My seven year old son and I have been reading our way through Roald Dahl’s books. We flop across his bed or squash into the backyard hammock as we’ve read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Danny Champion of the World and The BFG. This last week our reading of The Twits coincided with this article and me seeing this this film. As I was thoroughly unsettled by the thought of young girls asking strangers, Am I ugly? and the ramifications of raising my kids in a world where the answer to that question can be mistaken as their worth, I was struck by this page of the text.
The title characters of the book, Mr. and Mrs. Twit are described as being horridly ugly. Not because they were born that way, but because they became that way. Ugly thoughts seeped from the inside out. Years of this bitter tea brewed until her insides and outsides matched. Conversely, Dahl, as the omniscient narrator announces:
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Though I welcome this description, ugly is as ugly does, it is hardly the one these girls are fearing. They want to be tagged as pretty.
I wish I could say that I was above asking those questions, that I’ve never wanted my attractiveness validated. But, that would be untrue. I have given up way too much time, particularly in younger years, memorizing compliments, so I might have those reserves to draw on when I questioned my face value. It still wasn’t enough. I knew I don’t have extensive reasons to complain, but I have my own less than ideal features that I feared obvious: too many moles (especially the weird one on my ear), high forehead, humble bustline, and a mess of curly hair I’m always trying to tame. I’ve looked jealously at more proportionate figures with sleek hair, and wondered how my life might be different if I were a “bombshell”. Would I have garnered more attention, been asked out on more dates, and had an easier time finding clothes to fit? Probably, maybe and definitely.
But that doesn’t matter. What matters is why did I care, and why do all these girls (some as young as eleven) care so much to ask the world on YouTube? Why the fixation?
I cared, and they cared because it seems like everyone else cares. How you look is what gets noticed first. You are noticed if you look attractive and you are noticed if you don’t. You are noticed if you are dressed sexy and you are noticed if you dress dowdy. We are objects. Who we are becomes nothing more than how we look. Never mind what is in your head, what you say or, what you’ve done, what you will do, and who you may become. Those are inconsequential comparatively.
I’m mad about it. I’m mad that I wasted time worrying. I’m mad that I will likely waste some more time worrying about the way I look. I’m mad that other girls do the same. I’m mad that people that legitimize our asking, and worry of not being pretty. It’s ugly.
We are better than that. We are beautiful as is. Yes, you can dress yourself up, put yourself together and be fit. Those are all nice things, but they don’t make you lovely. I’m with Roald Dahl on this one, that comes from inside.
What do you think? Have you been made to feel ugly? How do you dismiss it and celebrate your body as-is?