I’m Penelope Cruz’ Little Sister, I Swear
Tracey Barnett © February 2008
“Ya know,” I said, pulling my nose away from a picture of French President Sarkosky and his gorgeous new wife Carla Bruni, gazing at each other with barely restrained Euro-lust, “I look a lot like her.”
“Mm-hmm,” my partner mumbled into his newspaper. I might as well have announced nuclear winter was upon us.
“I bet this week some people at the grocery store might ask me what he’s like in bed– by mistake,” I tried.
Nothing. Not even a decent nose snort like I got a couple of years ago when I told him that my mother said I was better looking than Penelope Cruz. What can I say, I have a visually optimistic family.
My mate has been down this road before. After the holidays when I’ve had a slight tan, I tell him I look a lot like Halle Berry in a bikini too. At least that one gets a laugh.
I’m from the delusion-is-good-for-the-soul school of beauty. I just pretend it’s all there and hope that the rest of the world takes it up like Chauncey Gardner in Being There.
Otherwise, what’s the alternative? Imagine the mass public revulsion if someone lined up giant full-length mirrors on the beach that showed how we really look when we emerge from the water. Suddenly we’d realise we’re a dead ringer for our cross-dressing Great Uncle/Aunt Frances. Even the best of us would run for a large pellet gun.
Admit it, for 98 percent of us, our bodies don’t measure up—certainly not to Angelina Jolie or Daniel Carter’s—but especially to our own distorted idea of how it should be.
It’s like a massive culturally manufactured disease, leeching into the developed world only. I’ll bet that even our grandparent’s generation didn’t have this kind of widespread negative self-criticism that most of us assume is normal today.
In one US survey, 81% of 10-year-old girls had already dieted at least once, according to the Social Issues Research Centre. Okay, you reason, maybe US children are heavier. But then how do you explain that 25% of 7-year-olds in Sweden have dieted. In Japan, 41% of elementary school girls thought they were too fat.
A Harvard study showed that by age 13, 50% of girls are unhappy with their appearance. By the age of 17 the numbers rise, 8 out of 10 will be unhappy with what they see in the mirror. Psychology Today reports that 56% of adult women and 43% of men surveyed were dissatisfied with their overall appearance.
Fair enough, we were all tortured adolescents once. But consider, at what time in your life did you look in the mirror and give yourself a healthy dose of acceptance without endless editorialising?
I’d wager that the next time you get out of the shower, before you put on any clothes, you won’t be able to take 60 seconds to stand in front of a mirror and look at your body–without criticism. Try it for one measly minute. Men may hold out for 15 seconds, but I don’t think most women would make it past five, tops, without screaming for a towel and a mental airbrush.
Let’s face it, who is advocating that we owe ourselves simple acceptance of who we are? Your mother maybe, if you’re lucky.
We don’t appreciate this good machine because no one is teaching us to. Nobody is teaching us that there is beauty in stretch marks from having the strength to carry a child. Nobody is pronouncing that furrows lines in our brow might signal years of empathy toward other people. Because there is just no money in it– and that stinks.
What we are taught from a very early age is that we can be ‘fixed’. Get bigger breasts or pecs. Get smaller waistlines or pores. The health, fashion and beauty industries’ job is to stick voodoo pins into our self-image because that gives them a renewable market that continually feeds their next remedy.
Like every parent, I don’t want my children to grow up to be obese, anorexic or self-absorbed by how they look. But I have to ask myself, what am I doing to teach them how to appreciate what they look like in every stage of life if I don’t model it myself and disparage the negative ‘fix it’ onslaught? As a Dove ad campaign says, “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”
So the way I see it, I won’t hate you if you mistake me for Carla Bruni in the grocery store. She may have snagged the French president, but I have it on good authority that I’m just as beautiful in my own way as Penelope Cruz.
Just ask my Mum– that wise, wise woman.