Did you grow up believing that you were attractive? Many of us don't, and it can have a profound and long-lasting effect.
Jennifer Aniston, who plays a former beauty queen and mother of a plus-size daughter in the Netflix film Dumplin', has revealed that even she grew up feeling like she wasn't attractive enough. A few years ago, she described her relationship with her late mother, an actress and model named Nancy Dow to the Hollywood Reporter:
"She was very critical of me. Because she was a model, she was gorgeous, stunning. I wasn't. I never was. I honestly still don't think of myself in that sort of light, which is fine."
It seems outlandish that Jennifer Aniston doesn't feel pretty. People crowned her most beautiful woman of the year twice--once when she was 35 and again at 47. Objectively speaking, it's obvious that she is indeed gorgeous, and yet it's easy to believe that she doesn't feel that way.
At least, it's easy for me, because I've been there. A lot of women grow up with glamorous mothers--mine literally was a movie star. I was always completely outclassed by her beauty and to complicate matters, she began telling me early in life that I was too fat and should lose weight. How early? I don't know, because I can't remember a time when she didn't think this about me, or when I didn't think it about myself.
As an adolescent, my parents sent me to weight loss camp where some other campers asked me what I was doing there. And indeed, when I look back at photos of myself from those times, objectively speaking, I wasn't fat. But I can also tell from my body language in those photos that I felt huge. In my teen years, my body did balloon out to match my self-image. I've been overweight ever since.
How does feeling unattractive affect girls growing up? There's plenty of research to tell us the effect is pretty bad. Sixty percent choose not to participate in activities because they feel unattractive. Girls who think they're fat get lower grades on tests than those who don't. They're also less likely to get physical exercise and less likely to eat fruits and vegetables. That last dynamic might help explain my dramatic teenage weight gain. I do know that I was well into adulthood before I discovered that I actually like fruit and vegetables.
Unlike some girls, believing I wasn't pretty didn't stop me from doing well in school. Maybe I believed I had to study hard because I didn't have looks going for me. In time I learned that this was an area where I could excel. And, just as my parents undermined my self-confidence when it came to my looks, they bolstered it when it came to my intellect.
Years of estrangement.
Aniston's rocky relationship with her mother led to several years of estrangement. That happened to me and my Mom too in my teenage years. By that time, my parents had separated, and I went to live with my father. But then I went off to a faraway college and learned some independence. And Mom, who was going through her own changes, gained a level of maturity she'd never had before. When I came home during those college years, she treated me more like a grownup. She was even-keeled and talked to me about what was happening in her own life. She completely stopped criticizing my weight--or saying anything about it at all. By the time I graduated, we were good friends.
As an adult, I went through a series of really bad relationships, and eventually found a stable and happy marriage. I never have, at any time in my life, considered myself pretty and at 58, I likely never will. Would things have been different if I had more confidence in my looks? I think they would. At the very least, I might have skipped some of the bad relationships.
That would have led me in some very different directions, and to a very different life. I'm happy with the way this life has turned out--I wouldn't want to change it. But, just once, I'd love to experience what so few women get to, even if they're Jennifer Aniston--to believe, even for a moment, that we are truly beautiful.