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Wednesday December 31, 2008 6:06 pm

When Should We Start Worrying About Beauty?

A pre made-over Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada

Now, clearly I love the beauty and fashion industry. I delight in it. But this wasn’t always the case. Back in high school, I was the girl who took pride in arriving to class with her hair in a messy wet bun, wearing only lip balm and a snug t-shirt with drawstring pants. Vans were my footwear staple. I considered myself independent, a little bohemian, and I looked scornfully at the girls with smoky eyes and straightened hair. There was also, I’ll admit, a little bit of envy. In their fashion, their stilettos that clacked across the beige tiled hallways, those girls had what I didn’t: sex appeal.

Last night, I watched The Devil Wears Prada with my 12-year-old stepdaughter. She is uncommonly beautiful, with no trace of the awkwardness I suffered at her age. She is smart, perceptive, and a budding fashionista. (The night before, she’d killed thirty minutes by trying on half a dozen pairs of my shoes, then texting all her friends back in Seattle about her newfound love for high-heeled boots.) But as we watched Prada, she’d declare, “Ugh! I have such a big butt!” or “Look at all this baby-flab over my hips! You don’t have any of that!” or “I’m confused. How come my thighs touch when I’m standing up? That’s not right, is it?”

As a relatively new (seven months) and quite young (24 years old) stepmother, it was difficult for me to respond to these comments. If she were a girlfriend, I’d say, “Oh, shut up! I’d kill for your eyes. And your boobs? Crap, I wish I could fill out a shirt like that!” If she were my sister, I’d say, “Oh, shush. Trust me, you have it good. Revel in it before you have to start working out to keep it all in place.” But a stepdaughter? I think I said some combination of both with a heated, “You know you’re gorgeous. And I told you the rule: You’re not allowed to have body image issues till you’re at least 18. Until then, enjoy what you’ve got!” I paused, then added, “Look, I know it’s trite, even cheesy. But every girl’s body is different. It takes time, but the best beauty lesson I’ve learned—and not from a movie—is to appreciate your body, and to treat it well.” She trained those no-######## eyes on me, grinned, and said, “Cheesy.”

All this begs the question: When should the concern for—and pursuit of—beauty begin? To me, playing with new makeup looks, testing out new products, strutting a new look downtown—it’s all fun. Does looking good contribute to my confidence? Absolutely. Do I still have insecurities? Hell, yeah. But 12 years old… isn’t it too soon to be seriously worrying about these things? What do you think? When did you start really paying attention to your look and cultivating a “style”? Does that time coincide with when you started to feel comfortable in your own skin? If not, what finally helped you arrive at that coveted place of self-appreciation?

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