Yesterday, I made an observation. It caused a physical sensation so profound, as if it had sprouted tentacles that bore deep down into my guts. I nearly passed out from the force of it.
“What is wrong with you girls? You are 11 years old and you want to change the beauty that you already possess!” I blurted it out with such woe that my daughter immediately queried, “Are you okay, momma?” I merely shook my head and heaved a very heavy sigh.
Let me back up. I had decided it would be fun to take my daughter and her two friends to the mall. It would get us out of the house, and since it was raining like crazy, we needed to be indoors. Truthfully, I really wanted to get one of those you-have-to-use-a-knife-and-fork-cause-it’s-so-big-ooey-gooey-messy, melt-in-your-mouth yummy Cinnabons.
We walked and talked. We ate Cinnabons. And then we did it again. Up and down, up and down, the girls rode the escalator giggling, being so cute that it made my heart light.
Life was good, until, “I don’t like my hair. I want to curl it”, one of the girls with straight hair said. My curly haired daughter, chimed in, “I want to straighten mine.” And then, as if she would be left out, the third girl pointed out that the red color she had streaked in her hair was ugly and did not turn out right.
The floodgates opened and this led to an onslaught of chirps from the girls about how they needed to change or improve the way they look.
Kaboom! Unforgiving tentacles extended into my guts, constricting around my organs, squeezing the delight right out of me.
As we continued through the mall, this disturbing verbiage from the girls did not wane. Those damn tentacles swept over me so forcefully, I cried out, “I have to get off this escalator,” exhausted from the sheer pain of it. The girls looked at me in bewilderment and I started to panic.
Face scrunched and brow furrowed, I placed my clammy hand on my daughter, and with a high pitched but commanding voice, informed the girls that we would be leaving now. Moving quickly, we made our way to the car.
As I reflect on this, I realize the girls are not to blame.
They are innocently thinking and behaving how we have taught them to. They watch us and mimic what they see. Along the way, these little girls, like ourselves, have been tricked into thinking what we already possess is not good enough.
We want what we don’t have. And if we already have it, we want it super-sized.
While this extends far beyond the reaches of physical qualities—we have an insatiable appetite for the current product that improves sexuality, spirituality, intellectual prowess, social mobility, power, health and happiness—this is where it is most apparent.
Outward perfection and superficial beauty in the way of our physical appearance may be worthy of admiration, but its prominence seems to be deified. And, that is just plain ‘tentacle producing’ weird.
This deification is hardly new. Take Moses’ biblical ‘hike of a life time’. He high tailed up the mountain to engage God, and while he was away, the mice did play.
When he finally came down with the ‘not to do list’, what did he find? A whole lot of hedonistic, drunken, sex craved (and fulfilled) Israelites whooping around a golden calf. And the tablets did fly.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing the desire to look good or have nice things (a golden calf seems reasonable). There is certainly something to be said for outward beauty and excess. If Cinnabons weren’t fancily adorned with icing and cinnamon, or were they the least bit smaller, I wouldn’t want one. Excess is intoxicating. And even the most prim among us like to get intoxicated now and then.
To attempt to under-appreciate the beauty that can be seen with our eyes, would be naive. We are visual by nature. I applaud a healthy, realistic yearning to look good and possess beautiful things. Beauty should be celebrated.
However, what was once a natural and realistic desire has turned into a costly and destructive obsession.
Our current definition of flawless equals beauty, excess equals success is undermining the health and well-being of our very young, not to mention our very old. If one or two wrinkles are considered ugly, what does that make having 20? It’s no wonder older women are allowing themselves to be cut, stuffed and re-defined to feel good about themselves.
I watch in horror as our youth try to keep up with the standards of artificial beauty, engaging in plastic surgery, injections and make overs. Do 17-year olds even have wrinkles?
Are we that adoring of pseudo-perfection that we don’t see what is wrong with this picture? We seem to want to look like we’ve never smiled, frowned, furrowed, cried, or lived a day outside of the box we came in.
With Botox, nose jobs, boob jobs, chemical peels and teeth whitening, we have failed to cultivate an appreciation and healthy acceptance of ourselves for the way we come—flaws and all.
I recently heard from someone, who was discussing how to attain happiness, a new study found that women who received Botox injections were happier. Well, duh.If having wrinkles is regarded as ugly, and you can get rid of them, yes, temporary happiness may ensue.
The problem is our definition of beauty. You get that right? Are we going to continue to support the myth that this lopsided perspective is not part of the issue?
I don’t blame this paradigm shift on those who market products. I don’t blame it on the plastic surgeons, scientists, manufacturers, churches, country clubs or malls. I don’t blame it on moms and dads, or even on those who embrace artificial beauty and indulge on it.
If we need to place blame, then it is on everyone—me included.
Truth be told, I have 30 pairs of shoes, five TVs, two big cars, and a nice house filled with stuff. I highlight my hair and put on lipstick. I am not excited about the deep wrinkles between my eyebrows, I eat Cinnabons, I love shopping and my eyes glaze over when I see pretty things. I practice yoga to gain enlightenment, attend Jazzercize to look good, and spread the gospel (according to Patanjali) to anyone who will listen.
So, where does that leave us? It seems to be leaving me preaching to the choir, railing about a theme that is probably well worn out.
I don’t think our freakish compulsion for pre-fabricated beauty is going away anytime soon. Nor do I believe that our desire to fit in by purchasing things, will decrease, even if it threatens to destroy our creativity.
But this I can say. My entrails are quite thoroughly embedded with those hard to remove tentacles. And, persistent though they be, they are merely acting as conduits—conduits of awareness.
The tentacles alert me to the danger in losing sight of what is really important. They remind me to resist the temptation to go to extremes, get caught up in the fray, accept notions of beauty and success that just do not feel right—no matter how many times an ad, commercial, research, or society at large tries to hypnotize me otherwise.
They help me to stop, look closely and ‘see’ much more deeply. They poke, squeeze and cause me to question,
Can your smile lines and the tiny wrinkles around your eyes speak to you of laughter and life?
Can you come to understand that getting old is a privilege?
Can you be content with the material things that you already have instead of coveting more?
Can you walk on this earth and be comfortable in you skin knowing that you ‘fit in’ just the way you are?
Well, yes, I think I can. And quite frankly, I cannot imagine being who I am without these dastardly tentacles. They are a part of me.
So, Cinnabon in hand and tentacles firmly entrenched, I will brave that escalator. I will ride it up and down. But just to make sure I don’t get stuck, as often I do, I will get off now and then, and take a good long look at my beautiful wrinkles, gray hair, and sagging body parts.
Just please don’t let me end up the only one who actually looks old.
Jeri Senor loves Cinnabons, escalators, the way she is (wrinkles and all), and life in general. She teaches Abhogaditi Awareness-Breathing (yes, it touts increased awareness; and yes, you have to pay for it), yoga classes and leads workshops related to consciousness raising. She keeps bees in her back yard to stay connected to the cycles of nature. And, she quips, “they don’t seem to be overly concerned with what I look like or what I have”. She can be reached at [email protected]
Editor: Ryan Pinkard