“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
I live in the world of the girl. Sixteen years ago I started a program for 3rd to 8th grade girls–to inspire them to celebrate themselves–right there at that very vulnerable time just prior to adolescence. Most of us recall that time…a time of confusion and wonder, each tangled up with the other. Most girls that age are just trying to figure it out…confused and surprised by their changing bodies, desperately wanting to fit in with the popular crowd. Some more sensitive than others, they may feel obliged to change, to morph to lose sight of who they really are and try to become something they think they should be.
We’ve all been through it. Life is like that. It evolves us, grows us, pushes us. These rites of passage delicately transition us from one stage of life to another.
So, when this seemingly innocent question from an 8 year old girl comes my way, (and I’ve heard it more than once) I know that her question isn’t by accident. It isn’t something haphazard or random. It is with intention. “So Molly, why do you wear makeup?” She looks to me…eyes wide open…curious…beautiful and inquisitive. She is poised right there at that delicate space between becomings and I got the idea that her question wasn’t as simple as it seemed. She was really asking: Why? Why Molly, do you do this? I want to know because I’m right here…right here on the cusp of making these decisions and I could sure use your guidance. I need to know how to be a woman. With all of the conflicting messages she receives in the media about what it means to be a woman, I knew her question was sincere, from the heart, genuine. Eight-year-olds don’t know how to be any other way.
In many ways I am no different than her. Here I am at another crossroads in my own life, much akin to adolescence…this time from middle-age to beyond. I am 51 and once again inside a changing body, a bit confused and surprised by the changes and wanting to, as I encourage the girls I work with, find guidance and tenderly tap into the worth, beauty and self-acceptance we each possess. One of my best friends, Caitlin Boyle, author, inspirer and girl-advocate is also at a crossroads. A soon-to-be mother she is very rightly so, dealing with the transition from young adulthood to motherhood. Every mother knows that her life will be changed forever.
And so when Caitlin and I conversed over the complexities surrounding gender, beauty and “being a woman” from the very simple question of an 8 year old, we thought it was extremely interesting, something to share with others…to invite those who were interested into a conversation that connects, reveals, accepts…and something that we were both, personally, curious to take a little deeper…to explore WHY we participate in these beauty/appearance-related rituals. To recognize that it isn’t the superficial question itself that both intimidates and excites us, but the harder questions underneath about aging, fear, being vulnerable, admitting our imperfectedness, appearance, purpose, power and their priority both in our own lives and the lives of the girls we serve.
We are now half-way through, and with each passing day, I realize that when this is done, whether I choose to return to these beauty habits or not (and the verdict is still out on that), my answer to her will be in alignment with my beliefs around beauty, worth and womanhood. I also know that a layer of the onion has peeled away. I’m joyfully moving from one stage of life to another, truly and wonderfully awed by the process. I am also excited to hear of the conversations in high school classrooms, yoga studios, on long runs, playgrounds and in business meetings resulting from the simple question my 8 year old friend asked of me, of you, of us.
I am moved by the conversations I’ve had with so many women–many of them quite young–trying to determine the role appearance/beauty/age plays in their own lives. I love the humor, the humility and the humanness found in each of those conversations, in each of us. To engage women, no matter where they are in their own lives, in a conversation, either within her own thoughts or with others, that isn’t judging, condemning or setting expectations, but opening up a space where every person, can discuss her own unique and in-her-time and at–her–pace perspectives on aging, beauty, her body, femininity, and what it means to be a woman.
I love how the simplicity and inquisitive minds of children have this magical way of helping us along our journey, consistently and lovingly bringing us back home again, time and time again… to ourselves.