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The burden of being beautiful in Los Angeles

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Sugar Bowl Mix: The burden of being beautiful in Los Angeles

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The burden of being beautiful in Los Angeles

A few hours after arriving home from the hospital with baby Caroline a friend stopped by with dinner for us. She breezed down the hall to the kitchen where she placed the bag containing our supper on the counter, talking all the while about what she had purchased, hoping there would be something that pesco-vegetarian-Tim could eat. Then she whirled around, scurried back down the hall to where Tim stood holding our brand new sleeping baby.

"Oh, my gosh you guys, she's absolutely beautiful," she exclaimed. "Mine don't come out beautiful. Their faces are always all..." and she twisted her own lovely face into a hilarious, contorted shape. And then she was gone, back home to care for her own three-week old baby with the funny face.

And so it started. The burden of being a beautiful child.

I was a mother who had to be out with my new baby. I couldn't stand to be in the house except for nap times. And every time I ventured out with Caroline I was stopped. On the street, in the store, at the park, at the playgroup, in the airport.

"Oh, she's gorgeous." "Aren't you lucky to have such a beauty!" Or, my favorite: "She's a keeper." What if she had been our friend's baby with the funny face? Should we have sent her back to the stork?

At first, I was proud. I was the mother of a beautiful child, after all. And I saw the others. The ones with the funny faces, the pointed heads, the eyes that were too big for their faces. Those were other people's babies.

Caroline got older. She started speaking and walking and became her own little person with strong opinions and a strong will that I wished so many times was weak. And suddenly I grew uncomfortable with all the "she's so beautiful" comments. Couldn't all those people see her gentle soul? Her enthusiasm about everything? What a great walker she was? How she could be so serious and yet funny at the same time?

And then her sister Katie was born. A few moments after taking her out of the car in front of our house our ninety-year-old neighbors, Peggy and Bessie, came hurrying out of their houses to inspect the new arrival.

"Well, she looks just like her sister!" Bessie declared.
"Really?" I said skeptically. Katie had a head full of dark hair and brown eyes and Caroline was blonde with blue eyes.

They went back and forth until finally Peggy announced: "She looks exactly like herself. Just like Katherine." And she was exactly right.

Katie didn't get all the beautiful comments. Instead, people commented on what a good baby she was. How she was so quiet. "Does she ever cry?" How she was always happy, smiling and laughing. How she ate so well.

And then we moved to Los Angeles. Katie was fourteen-months when we moved and her silky hair had just started to become long and curly and her face had grown into a perfect heart shape. Out at lunch one day shortly after we had made the move, a man stopped me as I was leaving the restaurant with Katie in the stroller.

"Get that beauty an agent!" He exclaimed. "She can buy herself her own BMW! Oh, you've got two of them. Her, too!" He said pointing at Caroline.

And just like that I suddenly had two daughters with the power to buy their own BMWs. I was appalled.
"The last thing they need is an agent and they will absolutely not buy themselves BMWs" is what I felt like saying but I didn't. I said it to Tim in the car instead.

"Whas a BMW?" Caroline shouted from the back.
"Something you don't need," I answered.

After that I spent far too much time trying to explain to my girls what makes a person beautiful and my explanations didn't have anything to do what you looked like.

When Caroline was six I overheard her explaining to Katie that "it's not what you look like that makes you beautiful. It's about things like if you share your toys and are nice to your friends and stuff like that."
Katie must have disputed this because I could hear Caroline getting frustrated and shouting, "It is too! Go ask Mommy!"

Katie came to me a few minutes later with her doll whom she had named for herself, Katherine.

"Mommy? Is Katherine beautiful?"
"Is she a nice girl?"
"Doe she share her toys?"
"Well then it sounds like she is."
"But does she look pretty is what I'm asking," Katie said.

My mother used to tell me that beautiful people had an easier lot in life and I always believed her. But now as the mother of two beautiful girls, I'm not so sure. I wish that stranger at the grocery store could comment on what a good reader Caroline is or how hard Katie tries in ballet. Bringing up my daughters in Los Angeles makes me work extra hard to empower my girls, to make them confident about their abilities and talents. To know that somewhere down the road they'll have a lot more than just their looks to rely on to pay the rent - or to buy a BMW.

And what of the mother in San Francisco with three boys who didn't come out beautiful? I haven't seen them in several years but judging from the holiday cards we get each year, I'm sure they'd make wonderful, scintillating company. Even with their blonde, California classic looks.

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At November 30, 2009 at 10:21 PM , Anonymous Teresa said...

Great! love the part about "she's a keeper! what if...should we have sent her back?" People used to ask me if I was disappointed when I held my second child, a brand new baby boy in my arms. Since I already had a boy I suppose they saw him as a disappointment. People say the strangest things.


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