Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who's the Fairest of Them All?

Sadly Beautful - The Replacements (mp3)
Beautiful - The Marvelous 3 (mp3)

"I don't feel beautiful."

Miley Cyrus sings this. Christina Aguilera has a song imploring people to find themselves beautiful. In several conversations with high school girls over the years, nothing has been more clear than the fact that almost all of them wish they were at least a little prettier. The smartest girl in my elementary school got called "It" by others in her special class, and she was plenty cute. It starts in frikkin' fourth grade, and she even admitted on her Facebook account the other day that it still haunts her.

Maybe as much as money, beauty and attraction seem to make the world go round, yet we can't seem to quantify either of them like we can cold hard cash. Beauty and attraction are as immeasurable and weightless as happiness, yet they seem so vital to how we view ourselves and others.

I've never felt particularly attractive. This confession is not in the hopes of getting some extra hugs, because it's been more than 20 years since I felt particularly unattractive, either. Other than, like, when I would drink too much and find myself hurling into a toilet or something equally unbecoming. But no one should feel attractive when kneeling at the porcelain altar.

Other than those rare moments, however, I've somehow managed to avoid getting too hung up on my physical appeal. I just assume I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of Mediocreville, falling somewhere near the peak of the Bell Curve of attractiveness. I'm mostly OK with looking OK, so I don't spend a lot of my time thinking about it. I don't, nor have I ever done, any of those metrosexual grooming or dressing details. I don't preen. I don't pluck eyebrows. I don't groom very obsessively. No hair product or hair removal of any kind. No shopping for clothes without a gift card or a damn good reason. In fact, none of my hobbies or joys come from all the things people do because they're concerned with their attractiveness or their beauty.

This isn't an I'm better than you post. I've got suitcases full of hang-ups and self-esteem issues, so it's really OK if I dodged this one. This whole issue comes up because I was watching a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie with my daughters. Stuck in the Suburbs was standard teen fare, and it dripped with the issues of teenage insecurity, and it was awful to watch, especially with my girls. But we can't avoid this. Hell, even Kim Possible and Teen Titans are rife with teen angst. Part of me wonders if I should let them watch these shows... but if you start censoring teen angst from what's permissible for your children, you might as well throw out the TV, entire sections of the library, and every music file you own. And you can only watch Pippi Longstocking so many times before you throw up in your mouth a little.

So very much of teen angst is focused around being cool or uncool, and so much of being cool or uncool is trained on attractiveness and beauty.

And if we think this hangup somehow becomes less invasive and destructive once we escape the confines of our adolescence, I offer up this web site. Yes, Hot Chicks with Douchebags proves that our hangups and insecurities linger like Herpes and cling to our booties like these dudes with gelled hair and outsized egos. We get to mock these goobers because, in this case, the Bell Curve saves most of us.

Perhaps more than any other single thing, I fear this most for my daughters: that they'll struggle to feel beautiful enough, attractive enough, worthy enough, that they'll punish themselves in mind and/or body in order to live up to some unattainable illusion that can never be met nor maintained only to earn them attention that is superficial and temporal at best. This godforsaken and seemingly eternal wrestling match between pride and shame, between vanity and meekness, and the parental illusion that we can somehow guide our children through that Scylla and Charybdis unscathed and unscarred.

What I can't deny, and where karma might kick my ass, is that I am very much a conspirator in our cultural notions of beauty. I look. I judge. I assign value to attractiveness, particularly in women. I act happier and joke more exuberantly in the presence of a beautiful woman. This isn't something I admit proudly, because it's the very kind of behavior and the very kind of game I pray my daughters don't get too sucked into. No, I'm never gonna be one of those aforementioned douchebags, but that hardly absolves me of my responsibilities and that I have frequently fallen far short of them.

So I'm only left to hope the sins of the father don't get visited upon the daughters.

"Sadly Beautiful" is from All Shook Down. "Beautiful" is from ReadySexGo! Both albums are available through iTunes and Amazon.com's mp3 site.


Bob said...

Billy, thanks for that link that got me "websensed." Now Timmy and the Techies are going to think that I like to try to look at lingerie when I have a free moment on a Tuesday morning. While Tim is rescuing babies from China, I'm looking at panties. Thanks a lot.

Billy said...

[Note to the Common Reader: Bob is the one who informed me of Hot Chicks with Douchebags to begin with.]

Tockstar said...

I got called it repeatedly in 6th + 7th grade. It's scarring, but somehow reading that someone else feels the same way makes me feel way better. Also, I agree that those Disney movies are disturbing. As a former teenager, I applaud you for recognizing that your daughters might struggle with feeling attractive. Even the more secure kids (and adults) are going to struggle with this at some point in their lives.