Then I am forced to think of my kids and not just my vanity. How will they view their partners or themselves if I present an image of perfection? Is that helpful to them? Is perfection helpful to anyone? What will my son expect of the women in his life – that they are an impossible idea of woman? How much therapy will that cost? Does my desire to be ‘beautiful’ override my responsibility to be real with my kids?
My husband and I often laugh about our changing appearances as we grow older together. Grey hairs, stretch marks, expanding and contracting belly lines. Then I am reminded of something we find hard to do.
As my children lie sleeping in their beds I am overwhelmed with gratitude. When I notice Dan’s beard slightly greying, I pray we get to be completely silver haired together. When my mum turned 60, she was just a little freaked out. “I’m only 40 in my head!” and then I reminded her. Every birthday is a privilege. My dad didn’t get past his 45th birthday.
There’s something we forget when we try and erase the years and the scars. We forget they are the markers of a life lived, of things learned, of love given and received, of loss, of laughter. How can I say to Willow that she’s enough if I don’t believe that I am? She’ll know I’m a fraud and most likely will feel that putting herself under general anesthetic and letting someone put a knife to her face and body is quite normal. Necessary in fact.
I’d rather teach her the safer, saner, if somewhat harder lesson of gratitude. Of being enough. We fly outside of ourselves, unhinged by images that persist an ideal. There are days I’d rather not look at my scars but then I am reminded of my life and I am so very, truly grateful. Anyway, Jets make really nice full piece bathers.– Berry Liberman
After some initial reaction time passed, I told my daughter I felt it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. I think gratitude and being one’s best self are compatible…and that that means different things to different people. I also think vanity is as murky a description as natural aging. I add highlights to my hair—does that mean I’m not aging naturally and therefore vain? I enjoy bras that hoist the girls to dazzling new heights—is that natural? How about the use of Spanx to hide life’s abundance, or mascara that thickens and darkens eyelashes thinning with time? Is it only plastic surgery we should tsk tsk or all devices and aids that place us in the un-natural and narcissistic category?
It seems to me that confidence often goes hand and hand with appearance, and appearance is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, when it is a day I have to take a college test I always dress nicely. Wearing a skirt, blouse, and heels makes me feel like I’m putting my best self forward as I tackle a difficult task. However, ten other students could look at me and say, “That outfit does NOT flatter her curves. Are there no mirrors in her house? What was she thinking?” You know what? It doesn’t matter what they think. I feel good.
My husband read the article and asked if I’d like his opinion. I said yes, but felt I knew what he would say. He always claims I look good sans makeup or without even combing my hair. (That is why he is such a good husband and partner. His love truly is blind.) Anyway, I thought he would say he completely agreed with Berry Liberman… aging is a gift that should unfold naturally in its own time, and in its own way. To my surprise he took a slightly different view. He said how one ages needs to be a personal decision based on personal circumstances. Although he sees me as a lovely person, he understood that in my childhood I received very little support or words of encouragement. He suspected that type of paucity followed through into my first marriage as well. Therefore, he believes my insecurities are deeply held and accepts my need to be the best version of myself as I can be year after gifted-year. “I love you. Do what you need to do to feel good, and I will support your choices.”
I am so freak’n blessed.