Stop pointing out her physical imperfections, Mariella Frostrup tells a mother who thinks her lonely daughter needs better looks to be happier
The dilemma My daughter looks very masculine and not in a good way. In childhood she was badly bullied. In her 20 s she moved to different countries, underwent therapy and overcame her social anxiety. She is a changed person, but still expends most evenings alone on the phone with me. She’s had many relationship tries with men, but I collect they have all failed due to lack of interest on their part. In the past I promoted her to undergo plastic surgery to pin her ears and she was very pleased with the result. When she was 18 I paid for a rhinoplasty, but this surgery went horribly wrong. She was left awfully disfigured with most of her nose bridge gone and her nose tip as bulbous as before. I want to encourage her to undergo another rhinoplasty, but worry that if I keep on talking about it, it will hurt her confidence. I’m her only close confidante and can tell she is rather lonely. I dread to think how lonely she’ll be when I’m gone.
Mariella replies That’s the least of your worries. As a mother I know only too well how random and irrational the worries you have for your children can be. I appreciate, too, that as a mom you merely want what’s best for your daughter, but on the basis of what you’ve written it sounds to me like she’s moved on while you’re still fretting.
Your daughter has travelled, worked, had relationships and embarked on an independent life. Maybe it’s time you started celebrating those achievements rather than perpetually drawing her back to her shortcomings. It surely seems as though you’re the one still hung up on her facade. You mention her masculine appearance, but in a world of gender fluidity where we are thankfully deemed to be more than the sum of our individual parts you’ve severely downgraded your daughter. There is no feminine “ideal” any more and we are a richer culture and happier society for dispensing with our arcane filing system for humankind.
I’m wondering if your own worth was similarly index-linked to your sex appeal. Nowadays we like to think such attitudes are a thing of the past rather than focusing on how to banish them from our present. I admit the values I’m espousing are the opposite of those displayed in almost every magazine rack, TV depict and mainstream movie, but pretending we’ve won the good fight for a society where men and women are judged equally on the basis of who they are , not how they look is better than admitting we’ve failed!
It seems to me you’ve given your daughter every reason to believe that merely physical perfection is of any worth. There are plenty of people who don’t have film star good looks and are nonetheless leading happy, fulfilled and purposeful lives. Indeed, I’d go in so far as to argue that the less blessed you are on the beauty front, the more likely you are to develop as a character and it’s that, rather than nose shape, which forges suffering friendships and relationships.
Your daughter may not resemble a Barbie doll, but only a scattering of the world’s population fits that rigid mould. You have certainly done a good job of ensuring that she’s aware of her inadequacies. The result is that even if she’d never looked in a mirror, her awareness of her imperfections has been heightened beyond measure. Couldn’t you just have told her she was great? Fostering her to surgically improve her features before she was out of her teens won’t win you any parenting awardings, either. As for helping her preserve a relationship, are you genuinely saying that the only route to keep a man is by modelling yourself into an acceptable sort of womanhood? Perhaps if she valued herself more, she wouldn’t feel compelled to seek out worthless men who don’t stick around.
Before you start your daughter’s next phase of physical makeover, my advice to you would be to embark on your own mental one. You are so far out of step with what makes for a happy life that I’d be surprised if I was the first to point it out. Good lookings are no guarantee of future happiness. Physical attributes aren’t the only currency available, or the most reliable one to invest in. Neither is plastic surgery a magic wand that erases all woes. There are breath-taking beauties who suffer depression, loneliness, self-harm and much more and for exactly the same reasons as those you worry about with your girl.
Low self-esteem is an epidemic even more widespread than our newfound penchant for cosmetic contouring. So construct your girl up, focus on her assets and set aside your ambitions to surgically enhance her. That way she stands a chance of making better choices. She needs to know that you love her unequivocally and appreciate what she uniquely has to offer. Who knows, without you highlighting her inadequacies she might even grow in confidence and be able to start having a social life of her own.