When I look back at old yearbooks or photo albums, and see "girl Heidi" or "young woman Heidi," I'm sometimes struck by how darn cute I was back then. I didn't believe it at the time, of course ... I grew up convinced that I was both ugly and fat, and would never have a boyfriend.
In truth, there was nothing wrong with how I looked; the trouble was on the inside. I found it hard to make friends ... a hyperactive sense of responsibility (a backlash from my sister's illness) combined with an obsession with school work made it hard for my peers to relate to me, and I lacked the social skills to bridge the gap from my side. I had no athletic skills, and didn't speak the language of my peers, who chattered endlessly about movies and television programs I hadn't seen, music I'd never heard, parties I hadn't been invited to, and adventures to the mall and ball games I only dreamed of.
I felt alone, disconnected. And that disconnection made me feel ugly.
These feelings of disconnectedness came back to me as I watched Martian Child, in which a widowed foster father (John Cusak) attempts to connect with his new son. The boy felt so disconnected from the real world, so convinced that this man, too, was going to leave him that he pretended to be from Mars. It was the father's job to make those connections, convince the boy that he was never, ever, ever going to be left alone.
It's a task I'm now trying to accomplish with my own kids. They are undeniably cute. Like many girls, Sarah is obsessed with her version of beauty: the princess dresses and other extraordinary outfits, the makeup that languishes on my vanity, the pictures in magazines in which the models are graded "ladylike" or "not ladylike." My son goes gaga over pretty girls, especially ones old enough to be his babysitter if not his mother.
And so I find myself trying to teach them about the beauty that lasts, the kind that radiates from the inside. I remind them that no matter how cute they look, it won't matter if they are mean or unkind or hurtful to others.
And then I search for ways to connect with them, convince them that (unlike their first parents) Craig and I are never going to disappear. We try to ensure that these kids, who have lost so many important figures in their lives, feel as connected as possible to Craig and me. Some days I think we succeed. Other days, not so well. And yet, the intention remains ... and that, combined with understanding, is going to make a difference in the end.
Today at "Behold Your Mother," Kate Wicker shares her own thoughts on beauty, and how she transmits that sense of true, inner beauty with her daughters. Be sure to check it out!