Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beauty? Don't buy it.

Beauty. I'm not sure what's got me thinking more about this issue right now. Maybe it's the recent Dove beauty sketches video. Maybe it's that my girls are getting into "big girl" clothes now (and that so many clothes for toddler girls look like they belong in the junior section of the department store). Maybe it was the way Lucy pointed at the Disney princess pictures on her fork today (a hand-me-down from a friend) and reverently said, "Pretty."

Whatever it is, it's gotten to me.

How ironic is it, anyway, that a company that makes beauty products is conducting the social experiment and sharing the resulting video clip that is making us all aware of how critical we are of ourselves and how we look? How did we get ourselves to a point where part of Dove's successful marketing strategy could be to point out to us how we have bought into a lie about our own beauty?

And how can we save our daughters from making that same mistake?

One day last summer, sitting in my car at a strip mall with my sleeping children while George ran inside to do an errand, I scanned the ads in the store windows:

New styles on sale...don't be left out.
Everything you need for summer.

And this one:

20,000 beauty products.
20,000 items that have been specifically designed to fix the things that aren't perfect about our skin, our hair, our lips.
20,000 ways that we aren't good enough the way we are.

How, exactly, should 20,000 beauty products make me feel?

I'm pretty sure they didn't intend for me to feel angry...but I did. I thought about my daughters, sleeping in the back seat. I thought about how many women would see that ad and go into the store looking for something to fix something about themselves. I thought about what it means that such a store even exists. And the longer I sat and thought about it, the angrier I got.

This store isn't just selling 20,000 beauty products. It's also selling a lie - the lie that we aren't good enough, that we aren't pretty enough, that we need shinier hair and whiter teeth and longer eyelashes. That our lips should be redder and our cheeks pinker. That our faces should always be smiling, but that we should cover the laugh lines that come with years of those smiles. That somehow, we are worth more if we buy the things they make to improve us, to make us more like our "ideal" selves, to neutralize our imperfections.

The products in this store don't change us a lot. They just enhance us. They alter us just enough to convince each of us that we need those things, that our natural differences are not just differences, that they are flaws, that we must fix them to be our best, most beautiful, happiest selves.

We ingest this message nearly from birth. It's everywhere we look. We hear it so often as we grow from girls to women that we don't even notice it. We pick it up from our mothers. And then one day, we become aware of our flaws for the first time. We suddenly think our thighs look fat in our shorts, or we look in the mirror and say, "I can't possibly go out with my hair all frizzy like this," or we wish our skin wasn't as blotchy as it is.

Just like that, we start on a lifelong journey of trying to fix ourselves.

It's improvement, we tell ourselves. It is just making the most of what I have. It's showing myself in my best light...and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a good thing.

So is it any wonder that we could one day say (helpfully?) to our daughters, "You know, blue isn't really your color," or, "You aren't planning to wear that, are you?"

That is a moment I'm dreading...the moment I look at one or both of my girls and see something that could be improved. When does that happen? How can their perfect faces ever be made more beautiful? When will I ever look at their lovely blue eyes and think they would look brighter with eyeliner? When will I ever think that the beautiful waves of their hair would be better if they straightened them?

I remember that look in my mom's eyes the first time I had a blemish on my face...she came to squeeze it with a tissue between her fingers. And that is how it starts, isn't it? Innocently enough...just a little fixing of a little something.

I don't want to want to fix my daughters.

I want every young girl in my life to know that this whole mess is a lie. The idea that you need fixing, that you aren't good enough, that you could be just a little bit better if you used some product to improve yourself is a lie.

Why is it so hard to tell our daughters that they are perfect creations of God just the way they are?

I think I know why.
We have to swallow hard to say that to them, because at some point in our past, we started believing the lie about ourselves.

(At least, I did.)

This is what makes the lie so insidious.

I squint at myself in the mirror, and I think my face has more wrinkles than it used to, and my midsection certainly isn't as tight as it was before three babies grew inside me. I think I do look better with mascara. My hair looks better if I smooth it out with a blow dryer and a flat iron, and it might be more attractive if I got highlights to cover the gray.

I have bought into the lie, at least a little bit.

Now, let me be clear. I am not against using makeup or haircolor. I don't think it's wrong to want to feel attractive or play up our best features.

What is WRONG is when we somehow allow ourselves to be convinced that we are not worth as much if we don't do these things. What is WRONG is allowing someone else's standard of beauty to convince us that we are less than beautiful. What is WRONG is going around thinking that we are not completely wonderful and incredible and amazing women just the way we are when we roll out of bed in the morning. What is WRONG is depending on some product to feel good about ourselves.

And what is really, really wrong is not telling our daughters the truth.

We're amazing. They are amazing. Our bodies and our faces and our souls are just amazing, and they're perfect, just the way they are. They don't need enhancing. We are beautiful. We are handmade by a Creator, and we are worth infinitely more than we know.

What's more, we are powerful. We don't have to buy the lie they are selling us. We don't have to buy the stuff that keeps the lie alive, and we can tell our daughters that they don't have to buy it, either.

We can tell our girls the truth, and we can live it out in front of them. We can love ourselves for who we are and stop buying the lie that we are somehow less, that we need to be made better to be considered beautiful.

I intend to do everything I can to make sure that my two perfectly wonderful, beautiful girls know that they don't need any of that stuff to be completely amazing. They already are. And no marketing campaign is going to convince them otherwise...not while I'm standing here to tell them the truth.