Vanity and Virtue

My mother, your Grammy, was a model in her late teens and early twenties. This was in an era when models were not the slouchy, anorexic things they are now. She did some commercial stuff, mostly car shows, I think, and, unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence in existence today. She had the build for it: tall and slender, with classic features (although her eyebrows were drawn on, and she wore a hairpiece). When we were teenagers, she was fond of reminding me and your Aunt Zappa that when she was our age, she had a 23-inch waist, and her father’s thumbs and fingertips touched when he wrapped his hands around her middle. She also had a habit of gripping my shoulders–hard–and imploring me to stand up straight, and put on some lipstick while I was at it.

Appearance was important to her, perhaps even more so as she put on weight and battled chronic pain and depression. As hard as I bucked against that–forgoing makeup and fashion trends in high school–it rubbed off on me, too. (It may not seem like it sometimes, but I actually do care what I look like when I leave the house.)

You, my little miss, are the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen, and I’m totally not biased at all. (That’s sarcasm, my love. You’ll get it someday.) You have amazing eyes and a perfect little nose. Your smile lights up a room. But I don’t want it going to your head.

We have our own sense of style in this house. I don’t dress you in overly frilly or pink things, but I do like to play at fashionista, mixing and matching the items in your tiny wardrobe and girling up the things your Aba buys from the boys’ department. I have to admit, though, that the few ruffled pieces you have are damn cute. (Pardon Mama’s language.)

But the thing is, I don’t want you to care about any of it. I want you to dress how you like, wear what makes you feel good, let your hair be wild, or cut it all off if you want to. I want you to be free to be as weird or pretty or sporty as you wish (without resorting to labels like “weird,” “pretty,” or “sporty”). Unfortunately, I know from experience that there’s a world out there that looks down its nose at the girl who shuns conventional beauty.

This is the part where I’m supposed to let you in on the big secret: that outward appearances are meaningless, and it’s what’s on the inside that counts. That you should be kind and generous, that those are the only virtues that matter. And, yes, I want you to be those things. I will do my best to model those virtues and to encourage them. But the truth is there is vanity and corruption and meanness in the world, and I won’t always be able to shield you from it.

What I can promise you is that those who love you will love you no matter what size or shape your body is, no matter what color your hair is or how you choose to embellish your appearance. Those people are the ones in whom you can find safe haven when the world outside turns ugly.

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