A Beauty History: From Cutie-Pie to Hot Chick to Invisible Woman

This Invisible Woman comic character looks just like me. All I need is a bright blue bodysuit.

This Invisible Woman comic character looks just like me. All I need is a bright blue bodysuit.

The other day, I wrote about dressing up for my school picture in 1972. A friend read my blog and commented that she also dressed up for her school picture that year—she was in first grade and she wore a long fuchsia skirt that her mom had made and a tuxedo shirt. When someone told her she looked beautiful, she replied “I know,” and twelve years passed before she would hear that compliment again. Twelve years may or may not be an exaggeration.

This friend and I met in high school when she was a sophomore and I was a freshman. By then, of course, she was well on her way to being a super-hot-gorgeous chick. Still, because of my own beauty history, I believe her when she says she had a lengthy ‘tween/pre-teen/early teen dry-spell in which no one complimented her on her good looks.

You see, like most little girls, I was extraordinarily cute, and everyone I encountered told me how pretty I was. In fact, if you are a little girl, often the only compliment you receive is on your appearance. You get used to hearing yourself called “adorable,” “beautiful,” and “precious,” but then you hit those awkward years and those comments stop. In my case, I hit the awkward years like a speeding car smashing into a concrete jersey wall. My legs were boney, my skin was pimply, and I wore thick glasses. On a good day, I was invisible. On a bad day, I was crying about how ugly I thought I looked.

Then, BAM! Almost as quickly as I hit ugly, I became a hot girl—thin, blonde, tan. My skin cleared up and I got contact lenses. I went from being ignored to getting more attention than I could handle. Does that sound familiar to you? Are you nodding in agreement? I think my friend probably had a similar experience because most little girls are adorable and most young women are attractive, but those in-between years can be brutal.

Mentally, those awkward years can linger, and most young women aren’t fully aware of how good looking they are. A few years ago, I found myself in a hotel lobby restroom with three women in their early twenties. As I adjusted my spanx under my cocktail dress and discovered a new chin hair to pluck, I could see them standing in front of a full length mirror examining themelves with a hyper-critical eye. “My hair is such a mess!” “I can never get my eye-liner straight.” “This dress makes my butt look huge.”

It was more than I could stand. Perhaps because I was newly in my forties and dealing with a post-partum blob of a body, I put on my best mom-voice and said, “Oh, please! Twenty years from now, you are going to find a picture that was taken tonight and you are going to be SHOCKED that you were ever this pretty. You are going to think, ‘I can’t believe I thought I had a big ass back when I was wearing a size 2.’” Yeah, and how do I know the middle-aged them will find a picture and think that? Because it happens to me all the time. If you are female and of-a-certain-age, it’s happened to you. I know it has.

Isn’t it all just part of a plan to propagate our species? Males are very visual, and so young fertile females are attractive. It’s a combination that leads to dating and finally mating. Yeah, I know I have reduced human-kind to an episode of Wild Kingdom, but we are mammals, and the desire to mate is second only to the desire to eat.

I didn’t meet my husband until I was 38, but still, if you were to ask him what he remembers about meeting me, he’ll tell you that it was my legs–not my easy laugh, my stellar table manners, or even my shining intellect that made him want to get better acquainted. It was the long, thin, shapely legs he saw peeking out from a slit in my skirt. When he admitted this to me, I commended him for his honesty, and in truth, I was more than a little flattered.

At 38, I was still what most people might consider “pretty enough for her age,” but those man-magnet  years in which men really noticed me—stepped out of their way for me, lit up when I entered a room, smiled, chirped, and treated me like a goddess—were waning. Definitely waning.  At my wedding, I’m sure more than one relative watched me walk down the aisle and thought, “Oh, thank God, she found someone before her looks were entirely shot.”

Now in my mid-forties (‘cuz you know I won’t call it late-forties until two days before my fiftieth birthday), I’m invisible—at least to men I don’t know. The other day while in Costco, a guy in his early twenties bumped into me and didn’t even pause to say “excuse me.” What a lout. His bad manners aside, that’s the sort of thing that would have never happened to me twenty years ago. He would have seen me because he would have been checking me out. Now, I look like his mom, or his mom’s friend, or a math teacher, but not the cute-young-just-finished-college teacher—I look more like the sick-of-kids, counting-down-to-retirement teacher.

I’m okay with being invisible. My worth as a human being goes way beyond what I see in the mirror or how many people tell me I’m pretty. I’m kind, smart, funny…and even if I didn’t have these less tangible, less celebrated qualities, the mere fact that I’m here tells me that I am of infinite value to God.  Just being created in God’s image is powerful—awesome powerful!

I want my daughter to know all this. Like all girls her age, she has been bombarded with positive comments about her looks. Yes, she is cute, pretty, beautiful, adorable, lovely, etc. and she knows it. I’ve done my best to make sure she knows that she is more than her good looks. When people have commented on her appearance, I have agreed, “Yes, she is gorgeous, and she also ___________.” I fill in the blank with whatever is appropriate at the time—“loves animals, is so smart, runs super-fast, is a wonderful big sister, tells the funniest jokes, helps take care of her grandma…”

She’s six-years-old. She looks so much like I did at her age that I already fear that she will hit that jersey wall of awkward in just a couple of years. I’m bracing myself for it. I don’t think it will be as devastating for her as it was for me because she was born the most confident, joyful person I have ever known. However, the less wrapped up she is in her personal appearance now, the less she will care when no one tells her that she is beautiful for twelve years. More importantly, she won’t have a hard time handling all the attention that awaits her on the other side of those awkward years. I don’t want her falling for the first guy who says she is pretty—if that’s all she is to him. And I don’t want her picking apart her appearance just because that’s what all young women do.

I want her to know that being attractive is nice. It’s the proverbial frosting on the cake. It’s not a defining quality or ever what is paramount. It’s not what lasts forever.

(Oh, and I stand corrected! My husband says it was a combination of my great legs and my knowledge of the blue crab that won him over. See? By the time you are in your late 30s, you really do have to be smart, too—or at the very least, know a lot about crustaceans.)

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One thought on “A Beauty History: From Cutie-Pie to Hot Chick to Invisible Woman

  1. Lisa

    Have you seen the Dove beauty sketches? You should definitely check it out. Women describe themselves to a forensic artist who can’t see them, and then someone they’ve met that same day describes them to the same artist. Worth the time to view. So worth it.

    Reply

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