“Just Be Yourself” — Is This Advice Enough for Our Girls?

A few Friday’s ago, my wife and I were channel surfing when we stumbled upon a rare treat. Grease is the word, my friends. And it’s also a classic, one that I first saw at a very young age.

Which is how I started watching the movie. With the wide-eyed wonder of the ten-year-old whose tummy felt all funny inside the first time he saw Sandy, her fair complexion, cardigan sweater, full-length skirt and prudent yet playful ponytail.

But by the end of the movie, my perspective had changed to that of a 42-year old parent.

One who was disappointed that Sandy had altered who she was to land Danny. Especially given that Danny was willing to become more wholesome to win her over, as evidenced by his letter sweater and all it took to earn it. (Funny how all that never hit my radar as a child…)

What kind of message is that? I wondered. Being yourself isn’t good enough, girls. To get the guy, it’s best wear super-tight spandex. And, if you’re feeling it, call Romeo a stud as you stomp out the cigarette you don’t even know how to smoke with your four-inch, hooker pumps.

I’m in that phase of life where it’s impossible for me ponder such situations without thinking about the two beautiful little girls I’m raising the best way I know how. Which begs the question:

What can I do to help assure that my girls don’t make the same mistake Sandy did?

In a piece Pat Archbold wrote for the National Catholic Register, he touches on the matter when he laments the death of “pretty,” a term he defines as “a mutually enriching balanced combination of beauty and projected innocence.”

He contends that nowadays, women prefer to be regarded as hot and that while “pretty inspires men to protect and defend it…hotness…is a commodity. A consumable.”

In my opinion, Archbold’s interpretation of pretty, what with the protect-and-defend bit, comes awfully close to a dated concept of delicate defenselessness (which, ironically, is the type of subjugation which the Sandys of the world were probably trying to escape). Still, I understood what he was getting at.

Especially when I read the following:

Who can forget how pretty Olivia Newton John was at the beginning of Grease? Beautiful and innocent. But her desire to be desired leads her to throw away all that is valuable in herself in…hopes of getting the attention of a boy. In the process, she destroys her innocence and thus destroys the pretty. What we are left with is hotness.

Again, my definition of pretty differs from Archbold’s. To be pretty in my book, all you have to be is yourself. Too often, people morph into personas, projecting the very image they suspect others want them to be rather than simply being whoever they are.

Take a close look around and I promise you’ll see as many personas as you will people. Probably more. And when Sandy switched gears from wholesome do-gooder to sultry sex kitten, Archbold says she went from pretty to hot, and she may have. But I’d be more inclined to say she that went from a person to a persona.

Regardless of terms, Archbold and I are on the same page in that we both found Sandy’s transformation to be a disappointing one. Which leads me back to my question: what can I possibly do to help assure that my daughters don’t make the same disappointing mistake that Sandy did?

While Archbold’s piece didn’t help me find the answer, four words therein have helped me to narrow the search the “desire to be desired.” Because that’s where so many of us lose ourselves. In that lonely and insecure space that “desires to be desired.” That’s where the little voice lives that tells us we’re not good enough. That to be better, more desirable, we have to become something else entirely.

So as I continue to raise my girls, I’ll try to keep that space in mind. Infiltrate it, even, and drown out the voice of insecurity and replace it with one of confidence.

I’m not sure what the best way to do that is, but my gut tells me it starts by being more concerned with how things feel than with how they look. And by being emotionally available. And actively involved. And a trusted confidant. And, perhaps most importantly, by encouraging the capacity for depth.

Because that’s where you find self-confidence. Deep down inside.

On top of the treasure that is each of us.

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