When I was around nine-years-old, I decided I was ugly. I had looked around at the other girls in my class with their blue eyes and their cute blonde curls, and concluded that I hated my own poop brown eyes, pointy ears, and straight hair. I was convinced that it was more attractive to be the exact opposite of everything that I was, because I saw so many things about myself that weren’t quite perfect. My appearance consumed me more than beauty should consume any little girl. One day, in an effort to change my mind, my mom brought me into the living room and took out a magazine from a drawer. On the cover was a picture of a woman I didn't recognize.
"Now this," my mother told me, "is Barbra Streisand." I took the magazine in my hands. "Ms. Streisand has a lot of things about her that some might consider imperfect,” my mom said. “She has a big nose, her eyes are crossed, but look, here she is on the cover of a magazine. She’s a lovely singer and a wonderful performer, and people also consider her to be a very beautiful woman. She is a very beautiful woman."
I studied the photo. Barbra was looking straight at the camera. Her eyes were squinting slightly and she had a tiny Mona Lisa smile. To me, she seemed to be saying, take me as I am, or stuff it!
She probably knew that she had things about her that were different, but she didn’t care. In fact, she seemed to love it! I agreed that she was very pretty, and my mom put the magazine away and we went on with things; however, the message of what she was saying has stayed with me to this day—that we are beautiful even with our imperfections.
I can’t say that I always believed this sentiment, even after my mom pointed it out to me. I continued to fret over how I looked as I grew up. Was every hair of my ponytail in place? Were my eyes too boring? Was my chest too flat? But I would occasionally think about that picture of Barbra Streisand and consider that maybe, just maybe, there was more to me than my tiny imperfections or how I compared to the other girls. Most importantly, there was me—my desire to always do things as well as I could, my dream of becoming a writer, my instinct to always be kind. Yes, there were parts of me that were different, but they were the most unique parts.
I still think about that magazine cover today, when I am fussing with my hair or makeup in the mirror, trying to get myself to look just right. I imagine Barbra and then remind myself that there is not one acceptable way for us all to look, and that I am much more than what I see in the mirror.
My daughter Lily is only three-years-old and still loves to prance around the living room wearing a tutu and tiara, convinced she is the most gorgeous person on the planet. It kills me to think that someday she may decide that she’s ugly. If she ever comes to me upset about her appearance, will I be able to reach into the drawer (or boot up the iPad) to find a photo of a woman who does not fit into popular culture’s “typical” image of beauty?
Who will be her Barbra Streisand? Will I be able to show her a celebrity who is not airbrushed, whose features are not small and symmetrical, whose teeth are not gleaming white, and say, “Look Lily, look at this very beautiful woman. She may have imperfections, but she’s a fabulous person who knows it—and that makes her one of the most beautiful ones out there.” Will I be able to teach my daughter that she’s gorgeous exactly as she is?