Today is her dress rehearsal for Easter. I watch her twist side to side, swishing the skirt of her new pink Easter frock. She points each foot and admires the fresh, white flats enfolding them. My daughter is 9 years old and, to date, has never passed a mirror without doing a double-take, always nodding approvingly.
The full-length mirror on her dresser reflects her modeling moves. She puts her right hand on her hip and her left leg forward. Then she drops her left shoulder back. She repeats this pose from all angles, turning her head like an owl to keep her eyes focused on her image.
As her mother, it's my job to keep the child grounded. I remind her once again, for the zillionth time, where true beauty comes from. Puckering her pink, glossed lips at me, she endures my motherly warning: "Honey, you be careful not to get too cozy with vanity. Youth fades fast. You've got to always remember that true beauty comes from suffering."
I'm not talking about my parents' kind of suffering; sought after miseries nurtured and caressed and endured simply for their own sake; agonies that include voluntary abstention from air conditioning in the Georgia summer heat or going on a vacation that includes three days snowbound in the Alaskan wilderness.
Nor do I mean the kind of suffering that comes at the hand of fate, such as a leg broken in multiple places with the bone piercing the skin or a childhood of pictures and mementos eaten up in a red-hot house fire. Yes, these events build character and bolster resiliency in a person, but they do not buff her outer glow or push her cuticles back. True beauty arises from a different type of adversity altogether.
Suffering for the sake of beauty means muscling through a ponytail pulled so tightly that a girl's brain bulges, barely discernible but back-breakingly biting, beneath her scalp. It results from wearing heels so high that a woman teeters around precariously, all her weight pressed onto the pads of only two straining toes. By all accounts the greater the suffering the more intense the beauty, which is why medically invasive measures such as liposuction, lip enhancement and eye-lift surgery, even diddling with the plague in the form of a teensy old Botox injection, are popular.
To sum it up, this is the Veet kind of suffering that brings on beauty the way no other source of suffering can. Veet commercials depict gorgeous, runway-quality women smiling as though it's their birthday while using do-it-yourself wax pads to snatch patches of leg hairs from the heart of creation. They don't take a moment to muster up courage or hold their breath and squinch their eyes the way one might before ramming an epi-pen into one's own thigh. Veet's marketing motto, "What Beauty Feels Like" (not a welcome reminder, but the honesty in advertising is appreciated), succinctly says it all.
I agree that sharing the origins of true beauty with my daughter at an early age, instead of glossing over reality with statements such as "True beauty comes from within," has a tint of harshness. It perhaps strips youthful ideals from her before she has had time to roll around in their Splenda appeal.
"How do I look, Mama?" my daughter asks as she twirls for me and the mirror. The question returns my attention to her Easter dress rehearsal.
"Wonderful," I tell her, "like you haven't suffered a day in your life." Yet, I add in my head. Those fresh white flats will rub blisters on her feet by 10 a.m. Sunday.
(Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)