Do you feel pretty? No, I mean really feel pretty? I don’t. I don’t know if I ever have. I have been thinking about this lately for a couple of reasons. The first one is I want Tiny-Small to feel good about her body now and forever. Secondly, I am getting older and I have more wrinkles, more droopy parts, and my teeth are not as white and shiny as they once were. When I look in the mirror I see a woman with very tired eyes staring back at me. She is not pretty. She is doing her best to get by.
When I was younger I never thought about feeling pretty. I was too busy trying to be pretty. I don’t try so hard anymore. I am too tired and too busy to put the effort in. On the other hand, I still want to be pretty. I still want to feel pretty. I want to feel young and hip and hot, but if I am completely honest with myself I don’t feel like any of those things. I feel more like a chubby, washed up, middle-aged woman who gets more of a thrill out of the new ice cream flavor in the grocery store freezer than out of being a sexy, diva, housewife-mom. The thing is, it’s not like when you get older you no longer care about being attractive. You still care, it’s just you care about so many other things too. There are new priorities to consider. There are new things to occupy your mind. There are new stresses and worries that lead to the consumption of ice cream at 10:30 pm (the only time you can watch your favorite TV show without having to rewind the dialogue in each scene eight times because all the people in your home will not stop talking to you). You stay up too late and get up too early in search of quiet and a few moments alone. Your reckless lifestyle begins to appear on your face in the form of dark circles and bad skin. You start to age at an accelerated pace. You forget to apply eye cream and moisturizer at night. You skip the sunscreen during the day. You choose the pants with the elastic waist just because they are easy and comfortable. You stop feeling pretty. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you even stop worrying about it.
As I get older I feel increasingly invisible to the opposite sex. I may have lost my sex appeal. Where did it go? Will I ever get it back? I think I lost it when I became a mom. I am too tired and wrapped up in making lunch and painting. I am too busy trying to remember to pay the bills on time and ensuring that we have gallons of milk in the fridge so we don’t ever run out. I am too distracted to be pretty and too distracted to feel pretty and it shows. It’s hard to feel sexy when you are tired and your pants won’t button and the makeup you applied, in a feeble attempt to be pretty, has slid into your crows feet and accentuated the shadows under your eyes. Gorgeous! It’s hard not to feel a little frustrated when everyone is telling you how important it is to be and feel beautiful when you have no chance of ever really doing either one.
I keep reading that moms need to have a positive body image to set a good example for their daughters. That we should announce that we are pretty. That we should announce that we feel beautiful. What do we do if we don’t feel pretty or beautiful? Do we say we do anyway? Do we lie? Are lies going to help the next generation with their self-esteem? I don’t know. I think maybe it will just give them another set of expectations that they can never meet. Moms are supposed to adore their children every second of every day, feel pretty, keep their houses spotless, and satisfy their husbands every desire. I think it’s all a myth and I can’t live up to it. Do I want to tell my daughter that she should try to anyway because it’s the “right” way to live? Not really. Do I want to change the emphasis on beauty to something else? You bet your droopy arse I do. Seriously, there is more to women than being or feeling pretty. We have very rich lives. It’s just everyone seems to be obsessed with beauty and getting self-esteem through how we look. It’s always the most important theme running through our lives, except sometimes, in reality, it really isn’t. It’s not for me anyway.
So, I keep wondering why do I have to be pretty or feel pretty anyway? Can’t I just be smart instead? Or funny? Or sleeping? Maybe I can be sleeping beauty or sleeping pretty who wakes up smart holding a paintbrush. I might be able to pull that one off. I don’t tell Tiny-Small that I feel fat or wrinkly, or sad that my clothes don’t seem to fit right. I don’t tell her I need to lose weight or that I wish I had straight hair and whiter teeth and that I could look 20 years of age for eternity. I don’t say those things, but I also don’t walk around saying I feel pretty when I don’t. I am a terrible liar.
So, I don’t feel pretty, but I also don’t believe I have to feel pretty to be happy or functioning. I don’t exist to be a show piece. I have too much work to do for that. I am not going to lie to my daughter and tell her that I feel beautiful when I don’t. I’m functional. My body works. I like it. It gets me where I need to go. It doesn’t have to be beautiful too. When she hits middle age and realizes her sex appeal is diminishing and her youth is ending, I don’t want her to feel bad for mourning the changes. I don’t want her to have to pretend she feels beautiful when she doesn’t. I don’t want her to think something must be wrong with her because she doesn’t feel pretty when she is “supposed” to feel pretty. I want her to realize that beauty isn’t everything. It’s not as important as being kind and funny and smart, but when we lose it we do feel it and it’s OK to be sad for a while. It’s OK to miss your sex appeal, but it is also OK when it is gone. Getting older with grace doesn’t have a road map with one direction on it. Beauty is not something we have to cling to as we age, despite the messages we receive from popular culture. Appearances do not have to be what life is all about. If she feels pretty that is great, but if she doesn’t, so what? Why can’t we just feel the way we feel and let that be enough?