What makes us women? What makes us beautiful?

There is a scene in the movie Funny Girl where Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand, marvels at her infant daughter and exclaims to her close friend, “She’s pretty, isn’t she?” We know what that means coming from Fanny, known for her voice and her comic timing but not her looks. She is enthralled with the fact that her child is good-looking and wonders why her handsome husband would ever give her a second look.


I daresay there is little we can do about the concept of what’s beautiful in our culture. The aesthetically beautiful seem so much more valued than the spiritually beautiful. Sometimes a spiritual radiance will turn our heads as we walk down the street, but of course more often it’s the conventional definition of beauty that makes our neck swivel for a better look.

As each day goes by and another story or poster or social media image appears on our radar, it challenges our sensibilities. Then comes the barrage of opinions, not necessarily informed ones, and they range from frighteningly shallow to ardently moving.

The Dove advertising campaign where we see how women perceive themselves and how others perceive them was illuminating. We think everyone is focused on that flaw that so stands out to us when we look in the mirror. The truth is, they’re not. They see us more in a big picture way. How heartening.

But wait, don’t get too caught up in your elation. The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch wants to make sure you know that your elephant butt is not getting in his company’s clothes any time soon. And by elephant butt I mean above a size 10. You aren’t cool. They have an image to uphold, after all. Size matters and don’t you forget it.

This ain’t the Renaissance, zaftig ladies. Where once we were lush and juicy, now we’re portrayed as unable to control ourselves.

My teen-aged self thought she was fat. I look at pictures now and realize she wasn’t. This mentality, excruciatingly and repeatedly chronicled in my earliest diaries, continued on through decades. If only. When I am thinner. Blah, blah, blah. What a waste of emotional energy.

I recently shared a vintage newspaper advertisement someone posted on Facebook (see insert). On the left was an angular woman with small breasts and hips and on the right was a much curvier woman. Both have hands on hips. The curvier woman is smiling and the other isn’t. The copy on top reads: How Do You Look in Your Bathing Suit? As it turns out, the ad is for something called “ironized yeast” that promises to add 10 to 25 pounds. The kicker is the tagline – “Gives thousands natural sex-appealing curves.”

Unquestionably most of us, on first glance, think this ad is for weight loss. That is how conditioned we are now. I’m not going to get into the whole “when women were women” thing, as that only serves as a putdown to my thinner sisters. But what could really work on me if I let it is this idea that we’ve been led down a path to believe we are more or less worthy depending on how well we line up with the accepted image of the era we happen to be born into.

There is something about being in my 50s, let’s call it a maturity, that keeps me from dwelling on such things. Why expend energy on what other people think? I’ve probably already lopped a year off my life if I combine all the past hand-wringing I did on this. Are you with me?

Maybe this gets to the root of why I think Angelina Jolie’s recent announcement about her double mastectomy is so remarkable. Putting aside all the important conversations it prompted about what any of us would do in that situation, I think at its base the decision was about maturity. The role of mother put before being the object of fantasy. Children before fans/glory. Better odds at life before marketability. Self-worth based on a higher consciousness of what ‘self’ means. Living and the rest be damned.

Our bodies are to be treasured, aren’t they? What that means to Jolie may not mean what it does to you or me or anyone else, but that is what’s underneath it all. It is the impressive woman who can shun the construct and seize her power. And that goes from surface to way deep inside.

Let’s take this down to a more surface, non life-and-death level.

I’ve lamented a bit recently on Facebook that with the ripple effects of knee injury has come a need to wear shoes I consider ‘granny.’ I’ve asked friends to indulge in my ‘first-world’ problem, to let me vent that spending considerable money on ugly shoes is difficult when with that same cash I could be buying pretty flat sandals that look more like foot jewelry adorning my well-pedicured feet. Shoes that make me feel more womanly.

I know there are more important things. I know I need to get over it. I even know that if the goal is looking my best that will be better achieved by taking care of my knees and joints and the rest of my body. I will stand taller, feel grander, exude better energy.

What makes us women? Scrutinizing our body parts? Torturing ourselves?

What makes us beautiful? The fashion? Or the person wearing it?

We decide.

We. Decide.