Every now and then I hear or see something that stops me cold. A few days ago I was about to flip off the TV and get to the business of solving plot riddles when I saw an attractive woman with her handsome husband on a morning news program, and heard the interviewer say something about the woman’s bold move to gain more self confidence. Yep, that got my attention. Instead of turning the TV off, I backed up the DVR a few seconds and turned up the volume.
There sat this couple, married close to ten years with two kids. The woman, attractive and youthful looking, the kind who could easily appear on one of those reality shows or the cover of a fashion magazine, revealed that, nearing forty, she wanted a little more self confidence, to feel pretty again. So she turned to plastic surgery, having her breasts lifted and implants inserted, her eyes lifted. They showed before and after pictures, and other than the lack of makeup and a smile in the before picture, I really didn’t see a dramatic different. She was pretty before, and she’s pretty after.
I sat there not quite sure how I felt about what I was seeing and hearing, as her smiling husband talked about how happy he was with the results, that of course it didn’t change how much he loved her, but maybe he might love certain parts of her a little more now. And she had this big adoring smile on her face, even as she talked about her allergy to the post-surgery antibiotics and how the prednisone she had to take led to a post-partum like depression, that she was sad and crying all the time, that it was awful. The interviewer shook her head sympathetically and asked if all that was worth the results, and both the wife and the husband said yes, absolutely.
And I…I’m still sitting there, staring, finally keying in on what I’m feeling. It was a whole progression of emotions actually.
At first I was a woman blown away by the decision to have plastic surgery to gain more self confidence. I mean, there was nothing wrong with this woman. Most of us would love to look like her. And while I totally get the desire to look as good as you can, I think it was her talking about self confidence, about needing to have a bikini body makeover in order to feel good about herself, that got to me. All these thoughts flitted through my mind like, what about learning a second language or volunteering at a shelter, planting a garden or learning a new skill or hobby? I have a fabulous cousin who learned sign language, just because. There’s no one deaf among her family or friends, but she decided to learn anyway, and that decision has altered her life is so many wonderful and beautiful ways. Her life is fuller and richer, and yeah, I’m pretty sure she has more confidence and feels better about herself.
And the woman’s husband…wow. I wanted so badly for him to say he loved her for the woman she was, for her heart and her soul and her sense of humor, or her dedication to their children, whatever. I wanted him to say that she was beautiful inside and out, or that as beautiful as she is on the outside, she’s even more beautiful on the inside, or something. Something other than that maybe he loved parts of her more now. Was he joking? Maybe Probably. Or maybe not. It made me sad.
Then, as quickly as all those thoughts hit me, I realized how judgmental of me that seemed, that it’s this woman’s life and body and everything else, and the decisions she makes are hers to make. I’m a big believer in that. We’re all different, and we all have to live our own lives the best way we can. So armed with that thought, my thoughts and feelings shifted from this woman’s decisions to society at large. What kind of world do we live in, what kind of messages are we sending out, that drive a woman, a perfectly beautiful woman, to feel like she needs plastic surgery to feel good about herself? Whatever the answer is, it’s the same world that drives vibrant and intelligent young women to starve or purge themselves in the pursuit of “the perfect body,” or already talented athletes to take illegal substances to be even bigger and better. It’s all so phony and false, this extreme value we put on appearance, which is, in reality, little more than window dressing. We aren’t our bodies. Our bodies are vessels for what’s inside. But the constant glorification of super thin women and unnaturally buff men, as pleasing as they can be to look at, tend to make us focus on the packaging, rather than what’s inside.
So finally, after mulling all that over (and with my plot riddles still waiting), the mom in me took over, the mother of a wonderful eight-year-old daughter (and aunt to three amazing teenage nieces), and I found myself sad at the thought of this world that they’re marinating in and the possibility of any of them ever thinking they needed to go under the knife to gain self confidence and be okay with who they are.
We all age. Our bodies change. It’s inevitable. I see signs of that every morning. But one of the discoveries that has surprised me the most about the mounting years is that despite the changes on the outside, inside I’m still me. I’m a married mom of two young kids now, but I don’t feel any different than I did the weekend I met my husband. I still like to listen to loud music and sing off-key. I still like to tease and joke around. I still like to run and hate to go first. I’m still a sucker for a challenge or a dare, and I still get all wrapped up in my emotions and sometimes blow like a powder keg. That part of me doesn’t age. That part of me is timeless. All it’s the part that matters, that defines you. Not your breast size or depth of your crow’s feet.
Who you are on the inside is imminently more important, imminently more sustainable, than what the mirror shows.
I’m not standing in judgment of anyone. I’m not trying to preach. I’m not even against plastic surgery or other techniques to hold time at bay (hello, facials!). I have friends and relatives who’ve had adjustments made, each for their own reasons. We all have needs and goals, fears and dreams. And what I saw on the news that morning left me thinking about my dream for my daughter, and my goal as her mother.
I don’t want my daughter in thirty years to need to look into a mirror and see a twenty-five-year-old order in order for her to feel good about herself. I don’t want her to have to look into a mirror, period, to feel good about who she is. I want that feeling to swell up from inside her. I want her to focus on the passions that drive her, the juxtaposition of intensity and tenderness, her sense of right and wrong and her love of animals and music and art. I want her to always know the man who loves her loves her for who she is on the inside, not because of her breast size or shape, or the shape of her nose or fullness of her mouth.
That is my challenge, as my daughter’s mother. To teach her what matters. To celebrate all the wonderful traits and quirks that make her who she is. And to make sure she knows that the real gift, the truest, most authentic beauty, resides inside the packaging.