On Beauty

What are you doing now, Mommy?

Washing my hair.

What are you doing now?

Putting in the conditioner.

Why?

To make my hair nice and soft.

What are you doing now?

Shaving my legs.

Why?

To make them smooth.

What are you doing with that?

This is the soap I use to wash my face.

Why?

I don’t have an extensive beauty routine. And yet, when my 3 year old began his game of “why” as I was showering (because, if you have a 3 year old, you know showering is a spectator sport), it left me feeling like I was some A list celebrity getting ready for the Oscars. For me, the problem with the constant “why” isn’t really because it gets annoying but more because it makes me realize how much I really just don’t know. Why do I want the hair on my head to be soft but the hair on my legs to be nonexistent? Why do I shave my armpits but not my arms? And why don’t boys shave their legs?

I know someday I’ll have to work my way through definitions of masculinity and gender norms for boys, and I will likely have no better answers. But our bathroom conversation made me glad I don’t have girls, who will question my hypocrisy and eventually just perpetuate all this nonsense. (“You are beautiful just as you are dear, you don’t have to wear make up. But excuse me while I go put on my mascara.”)

Beauty is something that only a blessed few have naturally and sets the rest of us up for a lifetime of trying to achieve the impossible. What sense does that make?

In any American pharmacy, you will find all sorts of tanning lotions, usually next to the sunscreen. We don’t want the harmful rays of the sun on our skin but we want our skin to look like it’s been exposed to the sun. Impossible. In any Chinese pharmacy, you will find skin lightening cremes. Naturally born with a darker pigment, they’d prefer to be whiter. Impossible. It used to be that having a few extra pounds was a sign of wealth. So while the masses were poor and thin, they were wishing for bigger bodies. Now any old pauper can get good and plump on Mickey D’s and thin is in. Impossible.

The practice of foot binding or corset wearing were painful practices to achieve some absurd standard. I know neither is really done today, but the uselessnesses of trying to transform our bodies into something they’re not, is still the norm. In Japan, some women wear “face thinning” belts. There is tribe on the border of Thailand and Burma where, starting at age 5, women wear rings around their necks to lengthen them. They keep adding and adding to stretch their necks to unnatural lengths. Iran, apparently, is the nose job capital of the world. Tattooing, scarring your skin, painting your face, coloring your hair, and yes, even in some cultures today, force feeding to look plumper…how do these women, all over the world, answer their 3 year old boys’ innocent questions about what they are doing to their bodies and why?

Maybe its getting better but I feel like all this “loving the skin your in” and loving yourself just as you are, is just false propaganda. There is still this ridiculously narrow ideal – in every culture – about how to be more beautiful. Isn’t is Dove that runs the ads of women in all shapes and sizes? Admirable sentiment but at the end of the day, isn’t it all just a gimmick to get me to buy more of their products to make me feel even more beautiful?

I get that their needs to be an ideal but really, why? Can’t we all just really believe, that however we look naturally, is beautiful? Does this go back to some Biblical truth about human nature and jealousy and envy? Have we been forever cursed to want we does not come naturally to us? Damn you, Eve!

I’m not on some campaign to throw a make-up burning party or on some world-wide quest to tell all women to stop the madness because they are beautiful just as they are. Just ranting, forgive me. But maybe we could all just stop for a minute and tell ourselves, it’s ok to skip the lotion today.

Now, I gotta go. I have a manicure and pedicure appointment I wouldn’t want to miss!

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