I can be very shallow. By this I mean that I notice people’s appearance and judge them for it. I am sad and ashamed about this, but I was raised by a very shallow person, and it’s hard to turn off the tapes I heard throughout my entire childhood.
My mother was obsessed with outward appearances. Part of this, I believe, was because she was very beautiful and got a lot of attention and positive feedback because of it. Her own self-worth was based entirely upon her beauty, which was a shame, because she was also very intelligent. As she aged, like everyone else, her looks changed. This was very hard for her to endure. She would talk a lot about how doctors were amazed when they saw the birthdate on her chart, because they couldn’t believe she was 50 (for example), telling her she looked no older than 35. This was very important to her – this affirmation that she didn’t look her age.
She used to joke that I “gave her away” when we went anywhere together, because as the oldest of her three children, I was evidence that she was of a certain age. She was 24 when I was born, so when she was 50, I was 26. She would not be able to successfully pass for 35 or 40 with me hanging around, could she? She said this often. It was a joke, to be sure, but the message was, “It’s more important to me to look young than to acknowledge you as my daughter.”
As she got older, her ability to hear diminished. She was too vain to wear hearing aids, of course, so even though she owned them, she didn’t wear them. The problem was that she didn’t realize other people could hear just fine. So if we were out shopping at the mall, she would say in a very loud voice, “Can you believe what that woman is wearing? She actually paid good money for that ridiculous outfit!” I tried to tell her that everyone could hear her, but that would inevitably make her angry with me, so I stopped. She could be very hurtful in her comments, and they were all based on the other person’s appearance.
So, witnessing this all of my life and knowing how inappropriate it is, you would think I wouldn’t be that way. I WISH I weren’t that way. I TRY not to be that way. But there I am, watching the Golden Globe Awards, making comments about everyone’s choice of clothing. OK, I know, a lot of people watch the Golden Globes and other awards show just for that purpose (hello, Joan Rivers!) but it’s mean-spirited and rude.
Then I was talking to my 19-year-old son about a young woman he met at school, and I asked him if he thought she was hot. NOT “Is she nice?” “Is she smart?” “Is she interesting?” No – I immediately chose the appearance card. Even HE seemed shocked. What sort of example have I set for my children?
I spend way too much time googling actors to see if I can prove they are wearing a hairpiece or if they had plastic surgery. I really want to know! Why?? Who cares?
Of course the flip side of this is that I, like my mother before me, believe that other people are just as nasty and judgmental about me. It makes me self-conscious and inhibits me in every aspect of life. It causes me to be very mean to myself and beat myself up internally all the time.
There was a movie called “Shallow Hal” that came out in 2001, which I refused to see because I knew it was about an obese woman, and I assumed it would be all jokes at her expense. When I finally watched it, it was an absolutely wonderful story with a great lesson. The titular Shallow Hal was a guy who liked only beautiful women, until inspirational speaker Tony Robbins hypnotized him into seeing only the inner beauty in women. So Shallow Hal fell in love with Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, because he didn’t see her fatness, only her inner beauty. It’s both funny and poignant at the same time.
[It’s regrettable that the definition of “not beautiful” in this movie had to equal “overweight,” but it was accurate, in that the last minority group that people can mock with impunity is people who are overweight. Notice that while so many formerly popular joke topics are now considered inappropriate, and rightfully so (stereotypes about ethnic groups, people with diseases and mental challenges, etc.), no one has stopped mocking fat people for one minute. Hahaha. I don’t think it’s funny.]
But while I loved and appreciated the lesson in “Shallow Hal,” it has not helped me to overcome my own shallowness. Even though I grew up believing girls could do anything boys could do, it was also abundantly clear that pretty girls could do more than non-pretty girls. I wish this were not the case, because it certainly is not true for males.
Fellow moms, what do you think? Did you grow up with this message implanted in your brain? Do you try to avoid sending these shallow messages to your kids? Is there any way, given our inherently shallow and appearance-obsessed society, that we can change the next generation’s value system?