So, Bruce Jenner is a babe now. A hot 50-something doing lingerie shoots for Vogue. That seems to make one more of the Kardashian clan who, through the artifice of plastic surgery, has crafted herself into her ideal of the “perfect” woman.
I know, I know. Plastic surgery has been around. I myself have contemplated getting these post-breastfeeding bosoms tweaked. But I do stop to ask myself- aside from the fact that I absolutely can’t afford to get my bosoms tweaked, except in the natural sense, which breastfeeding babies seem to love doing (ouch!)- whether such a surgery would really set a positive example for my daughters. Or my son, for that matter.
These breasts have been through a lot for their young age. They had a humble start in life; by the time I was fifteen my younger sister was taller, weighed less, and still had a bigger bra size than me. Getting pregnant for the first time meant, of course, that for the first time I actually had “perfect” breasts. That would have been exciting if they hadn’t been competing with my enormous belly.
Breastfeeding was the ultimate change in perspective. Although my proportions were more classically “feminine” than they had ever been before, it was something else that changed my thinking: the experience of having a newborn who was absolutely obsessed with my breasts. They were life to her. She compared them to no one else’s, not for size, or shape, or color or firmness. She clung to them with the tenacity of a captain to the wheel in a storm at sea, gulping with a comical disregard for social convention. As the year wore on, they shrank- not back to the virginal “grapes” I’d been told (by a middle schooler, of course) I had before, but to something more closely resembling deflated balloons. And even still, my infant was smitten with them.
Along with changing breasts came other changes. Stretch marks, love handles, gray hair. Fifteen years and five more kids later, I stand in front of the mirror and barely remember what it felt like to be worried about whether my sister’s bra was bigger than mine. My body has served me well, and I hope it will serve me for a long time to come. I’ve also started to learn what many 30-something women before me have learned- that there is more to me than my body. The teenager who once feared that A-cups would not be enough to attract a mate now knows that a sarcastic wit, faithful affection and the ability to wield a drill with a 1/2 inch spade bit are more than enough to make him stay.
Thus I look with sadness on the entire Kardashian family. For years now, we’ve watched them appear on magazine covers. During the first several years, it was always with some variation of the headline, “I’m The Hot One Now!” These naturally gorgeous girls never seemed to believe they were beautiful, or to aspire to anything other than being beautiful, and were in constant competition for the spotlight. More recently, the Kardashian headlines have followed an “I’m Leaving Him,” or “I’m Leaving The Show,” theme. These unhappy women now claim Keeping Up ruined their lives.
I have a close friend who is one of five sisters. Whenever I go out with them, invariably one of them leans over to me and says, “Isn’t she gorgeous?” Then louder, “Tess, you have a perfect butt!” Each of them has their own personal anxieties about their bodies- this one has no butt at all, this one wants to lose five pounds, this one wishes her chest hadn’t doubled in size overnight- but I can’t imagine any of them cutting the others down or declaring herself the “Hot One.” The moment one admits to having an Ugly Day, the other four surround her with reminders that she is beautiful, talented, and above all, loved. In a healthy family, there is plenty of room for five Hot Ones sharing the spotlight.
It’s easy to look at the Kardashian girls and feel sorry for the rocky road they’ve traveled, full of in-house competition, self-doubt and posturing. We wish someone along the way would have said, loudly and often, “You are amazing just the way you are. Every one of you is unique and wonderful.”
But who is there to tell them this? Somehow, what is so obvious among the daughters escapes us with the (step) father. The World’s Greatest Athlete somehow was also so deeply, profoundly dissatisfied with his body that he underwent even more extreme changes than the daughters. And I end up feeling sad for him, too. Was there nobody to tell him, “Don’t change a thing, you’re amazing just the way you are”?
I do not understand a society in which body dysmorphia is a celebrated way of life. If an anorexic friend complains that she feels fat, you (hopefully) don’t tell her she can fix it with liposuction. You look her in the eye and say, “You are not fat. You are beautiful.” Because a 90 lb. woman believing she is fat simply is wrong, and shows a disconnect between her perception of her body and what her body actually is. Why do we give anything less than this truth to the trans community?
A friend of mine was recently debating the wisdom of parents reassigning their children’s gender based on the child’s preference. Can prepubescent children really know, she asked, what they want out of their future sexuality? And isn’t it a parent’s roll to guide them towards good decisions?
As if on cue, my friend’s daughter walked into the room and announced, “Mom, I want to be a monkey.”
“Oh… do you mean you want to dress up like a monkey?”
“No. I want to be a real monkey.”
And you are, if you choose to be.