My mother used to tell me that ugly girls were lucky. Mom said that ugly girls can skip right over getting tan, painting nails, dieting, working out, and comparing figures and get to work finding out what they were born on this earth to do.
You can imagine how a fifteen year-old who spent three hours every other day straightening her hair responded. I guess the novelty of using my daisy razor and the QT tanning products hadn’t quite worn off.
Mom’s biggest fear was having spinach stuck in her teeth. My biggest fear was looking like a mix between a poodle and Rosanne Rosanna-Danna.
Obviously, Mom knew beauty distracted us from living our most authentic life. How many hours and dollars per week do we spend on enhancing our beauty? I can’t believe I just spent $150 on a jar of face cream (… although it smelled really good and felt fabulous on my skin at the time and everybody says I look great... for my age).
No longer does the Awkward Stage divide the years between young girl and teen. Today there are lines of clothing created for seven year olds to dress like J Lo. By the time these girls reach puberty, there’s no buffer for them to find comfort in being okay with who they are. Our adolescent girls, are, as Mary Pipher asserts in Reviving Ophelia, sacrificing their wholeness. Where parents will (most often) have a young girl’s best interest at heart, the world at large is trying to teach her different. Peers and pop culture will shape our daughters’ minds to believe that they must question the gifts they were born with and swap self-esteem for doubt. From the hairs on their head to the tiny hairs on their toes, the priority completely refocuses on what’s on the outside, the packaging. The feminine ideal has become a prison, and the adolescent its inmate. It may take decades for a woman to discover her true self.
Naomi Wolf says as much in The Beauty Myth:
The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us... During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty...
Some said Wolf’s book was flawed while others applauded it. I find her contribution both poignant and disturbing because The Beauty Myth was written over twenty years ago. Has anything changed? I think we can all agree that this statement still holds true today in many ways and it’s even applicable to a younger demographic. Let’s face it: Our clamor for glamour has given the most vulnerable population a pounding. How do our children resist the messages of Barbie and Britney Spears?
Many read creation myths today and think them quaint and childlike, our traditional perceptions of a solo male deity being our most evolved concept of a creator, or so we have been taught. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the powerful messages for women and girls in ancient stories of creation. Like other things in nature and the heavens, our ancestors observed that women and female animals were giving birth and figured, maybe this is how everything began. A pretty easy connect-the-dots, don’t you think?
Creation myths the world over originated as a mother-centered event. Tales of a goddess dwelling in the watery mass can be found from 6000 BCE. Even the Bible recalls the goddess in Genesis by explaining the formless beginnings, Darkness was upon the face of the deep (Genesis1:2). Tehom is the word used in the Bible which refers to the deep, the primordial waters of creation. The word is also a cognate of the goddess Tiamat from the Sumerian culture, the formless mother creator who dwelt at the bottom of the waters.
Author and storyteller, Luisah Teish tells a wonderful creation story of Yemaya that comes from the Yoruban Orisha of African tradition.
Once a woman named Yemaya lived inside the watery depths of one large ocean. She looked into the waters and saw her own reflection. She wondered, “Who is that beautiful woman? I thought I was the most beautiful.” As she looked at the woman in the water there came a rumbling in Yemaya’s belly and it grew and grew until it broke open and filled the world with lakes, rivers and streams.
Yemaya looked into the new river she had created and saw her reflection looking at her. “Who is that woman in the river? She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
And again her belly grew and grew until she gave birth to the heavens and the stars and the full moon. In the moon she saw herself and said, “Who is that beautiful woman? She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
And again her belly expanded larger and larger until it exploded. Standing before her were thousands of beautiful women. Yemaya said again, “Who are you beautiful women? I thought I was the most beautiful of all.”
The women looked deep into the eyes of Yemaya and there they saw their own reflections. They said to her, “You are! We are you! We are just you!”
For many young girls after the age of six or seven, there is no more Dora, just the litany of Selena Gomezes, Sharpays and Bratz dolls. Though we try to keep them at bay, the dolls and their messages appear in our daughters’ lives as if by magic. They are as invasive as stink bugs filing in through window cracks and even hard to get rid of.
Perhaps reviving ancient and varied stories of creation can reveal to girls that they are part of a grand scheme. Perhaps they will understand the whole of their bodies; i.e., mind, body and spirit, are an integral part of the biology of the cosmos.
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: Riverhead Books, 1994
Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. New York: HarperCollins, 1991
The Bible, New King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982
Teish, Luisah. Jambalaya: The New Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1988