I've been thinking about beauty. What it means, what it's good for, and particularly what it's not good for. Mermaid Girl's particular brand of blond-little-girl beauty, to be specific.
Maybe it's because I'm in Lost Angeles this weekend, Land of the Beautiful People (and yes, Aleeska Air did eventually find us two seats together so Mermaid Girl didn't have to sit by herself in a center row, though the woman at the gate was dopier about it than I would've imagined possible), or maybe it's because we've been spending time with my Uncle Sailorman, who has some old-fashioned "thank-heaven-for-little-girls" ideas about girls and women and can't stop talking about what a looker MG is.
Or maybe it's because I've just read two books--White Oleander and the third Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book--each of which features a strikingly beautiful blond character who is deeply flawed as a person, and whose flaws are bound up with her beauty in a sort of looks-ist version of the pathetic fallacy.
Or it could be the attention MG's been getting at all the parades and festivals we've been to lately: the Fremont Fair, then Pride, then the fireworks at Santa Monica College the other night. Mostly Mermaid Girl's life is made up of people she knows, in familiar places. But at these huge gatherings of strangers, MG gets the kind of attention I don't ever remember getting. People--total strangers--give her things--necklaces, flowers, garlands of ribbons--just because she's pretty and blond. I know it's not just because she's a cute kid, because Jessie is adorable, and we were with some family friends at the fireworks whose kids are as cute as you could wish--and no one was giving them stuff. It was weird and kind of embarrassing to RW and me.
I've been wanting to write about this for a while, and hesitated because I don't want to be kind of back-handed braggy. After all, who doesn't want people to think their kid is gorgeous? And it's not like I'm not captivated by her beauty, myself, and I'm conflicted about that too. If she was a funny-looking kid, would I love her less? Am I that shallow? I'm a feminist and a lesbian, for goddesss sake! This is not me! And yet I look at her little heart-shaped face and the wisps of cornsilk hair fallen out of her braids, and my heart swells with...pride? What's to be proud about? She didn't do anything to get this. It's a gift, freaky and random. I just hope it's not a poisoned one.
I've never felt like looks were that important. And I vaguely heard about studies where people who are considered conventionally attractive tend to earn more, etc...I just never understood how deep that advantage goes.
And of course the racist subtext of all the fawning over blondness.
Our moms might tell you different, but neither RW nor I was ever that kind of beautiful as a kid, so we don't know how to deal with it. And no one born into my Eastern-European-Jewish family has *ever* been blond, as you can imagine. RW has brown hair, and so does MG's biodad, the dashing Uncle Skaterboy. So when I first saw that shock of yellow-white hair on our newborn baby's head in the delivery room, I was...shocked. Both of us were. It was as if our child had pulled together all the genes she could find to make the strongest possible immediate statement that she was not like us, not a little miniature nerdy elswhere/Renaissance Woman meld, but her own person entirely. "I feel like we thought we're the parents of a baby tiger," RW said that night, and I knew just what she meant.
Looks are what we have, our calling card, our face is what people see first. (Except on the Internet. I guess that's why the Internet has that weird kind of intimacy--you see the core of someone before you see the surface, it's all backwards.) Mostly, people look just regular, you notice that, and then you find out what they're like. But when someone's looks are striking--if they're unusually beautiful, or if they have some other distinguishing feature that makes people more uncomfortable, like RW's cleft palate that looked worse when she was a kid--it's like they *become* their looks, their looks overwhelm anything else you might notice about who they are as a person.
(This has happened to me at times in my life when my psoriasis has been really bad. But I've always felt like because I didn't get it until I was 16, when my sense of myself was pretty well formed already, it didn't affect the way I felt about myself, even if it affected the way other people saw me.)
MG's getting old enough to notice some of this, now. I don't want her to: don't want her to use it, to take advantage of it, to think that she is how she looks. We try to downplay it, to emphasize other things like smart thinking and politeness and kindness and courage, but then we sabotage ourselves by going on about how she looks good in some outfit or other, or with her hair in braids.
It's made me think about other random gifts: intelligence, for one, which I've always been proud of. But maybe that's just as bad as someone giving MG a flower just because she's blond? Maybe she is her looks, after all, as much as I am my smarts? Or, conversely, I have as little to to with that as she does with her hair?
I always hated that line, I forget who wrote it, "Only God, my dear, could love you for yourself alone and not your yellow hair." But now I seem to be living it.