Pity Us

Pity the daughters of beautiful women who by some twist of genetics do not end up looking like our gorgeous fashionable mothers, but looking more like ourselves instead. They will always be the yardsticks that we will never live up to, and many of us may spend our entire lives trying.

People will be unkind and tell us that we do not look like our mothers; even if they say nothing else, the suggestion is implied. You do not look like your mother. You look like yourself.

And in some worlds and in some universes that is somehow wrong; it is somehow a bad thing.

In my case it was extended family who told me almost every day that I didn’t look like my mother, with an aunt going so far as to call me ugly. Although I grew more sensitive as I got older, as a child I was far tougher than my adult self, and I just stared back at her unblinkingly. My lack of reaction must have been disconcerting because she never really used that word to describe me again.

My mother added her own fuel to the fire, although in her case I know that it was not meant unkindly, and was perhaps more unthinking than anything else. One day, as I was adoringly watching her dress as she sat at her dressing table, as she delicately sprayed perfume at her wrists and at the nape of her neck, with a spray on my wrists for a treat, and as she applied red to her full mouth as my eyes took it all in, wide-eyed, she turned to me and said, ‘Oh, darling. I do wish you looked like me.’

From that moment on I wished it too. I would often stare for hours at myself in the mirror, hating every feature, every single thing that made me me. My eyes are large and set wide apart and my mouth full and nearly always turned down in a permanent sulk that is less about sulking and more about the way that it usually looks. I pulled at my snub nose trying somehow to make it longer and straighter, and more like my mum’s pretty nose. I poked and prodded at myself and I decided that I simply wasn’t enough.

This was tragic because I set myself up for a lifetime of disappointment. You see, women are frequently told that we’re never enough. We’re never slim enough, tall enough, pretty enough, hairless enough; our hair is never shiny enough; our teeth aren’t white enough; we simply aren’t flawless enough. We’re not perfect enough. Somebody forgot to mention to advertising agencies the world over that we’re not meant to be perfect, and that it is the imperfections that are endearing, but nobody really says that in an advertisement. They scream at us from the radio and from the television, and from hoardings that we can’t miss even when we’re the ones dodging other vehicles in peak traffic: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.

You are not enough.

Most of us will live our entire lives trying to catch up to simply being enough, and we will strive for perfection because it’s what we do. We will strive to be perfect girlfriends, wives, and mothers; we will strive to be perfect at work; we will strive to be perfect best friends. We will even strive to be perfect daughters to the mothers that we don’t look like. We will strive so hard that we will push ourselves to levels of stress and feelings of failure even when we haven’t failed, and we will have breakdowns, and we will cry alone in the bathroom in the middle of the night, and some of us will experience full-on depression for which some of us will seek treatment, and the rest of us won’t.

Because we’re not enough.

But here’s the thing. We are enough. You are enough. Today is the only today that matters, and tomorrow is just another today that hasn’t begun yet. One day, years from now, on a whole other today, you will realise that all of those yesterdays where you felt that you were not enough, you were. You were more than enough. You were a champion. You were a star. You took everything that they threw at you and you asked for more. Because it’s what you do.

You are enough.

So do yourself a favour. Tell yourself you’re enough. And if you’re a beautiful mother of a daughter who doesn’t look like you, you tell her she’s beautiful.

You tell her she’s enough.

8 Comments

  • Avatar
    stace8383 3rd September 2013 at 3:00 pm

    You are more than enough, and you are gorgeous – inside as well as out!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    D 3rd September 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Not just mothers! Every father should be telling his daughter that she is beautiful, every. Single. Day. It’s not hard to say the words, make your child feel good about themselves, everyone. I tell both my sons and my daughter how beautiful they are and how much I love them every day, and I couldn’t imagine why you wouldn’t.

    D

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Louise Broadbent 4th September 2013 at 2:15 am

    I think the big problem (which you hint at but don’t come out and poke with a stick) is that a lot of people feel women need to be beautiful. Why? Because this is what is screaming at us from all directions all day, everyday. It’s really tough to let go of that mindset and just be and not worry about what you look like. I’ve definitely made progress in that I can not wear make up and most days not even think about it but there are the days when I think ‘I could do with some make up’. Why? Social conditioning. Sigh.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Awanthi @ I Speak Awanthi 8th September 2013 at 11:35 am

      I know. I was thinking the other day I felt ‘naked’ without my kohl. I am quite attractive enough without it, but I like that it highlights my eyes. But why that is so important to me I shall never know.

      And I think it’s also the reason why I torture my feet (and my lower back) with high heels sometimes.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    anderkst 7th September 2013 at 4:32 am

    You made tears trickle. Because somewhere, buried at the deepest center of my soul, is the whisper and fear always that I am not good enough. In my youth, it was the root of my driving ambition, what pushed me to excel, because even when I had perfect grades, somehow it wasn’t enough for my mother. Not in any spoken way, but more in the casual way my grades weren’t even mentioned (or the time I didn’t even know they had arrived more than a week prior as my mom just opened them and then tossed them in a pile of junk paper.) My darkest time in my life was because someone momentarily made me believe I was enough, only to then betray in the harshest way to prove that no, actually, I wasn’t. It’s taken a long time to move past that, but now instead of that most secret fear (which, why am I sharing it here for the first time?) resulting in ambitious drive, it’s more audibly the voice at the back of my head.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Awanthi @ I Speak Awanthi 8th September 2013 at 11:31 am

      *hug* I’m sorry I made you cry but I’m even sorrier that you can empathise with this. Sometimes I worry that I will never quite believe it of myself even if I do set out to achieve everything I ever want (and to be fair to me, I have achieved a fair few things I set out to already). I sometimes worry that nothing will change this; that it’s like – I don’t know how to describe it – a fixed point in time. The Doctor would call it a fixed point in history. Perhaps they are fixed points in our histories which will now forever dictate to us about our worth – both self- and other – and somehow always tell us that we’re never enough even when life, a partner, our children, our friends, and even our own achievements contradict all of that.

      Is there any therapy that will ever correct this?

      Reply
  • Not Just Pretty | I Speak Awanthi 1st April 2015 at 12:45 pm

    […] it came from a place of wanting to be told that I was more than I was, somehow. I’ve spoken in the past about growing up with a beautiful mother, and about the pressure I felt as a girl, as a teenager, […]

    Reply

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