Shallow Me

I can be very shallow. By this I mean that I notice people’s appearance and judge them for it. I am sad and ashamed about this, but I was raised by a very shallow person, and it’s hard to turn off the tapes I heard throughout my entire childhood.

My mother was obsessed with outward appearances. Part of this, I believe, was because she was very beautiful and got a lot of attention and positive feedback because of it. Her own self-worth was based entirely upon her beauty, which was a shame, because she was also very intelligent. As she aged, like everyone else, her looks changed. This was very hard for her to endure. She would talk a lot about how doctors were amazed when they saw the birthdate on her chart, because they couldn’t believe she was 50 (for example), telling her she looked no older than 35. This was very important to her – this affirmation that she didn’t look her age.

She used to joke that I “gave her away” when we went anywhere together, because as the oldest of her three children, I was evidence that she was of a certain age. She was 24 when I was born, so when she was 50, I was 26. She would not be able to successfully pass for 35 or 40 with me hanging around, could she? She said this often. It was a joke, to be sure, but the message was, “It’s more important to me to look young than to acknowledge you as my daughter.”

As she got older, her ability to hear diminished. She was too vain to wear hearing aids, of course, so even though she owned them, she didn’t wear them. The problem was that she didn’t realize other people could hear just fine. So if we were out shopping at the mall, she would say in a very loud voice, “Can you believe what that woman is wearing? She actually paid good money for that ridiculous outfit!” I tried to tell her that everyone could hear her, but that would inevitably make her angry with me, so I stopped. She could be very hurtful in her comments, and they were all based on the other person’s appearance.

So, witnessing this all of my life and knowing how inappropriate it is, you would think I wouldn’t be that way. I WISH I weren’t that way. I TRY not to be that way. But there I am, watching the Golden Globe Awards, making comments about everyone’s choice of clothing. OK, I know, a lot of people watch the Golden Globes and other awards show just for that purpose (hello, Joan Rivers!) but it’s mean-spirited and rude.

Then I was talking to my 19-year-old son about a young woman he met at school, and I asked him if he thought she was hot. NOT “Is she nice?” “Is she smart?” “Is she interesting?” No – I immediately chose the appearance card. Even HE seemed shocked. What sort of example have I set for my children?

I spend way too much time googling actors to see if I can prove they are wearing a hairpiece or if they had plastic surgery. I really want to know! Why?? Who cares?

Of course the flip side of this is that I, like my mother before me, believe that other people are just as nasty and judgmental about me. It makes me self-conscious and inhibits me in every aspect of life. It causes me to be very mean to myself and beat myself up internally all the time.

There was a movie called “Shallow Hal” that came out in 2001, which I refused to see because I knew it was about an obese woman, and I assumed it would be all jokes at her expense. When I finally watched it, it was an absolutely wonderful story with a great lesson. The titular Shallow Hal was a guy who liked only beautiful women, until inspirational speaker Tony Robbins hypnotized him into seeing only the inner beauty in women. So Shallow Hal fell in love with Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, because he didn’t see her fatness, only her inner beauty. It’s both funny and poignant at the same time.

[It’s regrettable that the definition of “not beautiful” in this movie had to equal “overweight,” but it was accurate, in that the last minority group that people can mock with impunity is people who are overweight. Notice that while so many formerly popular joke topics are now considered inappropriate, and rightfully so (stereotypes about ethnic groups, people with diseases and mental challenges, etc.), no one has stopped mocking fat people for one minute. Hahaha. I don’t think it’s funny.]

But while I loved and appreciated the lesson in “Shallow Hal,” it has not helped me to overcome my own shallowness. Even though I grew up believing girls could do anything boys could do, it was also abundantly clear that pretty girls could do more than non-pretty girls. I wish this were not the case, because it certainly is not true for males.

Fellow moms, what do you think? Did you grow up with this message implanted in your brain? Do you try to avoid sending these shallow messages to your kids? Is there any way, given our inherently shallow and appearance-obsessed society, that we can change the next generation’s value system?

16 thoughts on “Shallow Me

  1. As I started reading I was thinking of Shallow Hal so I’m glad you made the reference. I am pretty judgmental when I don’t work on it, particularly about appearance. I’m sure it stems from my upbringing too. I think the best you can do is acknowledge it in an effort to fix it.

    1. Just writing this and seeing how many people do the same thing has been ENORMOUSLY enlightening and helpful for me. I did not expect to find such a wonderful virtual support group!

  2. Ooph. Thanks for sharing this. This may not have been an easy thing to admit, but I’m so glad that you did. I am so guilty of seeking out stars without their makeup on just so I can be like, “See! I knew it!” And I was not raised in that way AT ALL. My parents were quite the opposite. I suppose I do it to make myself feel better, but sometimes it makes me feel worse. All that work to find the negative …

    1. Haha – you are my partner in googling crime! I think it’s partly the fault of the world in which we live, where there is this constant need for “gotcha” news. And as an avid consumer of that kind of stuff, I am guilty of fostering its popularity, I guess. But I never actually buy the National Enquirer — I only read it in the supermarket line. 🙂

  3. I disagree about the part that males are not judged on appearance. I think men are judged differently. Short men, men who lose their hair, and other quirky traits seem to function the same for them as women being “not pretty”. Look at how many men who are attractive but not necessarily nice, smart, or savvy have become a success–particularly in the media.

    Wonderful post–so honest. I two fall into judging people too often. As a mom of 3 boys, I worry about what I teach them about how to treat women.

    1. It’s true that men are judged differently for their appearance but I don’t think it’s the same kind of impediment to success for them as it is for women, particularly when it comes to weight. But as Moms of Boys, we do have the power to change that!

  4. .”It was a joke, to be sure, but the message was, “It’s more important to me to look young than to acknowledge you as my daughter.” When I read this sentence I thought, “ouch!” I’m so sorry, Randi. I think that almost everyone makes some kind of snap assessment based on appearance,but the people you want to befriend brush those assumptions aside and get to know the person inside.

    1. Thanks, Ann. I learned how really significant the words of a mother are from feeling the “ouch” from lots of snarky things my mother said. She would brush it off by saying she shouldn’t have to watch everything she says to me, and that I was too sensitive. But based on things my kids have quoted back to me, I know the offhanded remark said in jest can really impact a kid in a big way. It has made me reflect on things I’ve said to my kids and apologize to them later. Working on getting it right the first time.

  5. I think this is a great piece. Let me leave you with this thought – to this point, I have no idea what you look like other than a few snapshots of photos here and there. The image that I have formed in my head is of an amazingly wise, sharp, slightly sarcastic, and very real person – when I do meet you, I won’t give a flying f*** what you look like because to me, your beauty has already been formed in my mind’s eye.

    I know that that’s not the point of your piece, but I wanted to put that out there so that maybe, you might cut yourself a break at least just a little bit and stop beating yourself up so much. 🙂

    1. Awww, Vivian — that was such a sweet thing for you to write. It’s also a great lesson for me: to try to use those kinds of words when I am commenting on or thinking about others, even celebrities at the Golden Globe Awards. I will try to think of how much pleasure and entertainment Tom Hanks has given me, instead of focusing on his weird hair piece. I’m serious — I adore him but I’m obsessed with his hair. I will sweep away the snark with kindness and love.

      You have the right idea about beauty more properly being a reflection of the other person’s qualities. I can think of lots of people I know who are beautiful to me in the sense that when I look at them, I take so much joy in just seeing and hearing them sitting in front of me that I have lost sight of whether they are traditionally beautiful or not. I think that is the sad part of my mother’s lesson to me, that her viewpoint swallows up what I really do know is true.

      One of the GREAT things about CTWM is getting to know people in a certain way, so we can already feel that love and appreciation BEFORE meeting them! Extra dividend!

  6. Randi, a lot of us default to that shallow place, and I think the really important thing is that you recognize this quality in yourself and are able to reflect on it. Just the fact that it bothers you shows that it’s not really your true nature – that’s what I think, anyway. Even though my daughter is only a baby, I worry about this issue. When I’m changing her or putting her to bed I catch myself saying, “You’re so beautiful, you’re the cutest baby – but you’re also sweet and curious and intelligent…” It seems silly, but it bothers me to ONLY talk to her about her appearance, even though she doesn’t understand what I’m saying! Hahaha…

    1. You make an excellent point, Emily. It’s just natural to coo to our babies, “You’re the cutest baby,” rather than “you’re the most curious baby.” I see myself doing this with my grandson and even with my DOGS, although I doubt it will scar them for life if I call them the cutest puppies instead of the bravest puppies. But you never know! I think it’s great that you can you add those other descriptive phrases. They will become part of your default repertoire of compliments forever!

  7. Gutsy confession, and one many of us can likely make if we were as honest as you chose to be. Of course, I’ve worn the “fatsuit” my whole life, and so my immediate response is empathy. Shallow Hal was difficult for me to watch, for different reasons. Yet, even with empathy being a first responses, it still acknowledges what you do, that it equals “not beautiful”. There is so much to challenge…

    1. There is indeed so much to challenge. I thought “Shallow Hal,” while silly and slapstick-y, taught the lesson of empathy and real inner beauty effectively to an audience who would otherwise not have been exposed to it. I am sorry it was difficult for you to watch, though. There are lots of movies that make me uncomfortable because of juvenile humor or physical violence but which also have a great message beneath all of that. I try to distill my recollection down to that essential message. For example, “The Water Boy” — I was a total Adam Sandler hater until I watched that movie, which has a similar theme to “Shallow Hal,” in that the “loser” wins in the end, just by being himself (herself in SH). A lot of those seemingly crass comedies have those sweet themes running through them. Lots of Jerry Lewis movies make me cry, for example. I know, I’m weird.

  8. I loved this Randi. It is so brave of you to talk about this internal struggle you have. I admire you for your openness. I think the messages we get as kids are very hard to get out of our heads as adults, even after lots of effort and therapy.

    1. I think it’s a habit, and can be conquered with enough effort, like any bad habit. Of course, I have plenty of those on my list of things to conquer!

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