The other day, several of my friends and I were lamenting about our mothers (and to be fair, our fathers and society has certainly contributed to the conversation) and the fucked up things they say to our daughters about beauty (and I’m sure, our sons as well, but we are super sensitive about our daughters). I don’t know why we’re so surprised that our mothers say these things – after all, I grew up hearing them all the time. I’m sure this isn’t something only Chinese mothers do, but since I have only had a Chinese mother and am a Chinese mother, that is my main frame of reference.
Even though there were so many obvious lies my mother told me, I didn’t even realize how fully I absorbed them into my psyche until the last ten years or so. (Not with the intention of lying to me, I understand. It’s only because she believes these lies and thinks they are true. Also, it’s because she happens to have some of the characteristics she considers beautiful and for some reason, she can’t wrap her mind around the possibility that someone she birthed would have different features. I swear she is a loving and good mother.)
For instance, I have always been sad that my feet were a size 8. My mother always commented about how my feet were so large and too big for my height. (She wears a size 6.) She said it so much and made me so self-conscious about it that for the longest time, I refused to buy sneakers because I thought they were too bulky and made my feet look even larger. And since sometimes, I could fit into size 7.5, I would often buy size 7.5 shoes out of total vanity but then not wear the shoes because they hurt like a bitch because, oh, hey! THEY WERE TOO SMALL. Then, I’d have to either not wear the shoes at all and waste my money or go back and return the shoes (which is a tough one if they’ve already been worn).
I think it wasn’t until maybe seven or eight years ago when I was returning a pair of gorgeous red pumps that I finally realized how stupid me trying to fit in a smaller size shoe was. Who the fuck cares whether my shoe size was 7.5 or 8? What really matters is wearing shoes that FIT. You know, because walking without pain is a good thing. So when my shoe size increased to 8.5/9 after being pregnant with Cookie Monster, the only reason I was upset about that was because I no longer fit in my awesome red heels. Once I stop pumping out babies and my shoe size doesn’t increase anymore, I’ll go back to buying hot shoes. You know, for all my hot play dates.
It wasn’t only shoe size that I was hung up on. I also would occasionally buy skirts or dresses that were a size down instead of my true size. Which of course, I could only wear comfortably before eating anything and then I’d be constricted or practically bisected after lunch so OF COURSE, I wouldn’t wear these clothes ever again, either. Another total waste of money.
I even suffered through having an engagement and wedding ring that were a size too small (and constantly stuck on my fingers and too tight) because I thought my fingers were too thick. It wasn’t until after I had Cookie Monster that I decided I was ridiculous and re-sized my rings.
Funny enough, it wasn’t until I started watching What Not To Wear that I realized my obsession with a particular size was so stupid. That didn’t change REALITY. Whatever my size was, that was my size. There is no value judgment about my feet or my body. It just was. Once I got over that and started buying shoes and clothes that actually fit, I stopped wasting money and being incredibly uncomfortable.
Another random thing I didn’t like about my body (again, due to my mother’s comments) were my fingernails. My mom has these long, tapered fingers with nice, long nails. My fingers are not quite as long and my nails certainly are not long. In fact, no matter how much I tried when I was younger, my nails never seemed to get long enough. It wasn’t until I had Glow Worm (yes, you read that right) and I saw that his nail beds were so close to the tips of his fingers that if his nails grew just one millimeter, it seemed as if he had nice, long nails that I realized it had nothing to do with my failure to grow nails and everything to do with genetics. My nail beds were further back. I would have to grow my nails at least double the length my mom or Glow Worm did to achieve the same look.
Did I just go off on a super long post about feet and nails? YES. Yes, I did. Why? Because holy crap, the stupid shit we absorb about beauty from our mothers and fathers and television and society really fuck us up. And all about incredibly stupid, meaningless things.
Anyhow, there are all sorts of articles about how we shouldn’t only comment on girls’ outward appearance such as what they are wearing or how they look, but quite frankly, I totally fail at this. And not only with my daughter. I fail at this with my sons. I am constantly telling them they are cute or pretty (equal opportunity comments on pretty girls and boys for me) or beautiful. Of course, I also tell them they are funny, silly, smart, kind, and wonderful, but that may be because I am a little bit biased.
At any rate, I’m sure I’m warping my children with an unnatural shallowness and obsession with their looks (like mother like child, I suppose). So, for our collective amusement (because if you can’t laugh at the utter fucked-uppedness of the following list, you will weep), here are some gems about beauty, straight from the mouths of our mothers:
Stay out of the sun because lighter skin is better. (Somewhat racist, but mostly classist because only peasants who worked in the fields have dark skin.) (Also, I am a stickler for sunblock and sunshirts and hats not because dark skin makes my kids ugly, but because skin cancer is bad.)
Stop furrowing your brow; you’ll get wrinkles. (My mother says this every now and then to Gamera. It’s annoying.)
Big eyes (especially with the double lid) are pretty.
Taller noses with a high bridge are pretty.
Dark, black eyes and hair are prettier than lighter brown eyes and hair.
Being thin is prettier. Being fat makes you look older.
Shaving your head makes you look sick and like you’re dying. Also, it makes you look fat. (Confer previous lie.) (My mother refused to talk to my brother all weekend one summer after I shaved his head. She was pretty pissed at me, too. She was convinced that my brother was having problems and feeling insecure and that’s why he shaved his head.)
If you don’t eat your vegetables, you won’t be pretty.
If you cry, you won’t be pretty. (My friend’s 2.5 year old daughter heard her grandmother say this to her and started to cry. Her mother proceeded to say, “You’re turning ugly!” What made my friend super pissed is that her daughter actually stopped crying.)
Another friend’s dad told her daughter not to run with a stick because if she poked an eye out she wouldn’t be pretty anymore. Forget the fact that she would ONLY HAVE ONE EYE.
GAH. I think I have to stop before I get mad. Or cry. Either way, I won’t be pretty.