Beautiful, and…

As a girl, my hair was not the color of Barbie’s.  My eyes were not the color of Barbie’s.  My boobs were not… they were just… not.  Moreover, I didn’t walk around on my tip toes all the time.

Barbie was everywhere.  My friends had Barbie.  Barbie was on the TV.  I wanted to be Barbie.  Barbie WAS BEAUTIFUL.  One of my favorite shows growing up was The Facts Of Life, and Blair was the pretty one – she looked like Barbie.

As I got older, I tried to cling less to the image of Barbie, knowing that it was impossible to change my ethnicity.  I was a ballet dancer, thin as a rail, and had fairly clear skin.  As a teenager, I started to feel beautiful because people around me told me I was.  I was also lucky enough to have the body type that qualified as a “hanger” and began modeling, and walking the runways at a young age.

I was given ridiculous amounts of money to show up and be beautiful.  And if I wasn’t beautiful, I was sent home.  My outsides were worth a lot.  The travel and the money – it was a tremendous opportunity, and I am grateful for it.  I didn’t realize the impact it would have on my self worth until later.

After high school I went to a performing arts college, and felt confident in the talents that got me there.  The very first day we had to do monologues in front of the freshman class.  A boy, who later became a very close friend, said to me that day,

I’m sure your monologue was very good, but I was too busy looking at your legs to hear a word you said.

Later, I went to work professionally as an actress.  A director once said to me,

When you first step out on stage, just stand there – don’t speak for five whole seconds.  The audience needs time to look at you, because they’re not going to expect you to have something to say.

There are many times when I feel I’ve surprised people with something to say.

The word “beautiful” has made me feel special.

“Beautiful” has made me feel privileged.

“Beautiful” has made me feel hated.

“Beautiful” has made me feel small.

When we tell our daughters they’re beautiful, what are we really saying?

The words that we often use to describe our little girls are “pretty”, “cute”, “beautiful”, “gorgeous”.  I got the message early on that what people liked about me was on the outside.  Society and the media have told me, and the women around me, what is “beautiful” and what is not.  Then the finger gets pointed, and we are told who gets to have “beauty” and who doesn’t.  The box is a tiny one, and you either fit inside it or you don’t.  Throughout my life, I’ve felt beautiful… then not enough… then beautiful… then not.

Being tall wasn’t enough because I wanted blonde hair.  Being skinny wasn’t enough, because I needed bigger breasts.  My environment taught me that i would probably never be enough.  No matter what skin color, hair color, weight, or bust size – if you’re a woman,  your self esteem has taken many hits because of your appearance.  It will never be enough because we can’t fill the inside with the outside.

Yes, it’s a problem that most women we see in magazines do not represent the common body type.  Yes, it’s a problem that “beauty” is being defined by people who want to sell us things. Yes, we need a re-definition of beauty… a real-definition of beauty.

But it’s more than that.  The small problem is that we’re being bombarded as women with what “beautiful” is.  The bigger problem is that we’re being taught it is all.  The value placed on the outward appearance is disproportionate.  It’s also heinously limiting as a woman.  It effects how we see ourselves, it effects how society sees us, and it effects how the men in our lives see us.

A woman’s voice carries less weight in law making than her breasts do in the selling of liquor.  Limiting women to their outsides is the first step in objectifying them.  That leads to taking away their voices, and taking away their choices – the current war on women is proof of that.  I also believe this mode of thinking is what can lead to the dehumanization of women – to violence against women.

Beautiful is not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be.  Every woman wants to feel attractive.  As I sit here, with my face scarred from postpartum/adult acne, and my extra belly skin flapping in the wind, I wouldn’t mind hearing the word beautiful.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use the word.  I’m saying we should watch how we use the word.  I’m also saying we should build on it.

Every girl wants to be told they’re beautiful.  Every girl is.  They are also more.

I encourage you to tell the daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives in your life that they are beautiful.

But I challenge you to consistently tell them they are beautiful, AND…



Because being born female shouldn’t be so limiting.



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Comments (29)

  • Alison@Mama Wants This 10 years ago Reply

    You are beautiful and a talented writer and kick ass.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Dre 10 years ago Reply

    You are beautiful AND hilarious AND a great mommy! My daughter, Kaia, just told me that she is changing her name to “Barbie.” She is FOUR.

  • JulieVK 10 years ago Reply

    I did not know you were beautiful. I only knew that you took your life and turned it into poetry for us.

    Kim Rullo 10 years ago Reply

    Well said. Both of your post and what Julie VK commented. You were always lovely in presence, but you are beautiful because of how you have honestly let yourself unfold before us. I have much respect and admiration of who you are. Getting to know you through these blogs has been an inspiration.

    Jenni Chiu 10 years ago Reply

    Best comment ever.
    Thank you.

  • Zero 10 years ago Reply

    I’ve always found the word “beautiful” to be too generalized, and therefore unbelievable when it is heard. Pick something specific that makes a girl attractive in her own right.

  • Mama Bear 10 years ago Reply

    You are beautiful and an all around badass mofo… Though not necessarily in that order.

  • A very brave and … beautiful … piece.

    Thank you for writing it.

  • This post made me catch my breath. Thank you for writing it. You are beautiful and an amazing writer/story teller and brave and funny and pretty damn bad ass.

  • This piece is beautiful!

  • Venus 10 years ago Reply

    Lovely. And so so so true. I really don’t know what you look like (because I haven’t bothered to google you on the internets, what kind of stalker am I?). However, I find your words beautiful, AND provocative, and inspiring, and silly (in the good way), and energizing. You’re right that the AND is maybe what we should be concentrating on the most!

    Jenni Chiu 10 years ago Reply

    Ha… you totally fail in the stalker department. Actually, you might not find much because I write under a different name than I had before. In fact, the first year of blogging I was completely anonymous.
    Clearly not anymore. Wanna come over for pie?

  • imperfectmomma 10 years ago Reply

    So true. I used to ask my husband why he loved me and I wanted to hear “Cause you are so beautiful”. Now that we are married? I want him to say cause I’m funny. Well, he says goofball, I’ll take it.

  • Jessica 10 years ago Reply

    This is beautiful! I love this! I think it’s unfortunate that our society places such a premium on how women look rather than what they can do. My daughters? I hope to emphasize the doing part. I hope to raise them to see their abilities to be smart, compassionate, and confident as most beautiful.

  • Lee 10 years ago Reply

    About a year ago, I started calling my daughter “gorgeous” as a simple habit (I also call my son handsome, as in “Hey, Handsome!”

    As I watched my daughter become more aware of beauty ideals, I defined gorgeous for her, as I mean it when I say it to her: gorgeous mind, gorgeous heart, gorgeous guts, and, yes, gorgeous smile.

    I’m still not sure she buys my definition, which makes me feel like calling her “gorgeous” is only reinforcing the looks-obsession she’s already picking up on. So I’ve tried to stop calling her “gorgeous”, and simply return to calling her “Bub.”

    She’s 5.

  • Alexandra/The Empress 10 years ago Reply

    So very honest.

    It takes courage and confidence to write this way because we are told it’s wrong to acknowledge, admit publicly that we are attractive.

    It’s almost as if “hush…don’t tempt the gods.” You’ve been blessed with attractiveness, so you can’t have more gifts than that.

    So sad…because it’s part of who we are, and we are made to feel guilty about it. And to celebrate it, casts us in a poor light.

    Very courageous post.

  • Debi 10 years ago Reply

    You, my friend ,are so much more than a pretty face. You are a beautiful soul, a pulchritudinous heart, a free spirit and an intelligence that both challenges me and encourages so many. Your words transcend emotion. You are beautiful on the way you love your boys, care for your friends and speak your mind .You are amazing and inspiring in your constant bravery and raw honesty and I feel blessed to call
    You my friend:) xo Rock on with your bad self

  • Marta 10 years ago Reply

    I loved this. You are beautiful inside and out. And I can’t wait for my daughter to wake up so I can tell her so, even if she won’t know yet the importance of it. I’ll keep telling her so until one day she does. But I won’t stop then either.

  • BEAUTIFUL post. Loved every word. And oh-so-right about it all. It’s ok to want to feel beautiful. We all do. But I strongly feel that most people are more beautiful when they’re beautiful on the inside too. It shines through. Some of the most “beautiful” people I know are some of the ugliest people I know too. You know?

  • Joe 9 years ago Reply

    Interesting post. The word beautiful is in itself opinion. It doesn’t need to be defined because everyone has a different standard. It in itself doesn’t have any worth. What does “beautiful” get you? Is it a compliment? Most times yes. Is it a commodity? A portion of your career you proved that a fact too. But by what standard? Some career paths, it may be a hindrance due to jealousy and stereotype. In different scenarios it can mean different things. For example, in your article you reference how show business and marketing mean it as “marketable”.

    However, if I give a compliment that someone is “beautiful”, it is about my individual views of what “beautiful” means which includes but is not limited to physical beauty, personality, and morality (there are good looking and personable people that I find “ugly” because you can not trust them). Despite corporate imaging, I typically do not find super models as beautiful. It is too fake and unrealistic. The great thing about this is you do not have to agree with my definition, you come up with your own meaning.

    Corporations are always going to try to tell us what to think, believe, and feel. All in the name of making a bit of money. Fortunately we have no need to listen to them.

    Jenni Chiu 9 years ago Reply

    I absolutely agree that beauty is a matter of opinion. Though many people’s idea of beauty encompasses more than just the physical – it doesn’t mean the person receiving the compliment knows or believes that. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the message a lot of young girls are getting is that the physical is the most important.
    Perhaps expanding or building upon our physical compliments can help change that.
    Glad that you chose to form your own opinions despite the media bombardment.

  • Dixie 9 years ago Reply

    Besides curse words, we have three words not allowed in our house — Stupid, Hate, and Fat. My 8 year old says she doesn’t like her booty because of the way it ‘sticks out there.’ (sorry, hun, it’s not going away) I’ve also caught her pinching her “fat.” She already worries about her body image, not obsessively, but it is there. She. Is. Eight.(!!!) And we are very careful; when I go on a diet, I don’t talk about it (or if I do, we discuss eating healthy to feel better or how mommas sometimes gain healthy fat when they are pregnant), I don’t complain about my too-tight jeans in front of her, and we have had too many discussions to count on how different people are all beautiful in different ways and as long as we take care of ourselves we will be our most outwardly beautiful selves. I’ve taken her on a photoshoot or two, but they are ones that she knew the people involved and she thought it was just really fun dress-up haha.

    I finally admitted to myself that this body image issue would only become more prevalent as she gets older, and instead of just putting a ‘you are beautiful’ bandaid over it we have started exercising together and discussing the ways different foods affect your body and mind. I’m trying to teach her how to keep her body in a healthy, confident manner rather than have her try to figure it out on her own later. But we don’t talk about excercise and eating right as being thin, or beautiful or anything, we just talk about being healthy and fit.
    Of course, all this is fit in between going to museums, reading books, and playing word puzzles together; because she is scary smart. We try to praise her mostly for working hard on things, but we fall in the ‘you’re so pretty’ trap sometimes.

    This world scares the crap out of me when it comes to my daughter.

  • Ali 9 years ago Reply

    My daughter is really beautiful. I think so and so do the people who stop us all the time to tell us…however, she’s getting to the point where she is falling back on “beautiful.” I focus on smart, funny and special. And you: You’re smart, beautiful and engaging.

  • Sharni 9 years ago Reply

    I have only seen your avatar in the physical sense and sure, you are physically beautiful. But I do believe we aren’t bodies that have a soul – we are souls that have a body, your beautiful soul dances all over this blog with your honesty, vulnerability and humor. That right there is beauty!! I am about to become Mother of a little girl and that scares the hell out of me for so many reasons that you have touched upon here, I have a feeling I’m in for lots of lessons on what beauty really means soon.

  • Sharni 9 years ago Reply

    ps – I am much more ‘beautiful’ than my avatar – although at the moment it is eerily accurate

  • Alex@LateEnough 9 years ago Reply

    Sometimes I wish we would make beautiful less powerful. Instead of beautiful being something everyone was, extreme beauty was more like dunking a basketball. Cool to see. No big deal if you can’t.
    Or if that’s too extreme, at least defined “model beautiful” and being attractive as different.
    (I wrote this whole post on the idea –can’t BELIEVE no one has made it happen yet. Slackers.)

  • c.c. 9 years ago Reply

    beautiful AND … clever? insightful? talented? pick the one you like the best and go with it. :] and i’m tweeting this because it is just that awesome!

  • So true…when I’m approaching little girls, I always talk with them about how smart they are or how funny they are. It just holds more weight. Then again, I don’t want anyone feeling “ugly” either b/c everyone is so hyper-aware of this stuff.

    I’m proud that my daughter calls her Garbie…she is Garbie…

  • Natalie 9 years ago Reply

    I spent my entire childhood and adolescence being told how beautiful I was, how lucky I was that God blessed with me such good looks. And like you’re director told you, most people were shocked at not only the fact that I had something to say, but that most often it was intelligent. People saw the big chest and automatically assumed small brain.
    Now that I’m a mother with a daughter more beautiful than I ever imagined to be, she’s also hearing how adorable/cute/pretty she is. But at home, we focus on what’s inside. I’m teaching not only her, but her older brothers as well, that beauty is only skin deep. What truly matters is what’s inside. How does a person carry themself? How do they treat other people? Because I want my daughter to know that about herself, but I also don’t want my son’s judging others based simply on outer beauty.

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