“In the grand scheme of things, you’re only pretty for a second. So, you’d better back it up with something.”
That’s what I told my daughters when they were teens in attempts to keep their vanity in check.
I’m currently living in that transitional stage — going from beauty to what I’ve backed it up with. I’m 47 years old. Vanity is a tough fight and physical beauty, in the way that our youth-valued society defines it, is an easy distraction. Adolescents forget they should be learning who they are, discovering their passions and honing their emotional intellect.
The conviction to age gracefully and actually watching age tug at me are two different things. As a mother, I must confront these feelings and know where I stand if I truly want to be a living example for my children. That’s not an easy feat when vanity creeps in through advertisements from every crack and corner. Makeup to conceal, pushups to strengthen and pushup bras to keep it all in its proper place: those are our culture’s expectations.
I don’t believe it has to be all or nothing. I wear makeup when I want to. Just because I encourage my kids to focus on their character doesn’t mean I forbid them to enjoy their beauty. All points on the spectrum are worth celebrating. My girls enjoy a day in heels and the persona that makeup can enhance. My son also likes to wear his hair a certain way. But I don’t want it to be their source of self-worth.
The commitment to being a good human is much more important than the color coordination of one’s wardrobe and the smoochability of cherry blast lip balm. The constant judgment surrounding a superficial value system relies on desperate attempts to cling to an ideal that cannot be sustained.
As a child, I lived across the street from my aunt. I spent equal parts of my time in both houses, playing with my cousins. Once, I had to use the bathroom while my aunt was in the bath. It was a one-bathroom home, and I was maybe 5 years old. No shower meant no shower curtain. My feet dangled from my seat, not touching the floor, and I watched her bathe.
Her heavy breasts lay on her belly. She lifted each one to wash underneath. I was shocked by the size of them and couldn’t imagine growing breasts so large that I would have to lift them up to wash what was beneath. I hoped that such a deformity would never happen to me. But after 47 years of gravity and breastfeeding my children, it is me.
It happens to all of us, in one way or another. Yet, to point out a woman’s age or that she looks old is considered taboo or an insult. Some fight age to expensive, delusional ends. I’ve decided to instead look forward to being an old lady. It sure beats the alternative. Nobody wins the battle against age. It’s our one collective destiny. The only way to prevent aging is to die young.
Did I always have this conviction? No. It took me having children to want everyone to see my kids as I see them. I expect them to understand that they decide how to live their lives. In the end, it all comes down to our life experiences. Why spend too much of our precious time fretting in front of a mirror? We can make meaningful memories and connections instead. This means that I have to challenge the vain mindset and reject the marketing that tells me I’m not good enough … young enough … pretty enough.
Do my kids love me because they think I’m attractive? No, and it’s not what I want to be remembered for, either. My goal is to cultivate my talents, underscore my character and to fall into this season of substance — gracefully.
— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at email@example.com, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.