It is a strange and trying experience to go through life as the daughter of a beautiful woman. When I was a kid I loved looking at old pictures of my mother, because her beauty was so striking. I was so proud of her looks, and I would stare at her wedding album over and over again, amazed that I shared the same blood with the stunning young woman in the photos.
As Iíve gotten older, the relationship between my mother and I has gotten more complicated (as those relationships always do), and mixed in tightly with the various mother-daughter issues is my own conflicted relationship with my motherís looks. Iím 28 years old, old enough to look in the mirror and know what I am, and what I am not. Iíve gotten past the adolescent desire to look like Anyone Else. Iíve accepted my face for what it is, acknowledged my body for its strengths and weaknesses, and allowed my flaws to compliment rather than conceal my looks. And, at 28, Iíve also reached the point where itís obvious that I will never be as beautiful as my mother. This is not to say that I am unhappy with my looks Ė for better or worse, itís me Ė but rather, that I will never be the jaw-dropping legendary beauty that my mother was.
When I visit the town where my mother was raised, people still talk about her beauty. I know that most women think their mothers are beautiful (and most mothers are beautiful), but to have it drilled into your head from a young age and recited like town lore is another thing altogether. Every girl knows how hard it is to go through adolescence, how hard it is to get comfortable with your looks and your body; doing so in the shadow of a legendary beauty makes it even harder to look at your own too-long legs and too-round cheeks and too-curly hair and see an attractive being.
My mother is now 53, and is as stunning as ever. She is the most physically fit person Iíve ever known Ė literally. She walks 5 miles every day, does yoga at least twice a week, lifts weights, eats well. Spending a weekend with my parents usually culminates in me becoming so tense that relaxed conversation is impossible, and then - as soon as they leave - running to the nearest store to grab junk food and lay on the couch watching The Simpsons and Gilmore Girls while stuffing M&Ms in my face like itís my job. Itís a totally adolescent reaction, almost more juvenile than anything I actually did as a teenager. But itís what she brings out in me. She is gorgeous and funny and sociable and charming and stylist. In comparison, I feel like a malnourished, androgynous entity, bloated and unkempt.
I am not an unattractive person. I would never go so far as to call myself beautiful, but I am better than average and I can look damn good when I want too. I have a great sense of style. No matter, because all it takes is a weekend with my mother to reduce me to my insecure teenage self.
I couldnít ask for a better role model. My mother is healthy, strong and wise. She earned her MBA at age 50 while working full time. She recently completed her first marathon and is training for a triathlon. She and my father travel constantly. She is a great cook and makes a cheesecake so amazing that the local paper wrote an article about it. She raised four kids who are all interesting and independent people. And it is really frigginí hard trying to live up to her standards.
Over the course of the past year, I lost about 25 lbs - weight that very much needed to go. I have never been fat, but I had gradually put on weight and found myself wearing size 12 clothes and feeling generally dumpy. I lost the weight and am quite pleased with the way my body looks now. But just as I'm wriggling into tight white jeans and admiring myself, I think of my mother and her flab-free, tan and toned self. It flusters me. I have no coping mechanism for jealousy of one's own mother.
This entry comes on the heels of a weekend with my parents Ė they visited Kent and me in New York. My mother was walking in a charity event (ďItís not a competitionÖbut I finished first.Ē), and, as usual, made it hard for me to keep up with her the whole trip. I love my mother dearly, but I find it so exhausting, emotionally and physically, to spend time with her. I just canít keep up. I hate the feeling of relief mixed with sadness that comes when they leave...it's a sort of relief...I get to be the prettiest girl in the room again.
People, relationships between mothers and daughters were messy long before Shirley MacLaine fussed over Debra Winger. I've got no answers. I think it's a fairly natural thing for a child to wish his or her parents to be more average, more normal, more like the mini-van driving soccer mom in the baggy sweatshirt and jeans. Mine just aren't. I'm well beyond wishing for my parents to be different, and I've (for the most part) stopped wishing for ME to be different. Acceptance, she don't come easy.
I hope when I have a daughter I am able to teach her to love herself unconditionally and to appreciate herself for who she is. I also hope to show her what a beautiful grandmother she has.