Saturday, January 19, 2008

"A whole new beginning . . . "

Just an addendum to today's post. I'm sitting here surfing through the channels, and happened to land on "Extreme Makeover," where they take people with serious physical problems and do plastic surgery, etc. to improve their looks. One of the people on this show is an African-American woman in her mid-thirties who has an extremely large nose and lips, and while she still wants to retain her ethnicity, she wanted to improve her looks. It struck me while listening to her talk about the torture that school was (and boy, can I relate to that!) she made a comment that she wanted to go to college, but after the hell that high school was, she didn't want to expose herself to any more ridicule. Now this woman wasn't hideous; she wasn't pretty but truly she wasn't "ugly" per se. How awful that she deprived herself of an education because people were so cruel to her. She described her experience on the makeover show as "a whole new beginning."

It just goes to show how much emphasis this society puts on outward appearance, and how crippling it can be to not be "acceptable looking." Even though this woman got married and has six kids, and her husband obviously loves her no matter what, she still feels that she needs to be "fixed." Watching the tears on her face as she talked about her painful experience in high school at the hands of her peers, it made me so sad that as a society, we put so much emphasis on appearance.

For instance, we finally have a female presidential candidate, and as much as I disagree with her politics and I pray to GOD she doesn't get elected; it distresses me to no end that all the media can talk about is her looks -- that she looks bitchy, mean, like a ball buster; they talk about her clothes, her hair, her lack of range of emotion -- they don't say that about the male candidates! Never -- not even once!!

I really don't watch this show very often, but I did happen to catch it last weekend, and there was a woman in there who graduated from college and was too afraid to interview for jobs because she was "too ugly." How sad is that?!? She was homely but not hideous, and to me what would make her not stand out in an interview, was her obvious lack of self confidence. Somehow, this woman thought that she was not valuable, despite her skills and her education, because she wasn't beautiful.

That does not speak well of our society.

Does she not deserve to make as much money or have the same job as someone who was attractive? Of course she does! So does she lack confidence because we as a society have made her feel not valued as a human being because she wasn't beautiful? Or is it something within herself that told her she wasn't as valuable because she wasn't beautiful? I would have to think that her internal dialogue was a result of her external appearance and society's reaction to her based on her appearance. I guess that's why plastic surgeons make millions in the U.S.

How sad.

I have first-hand experience with exactly how cruel kids can be in school. Even as far back as 5th grade, I remember being teased, and kids making fun of me. All my life I've been tall, and gawky, and my mother dressed me funny. Now, I know my mother loves me, and loved me then, but truly she might has well have sewn a big giant target on my back, because she wouldn't allow me to be stylish. She has no idea what this did to me in school. To her, stylish meant "not wholesome." My parents tried to keep me innocent, and while their intentions were good, it made me naïve and unsophisticated; totally unprepared for being out in the world, especially when I was 18 years old and going to college. I was such a babe in the woods. It was like throwing a baby into the lion's den. Whew!

But truly the worst thing was Jr. High. I was 5'8" in the 8th grade; I wore glasses, I wore unstylish, dorky clothes (when I was in jr. high, mini skirts and go-go boots were stylish), I had curly hair in an era when Marcia Brady hair was "in," I was geeky and didn't know how to be "cool." I was a geek and a dork. The behaviors and activities that my family had were ridiculed in jr. high. For instance, we were nice to each other and liked to play games. Apparently this was dorky. It was torture. I remember having the popular boys passing me in the hallways and hissing "freak" and "spaz" at me as they passed by. It was horrid. The snickering, the whispering behind the hands. There is nothing -- nothing -- crueler than Jr. High girls. The worst thing? Is when they would pretend to be my friend, and being the naive one, I would believe that they really wanted to be nice to me. Of course it was all a ruse, so they could pull some trick on me, or get me to stay or do something geeky so they could use it to make fun of me. For months. Sometimes I wonder how I survived.

And I did survive -- but not without psychological scars. For years I've tried to pretend that the cruelty in those years didn't matter -- but that, coupled with other issues I've had to deal with, makes me to this day feel unworthy. And this is what I want to work on with some therapy.

So, as much as these shows help people, it also helps peretuate the myth that you have to be beautiful to be acceptable.

And that is the saddest thing of all.