Sometimes coincidences are too glaring to take lightly or to dismiss an opportunity not taken once before in almost a nod to Rip Van Winkle …an opportunity to share a lasting message about self-worth and image.
This 2014 winter in the north east had been cold and snowy and it reminded me greatly of a similar winter in 1994 where it uncannily snowed every Wednesday. If it was Wednesday there was invariably a 2 hour school delay or a full snow day. Likely I would have ordered a few lunch specials from the local Chinese restaurant which never turned down a request for delivery. Then I was housesitting for a church family and was mostly “stuck” in the house, cozy as it was, because I simply couldn’t go out in the snow and ice, and I wasn’t working.
Fast forward to 2014 and we had almost the same winter and snow patterns although the day of week differed as to when schools were delayed or closed. All these years later I have the added benefit of technology and social media to keep me entertained; I scrolled daily through Facebook updates and could not help but be confronted with endless posts about The Today Show anchors, specifically the female ones, being brave about going make up free on air. I found my hackles being raised the same way one feels the hair tingle on one’s arm in an alarming way that reminded me of 20 years ago. I dug out my “never-did-anything-with-these-writings folder and found the following letter I wrote to Oprah Winfrey on February 21, 1994 with intent to send this essay written the summer before at a writing workshop:
“HOW TO LOOK LIKE A COSMO GIRL.”
– click –
“SIX SISTERS OUT TO MAKE A CHANGE LATER TODAY ON DONAHUE.”
IT’S A BEAUTY MAKEOVER
– click –
“WANT TO LOOK LIKE A MILLION WITH NEW CLOTHES? WATCH OUR SPECIAL
– click –
“TIRED OF THE SAME OLD YOU? WANT A CHANGE? SEE WHAT THREE WOMEN
DID. WATCH OPRAH THIS AFTERNOON.”
One reading today perhaps would ask “Who’s Donahue?” but Miss Winfrey would still be known and I believe Cosmo, as in Cosmopolitan, is still a go-to in print magazine for all things women’s issues – focused mostly on fashion and beauty. Yet isn’t it a shame that the same topic aggravates me? That this is still an issue and subject of morning talk show segments and countless magazine articles, both on line and off?
With the age of social media and new tech advances, beauty can be very easily distorted with body sculpting tricks or facial enhancements. 20 years may have passed since my original essay but the topic remains basically the same …how does Society define beauty and is its mainstream definition false?
More from the never-seen-the-light-of-printed-anything now dog-eared, stained essay:
I try very hard not to let myself fall into the quicksand pit of self-doubt and increasing self-consciousness over not being able to measure up to the impossible standards society and commercialism set. I would love so very much to be “made over”.
But my mistakes aren’t solely those of the wrong color eye shadow, poor fashion sense or an unflattering hair cut (although I have also erred in those areas). My “mistakes” are more complicated and they can’t be fixed.
Using the medical lingo of my doctors, I was born with physical deformities of the upper and lower extremities, that is, of the arms and legs. The official medical diagnosis is “Diastrophic Dwarfism”. My abnormally developed legs, feet, arms and hands are attached to an otherwise normal looking torso. But, I lack proportion. Reaching out in a curve, my arms and hands together measure approximately 11. My fingers are short, stub-like and are unable to curl into a fist. My legs and feet together are shorter than two feet and are not rigid enough to support my 75 pound body for walking or standing. I do walk however, with the aid of straight, unbending prosthetics that fit over my own legs, like casts. With my “legs” on, I stand approximately 4’6″. With the “legs” off I sit on the floor, no taller than 3 feet, and look similar to an oversized baby who scoots to move about.
Being masochistic, I watch these talk shows that show beauty fashion, exercise, etc., make-overs. The producers always find an average, everyday housewife, or a typical career woman who isn’t quite “hip”. In less than an hour, the chosen woman has a new hair-do, new clothes, and new make-up. The audience then “oohs” and “ahs” and claps over the transformation, the “after” after the “before”. If it were only so easy.
(Oh and for truthfulness’ sake, I am no longer 75 pounds)
I generally don’t watch morning shows anymore but every now and again, and against my better judgment, I watch KLG and Hoda’s Ambush Plaza Makeovers on Thursdays. And just the term makeover is disconcerting …make over …as if something is inherently wrong with what already is … and that which cannot be changed … no liposuction, no facelift, no anything save perhaps the longed for but still unavailable 1970s TV fantasy of bionic legs and arms.
Now, while I know that blog posts are not supposed to be advertisements for any brand I do appreciate the message of one body care line’s campaign for “real beauty” as well as a German department store’s use of mannequins modeled after real people with varying kinds of body conditions/disabilities. I also applaud a college classmate Cynthia Wade’s recent short documentary entitled “Selfie” debuted at Sundance Film Festival to challenge teen girls and their mothers self image beliefs. (Of all ironies, I cannot take selfies myself because my short arms can’t reach out far enough to hold and snap a picture with a hand-held phone or iPad camera.)
Too late now for regrets but I wish I had been brave enough to send the excerpted letter to Miss Winfrey on February 21st, 1994 when I typed it:
Sometimes, it may be hard to believe, but I forget that I’m different…but at other times, usually in social situations I’m all too painfully aware at how different I look. I wish I could be beautiful and turn the head of a man. I wish that people would expect that I would have a boyfriend or a husband someday, not that it’s out of the realm of possibility. …
2014 Best Supporting Actress Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o was chosen as People’s Most Beautiful Woman for this year …a nod that beauty can come in all nationalities. Also, in reading her bio, Nyong’o wrote, produced and directed a documentary about the treatment of albinos in her family’s homeland of Kenya – another group that is targeted for ridicule for a DNA malfunction beyond personal control. Miss Nyong’o’s mother’s message to her that she was beautiful was a gift and should be a message all young girls receive worldwide.
Twenty years later and I do believe, society’s attitudes towards differences – whether appearances, race, and disabilities are changing if slowly though. And I don’t believe notes like the one in my hospital birth records stating “No pictures to be taken of this baby” would happen anymore …I hope not anyway. My biological parents apparently could not handle a non-looking “normal” baby though I had the usual requisite 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Women and girls especially around the world are subject to discrimination based on simply their second X chromosome (China’s society’s high value on sons for example) but add any kind of difference and much hardship can follow.
Can Social Media help change the persisting “definitions” of mainstream beauty of a size 4 body, light skin or long flowing hair?
Can words and experiences like mine also help? I hope so.