Who is Beautiful?

It happens at the beginning of each month. I hear the metal close on the mailbox and rush outside and open it up, just to get my hands on that fresh copy of Anne ja Stiil. It’s been sent from Tallinn and addressed to me, sealed in a white envelope. Terrific! I tear open the envelope and hold the soft glossy paper in my hands. What follows has become a ritual. I first flip to my column to see what parts have been edited out of the final product. Then I skim the rest of the magazine, sometimes glancing at headlines, but mostly to just check out the women.

The ladies on the cover are quite attractive, often to an extreme. I found one recent cover so riveting that I had to hide the magazine away under some old newspapers, just so I could go about my daily business of dressing children and tending to the wood-heated furnaces without getting distracted. I won’t disclose the name of the woman though, not just to leave you guessing, but because I know that the moment I hold her up as some example of beauty, most of you will start thinking bad things about her.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed with most of my female friends. As soon as I ever made a remark about the virtues of another female, they sharpened their spears. “She’s an idiot,” “she’s crazy,” “she’s so fake,” “she’s a nasty bitch,” and, the absolute worst, “she thinks that she’s so pretty but she’s really not.” Ouch. Whatever happened to solidarity? Whatever happened to sisters doing it for themselves? It seems that the competition to be seen as beautiful can be quite fierce. It is as if beauty gives a woman her value, and perhaps it is true. My mother was a slender model in the 1960s. A few years out of high school she was hanging out with celebrities in New York City. I asked her how it was possible. “If you are a young and beautiful woman, you can go anywhere,” she said.

But who is beautiful? That is the question. The men’s magazines keep serving me these emaciated, rail-thin chicks with fake tans and pointy breasts. After the British Royal Wedding last year I had to endure endless articles about Pippa Middleton, the woman that supposedly all men, including me, wanted. I complained to an English friend about Pippa at a bar one night in Germany. I had drunk a few beers by then. And I said, “I don’t see what these guys see in her anyway! She’s too skinny.” “Well, I think Pippa is quite lovely,” the English colleague demurred. “She’s your classic beauty, I mean she’s nice and thin and trim …”

I should never drink beer in Germany. It only gets me into trouble. And yet I am adamant about my conviction that not every beautiful woman has to be skinny. Maybe I am in the minority when it comes to ideals about body image. Maybe most men and women really do think that the thinner the better. It’s lonely to be in the minority. Man, I need to find Sir Mix-a-Lot and buy him a drink.

This all may sound rather silly, superficial, and even chauvinistic, until you consider that my eldest daughter woke up one morning recently and asked me, “Daddy, do you think that I’m fat?” The girl is eight years old. Where does she get such ideas? I can only guess that every beautiful woman that she has ever seen, from Barbie to the majority of the fashion and cosmetics models in Anne ja Stiil, has been thin. And so she already equates being thin with being beautiful which, as I have already made clear, is not true.

She’s not alone. Before she went senile, my 93-year-old grandmother used to weigh herself every morning, before and after visiting the toilet. “I weigh 125 pounds,” she would beam. She was so proud! But here I was, faced with a little skinny girl who has barely an ounce of fat on her body asking me if she weighs too much. And I was her father. Perhaps I was in a position to rectify the situation, so that she could see the world the same way that I do, so that she wouldn’t wind up like my poor grandmother, smiling down at that scale every morning.

So I told my daughter, “You’re not fat. You’re too thin!” “But so-and-so at school is thinner than I am,” she said. “She’s also too thin,” I said. “You two need to eat more. Mangia, mangia!”

My wife told me that maybe this was maybe not the best response, but what is? I still do not know how to proceed. Should I really point out every curvy woman I see to prove to my daughter that one not need be thin to be beautiful? (One time I did accidentally mumble, “nice chick” under my breath as we passed some girls in swimsuits headed toward the beach, and my second daughter became excited, asking me, “Where’s the chicken? I want to see the baby chicken!”) Or maybe I should take the “You are beautiful, no matter what you look like, it’s what’s inside” approach. Will that work?

I like to get my wife’s perspective on beauty, because we see things very different ways. Once I suggested that Kate Middleton was pretty, to which she snapped, “Really? You think she’s pretty? I don’t think she’s pretty at all.” So, I must have been mistaken that time, as I often am. But recently she caught me flipping through a new copy of Anne ja Stiil and looking at the ladies.

“Just think, Justin,” she said and sighed. “Someday someone will be looking at our daughters the same way.”

2 thoughts on “Who is Beautiful?

  1. Honestly? Don’t rate your daughters’ appearance directly at all. You don’t tell them they’re fat, you don’t tell them they’re thin. You tell them you think they’re gorgeous (and they’ll assume you’re just saying that because you’re their dad, but they’ll still like to hear it). Then you clearly and obviously admire people who look like them. They won’t believe you when you say “you’re not fat”. They will believe you when you look at someone else and say “man, she’s hot.” Then they’ll notice things about that other person that they can relate to themselves (“she’s got the same shape as me, the same nose as me”, etc).

    Girls can’t put faith in direct complements. I don’t know why we can’t, but it’s true. For some reason we assume that you’re just saying it to make us feel better, which subtly implies that you think we need encouragement (which implies the complement might actually be pointing out something we should be feeling bad about). However, we can recognise ourselves in other people. If people who don’t look like us are constantly held as being beautiful, then we wonder if anyone will ever see us as being beautiful. If people who *do* look like us are seen as beautiful, then we think we just might be beautiful too.

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