My Darling Girls,
I know - it's been way too long, and suddenly, I have all these things I want to tell you about.
First - let's start with you guys. Izz - you are a few weeks shy of 9 years old and in the fourth grade. You are absolutely beautiful, with big, blue eyes, and long, long brown hair. You have fair skin and a gorgeous smile. Since you were a baby, you've had the best sense of humor, and we laugh together lots. You are in an advanced reading group at school - wow! You've come so far, and books have become your sustenance - a thing I greatly admire in you. Your favorite musicians are Pentatonix, and Linsey Stirling. You hum or sing often when you think no one is listening. I love you.
Sophia - you are a month from turning the big 7! Remember when you promised to be my little girl always? Well, you broke your promise but I don't mind. You have a mischievous and joyful smile that brightens the world and everyone around you. You are a very responsible little girl when it comes to homework and doing things "the right way". You are musical too and sing in the shower at the top of your lungs - something that makes me so very happy. You're very snuggly, and even though you don't fit into the crook of my arm the way you used to, you take your spot there just like you did when you were tiny two. Snuggle time with you is my favorite!
So, it's 2014. We survived a flood last year of the basement of our home. Obama is still President of the United States. (I'm hoping for Hillary Clinton as our next, and first woman, president.) The Internet and technology continue to be huge factors in the way our lives operate. And that brings me to what I want to say to you today.
By the time you are adults, you won't be able to believe much of what you see with your own two eyes, and if we continue the way we are now, it's going to be very confusing. Even your old mom gets schnookered by it every so often - and I should know better!
About two years ago, I started wanting my eyelashes to look fuller. Why? Well, I'm getting older and my lashes aren't growing like they used to. They are getting a little sparse, and putting too much mascara on them just makes me look like I stuck spiders onto my eyes. I kept seeing friends and people on media with these gorgeous, full, impossibly long lashes, and I wanted that, too. Every magazine I opened, every TV show I watched, would have these beautiful women with perfect eyes. And, it wasn't just the eyes - it was the silky smooth hair, the perfect snow-white teeth, the poreless skin, and the perfect photos of all of this, that got me wanting to change what I saw in the mirror.
I'm smart enough to know that women have plastic surgery to keep them taught and firm. I also know there are teeth whiteners, skin brighteners, thigh tighteners (otherwise known as SPANX). I know there are skincare doctors, and makeup artists, brilliant photographers and lighting specialists. I know there are custom-made gowns to perfect flaws, and I also know that much of what we see in print is altered.
What I didn't realize, is that I still get sucked into the fantasy that women should look a certain way, and to do so, they just had to use the right cosmetics, work out more often, have a specific style, and all the right hair tools. I thought that the women I see in media were the "real" ones and that I was just a pale, awkward, unbeautiful and unlucky person.
Anyway - I tried fake lashes, at least for stage performances, and I liked them. You could tell they were fake, but if they kept me from looking like a ghost on stage, I really didn't care. But after wearing them a few times, my real lashes just seemed to disappear. Some of my friends had long, lush, lashes, so I thought - maybe a different mascara? That didn't work.
Soooo...I decided to go have lash extensions. Lash extensions are fake lashes that are glued, long-term, onto your lashes. I'd seen a few people with them, and they looked pretty good, and I figured it was worth not having to put mascara on, so I paid the nice lady at the window, and closed my eyes for the procedure.
When I opened my eyes again, with a mirror in front of my face, I was pretty sure the gal had stuck spiders to my eyes. No - seriously - they were plasticky, black spikey things with globs of black glue at the lash line. Since I had seen some people with gorgeous lash extensions, I tried to tell myself I was supposed to look like my eyes preceded me by four feet. But, no. It was just a hack job. I spent hours the next evening with a bottle of lash-remover (basically, acetone) and eventually had to cut them out. I was embarrassed and angry with myself.
After that experience, for awhile, I figured maybe those women with the gorgeous lashes really did just have great lashes, and I was just born a poor, lashless child. My pores started looking bigger in the mirror. My acne scars were uglier. My teeth were browner. It was depressing. I found myself studying celbrity photographs again, and all the people around me that just seemed to be blessed with perfection. What was it that they were doing that made them look so perfect?
Around this same time, I became obsessed with French manicures, and tried a bunch of different at-home and salon treatments to get that look. Needless to say, my perfectly manicured nails still had deep ridges with uneven edges - each one its own little snowflake, with it's own personality. Again, I was miffed that, even though I had long considered my hands to be my greatest asset, that next to the modern-day manicure, mine looked like I had worked in a coal mine no matter how much fussing I did. It was summertime, and I had just seen a woman walking around with perfect French manicured toenails - no ridges, each one perfectly painted, each nail perfectly rounded the same, each one shiny and new looking. Why couldn't my manicurist do that? Worse yet - why wouldn't my nails just cooperate and look like that?
I happened to be at the drugstore that week, and went to the manicure aisle to see what nail-perfecting products they had. Low and behold - right there at the cosmetics counter - were the toenails of the woman I had seen earlier. No - seriously! There was a little rectangular package with perfectly manicured toenails and a bottle of glue. I though, "Noooo...that can't be it! I've tried fake nails before! They look like...well, fake nails." So I quickly bought them, took them home and applied them.
And behold...I had that woman's toenails on my toenails and they looked just like hers. And, they were PERFECT! Go figure.
In retrospect, being the reasonably intelligent person that I am, and having had experience using Photoshop to makes things appear brighter and better than they were, you think I would have known better. You would think that after years of blowing off salespeople who tried to tell me their products was erase my pores, make me look flawless, or tell me I look fantastic in red, I would have known that people just outright lie when they want to make money. But, no. There I was, bombarded with media images, still thinking that there was something I should be doing to make myself look like Kim Kardashian.
For several years now, the secret is out that most of the photographs we see online and in print, are fakes. Photoshop can make skin appear flawless, stretch eyelashes, erase cellulite, perform miracles that blob on the inside of your thighs, smooth your hair, whiten your teeth, and put you against a background you've never seen in your life with a man who you've never met. You can find all sorts of examples of before and after shots of actresses who have been photoshopped within an inch of their lives to look "perfect". I hope that, any time you guys start feeling like you aren't enough or have some flaw in your skin or hair, you go look at those shots and see just how fake media really is. I'll also add that, if you have a partner, make sure he or she knows the difference, as well.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to look beautiful. You will run across things to "dress up" in that will make you feel like a million bucks. I'm OK with you having your teeth straightened, and taking medication if you end up with the bad skin that I had. I will support you to do those things, if you want to do them. Make no mistake, though - I also hope I can somehow demonstrate to you that there is beauty in so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with flawless perfection, and that there is absolutely no way to achieve physical perfection for yourself, or for anyone else.
Over the past few years, I've taken a really hard look at what I thought I wanted to look like. I still would love to erase the years that resulted in my face being pitted and scarred. I'd also love to fix a few other imperfections on my body. BUT - I started really looking at my friends and acquaintences. I started to study photographs of people who weren't airbrushed against photographs that were. And, you know what I found? The beautful untouched faces around me were not as perfect as I thought - but they are, in fact, beautiful.
Now - I will tell you that I did eventually find a type of medicine that helps your lashes to grow longer, and as of this writing, I use it. It looks natural. I still have to wear mascara, but not as much as I used to. And, while they aren't as black or perfect as the pictures I've seen - I'm OK with not looking like that.
I challenge you girls to look hard at the people you think are beautiful. Study them not just for the parts that are dressed up and polished, but also for the parts that don't draw your eye. Really study the thighs of that bikini beauty against the thighs of the girls you see around you and ask yourself - does anyone really have a 3-inch gap there? Don't get so numb to the media around you that you forget that perfection is not beauty. Develop for yourselves an appreciation for true beauty - the sparkle in the eye, the joyful smile, the eloquence of speech, the intelligence of the mind.
I love you both so very much,