If I had a nickel for every time I heard that “compliment” while growing up, I would be, at the very least, upper middle class.The well-intentioned (I think) speakers did not understand exactly what they were saying…or not saying. “You have such a pretty face but the rest of you is a mess!” I grew up with parents who would not let you leave the table until you had “cleaned” your plate. It didn’t matter if that plate held enough food to feed a longshoreman who was coming off a fast. “Waste not ,want not” was my mother’s mealtime mantra, along with the admonition to remember the starving children all over the world. (I couldn’t believe that even they wanted my Lima beans.) My parents had lived through the Great Depression and there was a visceral satisfaction in being able to feed a family of nine. Consequently my six sisters and I have battled with weight for most of our lives, with varying degrees of success. Since society, explicitly or implicitly, condemns physical “abundance,” we have also battled with self image, once again with varying degrees of success.
While everyone wants to look good, young women are especially vulnerable to criticism of their appearance. They respond in different ways and their efforts to cope are chronicled in numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction. Some adopt a “take me or leave me” attitude, while others embark on a lose and gain and lose and gain and lose and gain cycle of frustration. Check out some of these books which deal, sometimes humorously, with the struggle. In the Young Adult fiction section, there’s Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee, Accidental Love by Gary Soto and Vintage Veronica by Erica Perl, among many others. Positive image advice can be found in books such as You’d Be So Pretty If…by Dara Chadwick and You Have to Say I’m Pretty, You’re My Mother by Stephanie Pierson. If you want to find fashion tips for those who are amply endowed and want to hide or embellish it, check out Does This Make me Look Fat by Leah Feldon or Pretty Plus by Babe Hope. For pudgy preschoolers, there’s I Get So Hungry by Bebe Moore Campbell at one end and I Like Me by Nancy Carlson at the other end.
The campaign against obesity, especially in children, is necessary and laudable, as long as it’s about health and not appearance. “You’ve lost weight!! You look wonderful!! (now that you don’t have to walk sideways to get through the door) could be replaced by “I see that you’ve lost some weight. How do you feel?” I know, I know. Reality check. However if some misguided person now dares to say “pretty face” to me, I smile politely and say “Thank you. And the rest of me is very nice too.” By the way, Miss Manners does not approve of making personal comments. Oh, but that’s the January 25th blog.