Anna is beautiful.
Beautiful enough for me.
– Ocean Vuong
Last week my friend and I were discussing a tiresome topic, how much weight we had gained, our newest skin flaws and other aging assaults.
I noticed her husband shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
“Why do you guys do this?” he asked. “I have known you both for over 30 years, you are interesting, intelligent women. Why are you so focused on your appearance? You guys are better than this.”
First, I want to find out what he is smoking and give it to everyone. But, of course, he is right. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Our mothers and aunts allowed themselves to age…a weekly beauty parlor appointment and maybe a little blue hair dye was all that they required.
But we know the secret. Our appearance matters in most areas of our lives, from dating and marriage to financial success.
But how did this happen?
No one really knows. Some blame beauty and fashion industries that bombard us with images of women that don’t exist. Young, skinny, manufactured, air-brushed, cosmetically altered women.
Some evolutionary psychologists believe men elevated female beauty to choose the women that they would protect and care for.
Still others blame our upbringing. When I was young, most of the contests that were open to girls were beauty contests. From childhood, we learned that the prettier girls were more popular, got more dates, got more attention.
At the beginning of the women’s revolution, we believed that once we became successful, the pressure to be beautiful would decrease, but despite our success, it has actually increased.
Why haven’t we gotten past this need for perfection? Is it evolutionary? Is it caused by the beauty and fashion industries? Is it caused by our upbringing?
Maybe it is all the above. But my money’s on the film, beauty, magazine, and fashion industries. Our parents’ generation was not constantly bombarded with the commercial images of beauty. In today’s world, social media, advertisements, and entertainment imply that looking good is better than being healthy. We are encouraged to opt for unnecessary and sometimes dangerous procedures to fight aging.
The beauty and film industry’s message is clear: your worth is found in your attractiveness. Even though we know that there is far more to life than being young and beautiful. My friends who have undergone chemo and other life threatening illnesses have learned that when you don’t have hair and have ports running through your body, age spots become less important.
I love this poem because it reminds me of what is real. Most of us were never attractive enough for the commercial image of beauty. But we are beautiful enough for the people who love us.
(A little backstory on this poem. It is from a movie called The Kindergarten Teacher. The “poem” was “written” by a 5 year old prodigy (all the poetry was actually written by an adult, Ocean Vuong). But what is so haunting about the poem is that it highlights that children actually have a better understanding of beauty than adults do.)
I am reminded of a time when I was very sick with the flu, every part of me looked and felt terrible, yet the look in my little daughter’s eyes told me that she didn’t see the runny nose, the sallow face and red eyes, she saw the mommy that she loved.
And that is the lesson, isn’t it? If only, I could silence my programming.
Here is the whole poem.
Anna is beautiful,
Beautiful enough for me.
The sun hits her yellow house,
It’s almost like a sign from God.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.