I remember being absolutely crushed. Once again, the other kids in school managed to find yet another aspect of my appearance or general being to tease me about. I was never pretty, or skinny, or fashionable. I had unruly, slightly curly, always frizzy hair; a fair amount of ‘baby fat’ (which I still haven’t shed); and my skin was spotted with not only freckles but acne that no amount of Proactive was gonna cure. I went to a school of mostly privileged children who wore the latest trends, while I many times was forced to wear fashions two decades too late and two sizes too big. Most of the other kids were relatively tolerant of my existence, a few were even nice, even fewer were actually friends. I was aware that there were other kids who had it way worse than me; they were downright bullied or humiliated or both on a daily basis. However, I couldn’t shake the perpetual sense that I did not BELONG anywhere unless it was at the very bottom of the social food chain.
I still sometimes feel the same sense of ‘not belonging’, only now I just don’t care which is wonderful (hurray for adulthood!) My purpose in sharing this sad little story is to point out a very real problem. It has to do with the totally unattainable expectation of beauty we hold so important in our society. Especially now that I have a daughter, I feel compelled to ensure that she knows that her worth is not measured by how she looks, but by who she is. We tell girls that we value intelligence over beauty, wisdom over youth, individuality over uniformity, and tenacity over conformity. Yet daily, they receive all kinds of messages telling them the contrary is true. I remember reading somewhere (no doubt a very reputable and completely not-fake resource, ehem, the internet) that we are exposed to over 200 ads a day. At first this number seemed completely exaggerated, but think about it: TV, physical signage on the street, apps, magazines, shopping malls, social media… the list can go on a mile. They are covered with images of insanely attractive people enjoying a seemingly perfect and fulfilling life, possessing unlimited amounts of money, and consuming an endless number of calories. Could it be any more confusing for our kids?
We live now in a world where everyone feels the right to comment on every aspect of people’s lives. Many are downright cruel, hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard or smartphone. Am I glad that I didn’t grow up in the digital world! The nastiest thing that could happen to you back in my school days was losing your lunchroom crowd or not having anyone to hang out with at recess. Now our kids can be subjected to humiliation that can potentially reach the eyes and ears of literally anyone with access to Wi-Fi. My husband once pointed out to me that women obsess over their appearance for the sake of impressing other women. I will venture to say I agree with this for the most part, adding only that the obsession perhaps stems more from the desire to simply be accepted, or to avoid harsh judgment from peers. I suppose the first step in combating this is to set an example of kindness and to teach our children to never underestimate the power of a few misspoken words.
I have to admit, I’m part of the problem too. When I look in the mirror, like most women, what I see first are those things I hate. I spend my time criticizing my weight, wrinkles, grey hair, acne, and stretch marks. Guess who is listening to every self-deprecating comment? That’s right, little “Miss Big Ears,” as Grandma calls her. Perhaps if we taught our girls to value those imperfections and accept them for what they are – evidence of blessings we are fortunate to possess. A few extra pounds for the abundant food we have to eat, wrinkles and grey hair for the wisdom and experience we have earned, acne for… well, I can’t think of anything good about acne so let’s move on. Finally, those abhorrent striations we call stretch marks were obtained acquiring our most prized possession of all, our children.
Ladies, it’s difficult to swim against the current, and being different in a world that expects us to all fit in the same mold OR DIE takes courage. I wish I could be Alicia Keys and walk around without make up, all beautiful and confident, but I never will. Trust me. But I’m going to do my very best at putting a significant crack in that pesky mold for the sake of myself and my daughter. Are you with me?
Christy Ortiz is a Fort Worth native, and is proud to say so. She earned her bachelor’s degree from UT Arlington in Interdisciplinary Studies. She taught for FWISD for eight busy years before switching gears and staying home with her two small children. Her hobbies are interior decorating for friends, photography, and flying kites with her kids. Her South American roots and love for the Spanish language and Latin cultures add to the diverse voices of our group.