Now, ladies I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that as a culture we have not only fetishized flawless female beauty, we have made feeling bad about our bodies and beauty a virtue. Hopefully you are as lucky as I am and you have a husband who has managed to convince you that you really are beautiful and that the odd lumps of your figure are sexy rather than repulsive. However, I suspect that many women go through their whole lives not feeling entirely comfortable with themselves. Which is a shame.
I have heard that once upon a time it was generally accepted that 1 in 5 women would be classically beautiful. The other 4 could be comfortable in their plainness, or dowdiness or oddness and rely on the power of their personalities and femaleness to be attractive to the 4 out of 5 men who were likewise not going to win beauty contests. Today it seems that we all feel obligated to either achieve beauty or to feel badly about ourselves.
What is funny is that men do not seem to look at us this way. I remember reading a man who was describing his wife. From the description, this woman was no looker. She had a bad overbite and smallish, round eyes with rounded cheeks. However, he seemed to be oblivious to the fact that his description of her painted a less than beautiful picture. He thought she was adorable – like a cute chipmunk. He had been married to her for decades and she was now a wrinkly chipmunk looking woman and he still delighted in her.
Years ago I knew a woman with teenaged sons who told me that she wished she would have realized when she was a teen how in awe of girls, from the homely to the gorgeous, teenaged boys are. She said that girls were like kryptonite to her sons. If these girls only knew the power and pull they had on the boys around them, they wouldn’t worry so much about droopy hair and zits. They too might be in awe of the power they have by virtue of existing in female form.
I was reminded of all this today after reading a really lovely article by author Walter Kirn at Elle.com (of all places) about his love for the beauty of “unconventional-looking women who too frequently call themselves ugly or imperfect”:
In the fairy tale, Cinderella goes unnoticed until her appearance is magically transformed to match little girls’ ideal of loveliness, which they grow up believing is little boys’ ideal of loveliness. This belief is wrong, though. And I should know, because I’m a grown-up boy who longs for Cinderellas who’ve never touched a pair of glass slippers—who are plenty alluring barefoot. I prefer them to some princesses I’ve danced with. . . The charm of a barefoot Cinderella is that her beauty obeys no formula and therefore can sneak up on a man. When he becomes aware of it, he feels like he’s discovered a secret. And secrets are always exciting.”
You should go over and read the whole thing. And then send it on to your mothers and sisters and daughters. And lest you think his generous view of women is just one man’s view; at the end of the article, he explains the source of French women’s infamous sex appeal:
An American pal at my grad school back in England had warned me that Parisian femininity would tempt me to relinquish my U.S. citizenship, and I’d assumed that what he’d meant was that I’d find myself surrounded by beauty queens with magazine-cover faces and centerfold figures. The reality was quite different, though. As the strolling women neared my table, what loomed were their protruding noses, their conspicuous ears, their overly broad shoulders. As they passed, I took note of their formidable posteriors, their lack of any posteriors whatsoever, and their oddly squat or boyish physiques. What lingered when they vanished, however, was their heartbreaking seductiveness.” They came in all shapes and sizes, these French ticklers, but rarely in the standard ones. The cut and drape of their appearances was haute couture, not off-the-rack. Until I saw them, I hadn’t realized how many ways there are for women to be themselves—their best and most enchanting selves.”
Ladies, we have been lied to. We don’t have to be perfect and thin and standard to be beautiful. The men in our lives know that already. But we need to believe it for ourselves.