My daughter—already as pretty a human being as ever walked the Earth—said, "Hey Dad, my friend told me I should put some auburn highlights in my hair. 'Zactly what color is auburn, anyway?"
"Uh, some kind o' brown I think. Like on a sweaty horse. And what's wrong with your hair the way it is?"
"I'd just sort of like to be prettier than I am. That's all."
Uh oh! Somehow, I guess I'd deluded myself into believing we could skip on by this particular teenage roadside attraction without having to stop. Now what do I do?
I can't honestly say I know what she's going through. How could I? She's 14; I was 14 over 40 years ago. She thinks she's in the ring with J-Lo ... Buffy the Vampire Slayer ... Britney; I thought I was up against James Dean ... Edd "Kookie" Burns ... Elvis. She's a girl; I used to be a boy.
On the other hand, I know what she's going through. I remember what it was like to look in the mirror on my way out the door to school and think, "Phooey! Why'd I have to be the one that ended up with this face?" I remember begging my mom for some forest green corduroy trousers because the coolest kid in the whole eighth grade had a pair on at the last sock hop. I remember combing my hair backwards and forwards, east and west, hoping against all evidence that the only thing keeping me from being a dead ringer for Steve McQueen was my flat-top.
Yes, like everyone else (except for the good-looking ones), I tried various configurations of facial hair, different specs, different clothing styles ... but nothing worked. Nothing I did or might have done could make me a more agreeable sight. Something we learn as we get older and our maturity juices start to gel is that some people are born to look groovy, and most of us aren't.
But try to tell that to your kid. You talk yourself hoarse about how we mustn't judge a book by its cover ... how true beauty comes from inside ... how anything else is only skin deep ... and how it's all in the eye of the beholder, anyway. And what do you have when the lecture's over?
A terrified kid who's staring at you hard, thinking, "I pray to God that when I get to be Dad's age, I don't have little hairs growing out of the bulb on the end of my nose like he does."
Nah, whatever my daughter's opinion of herself is, it's nothing new, I'm sure of that. I have no trouble imagining thousands of young Greek girls—circa 1200 B.C.—crying themselves to sleep in Sparta, Athens ... ancient Ithaca ... sobbing, "Golly, why can't I have a face that could launch a thousand ships?"
Until relatively recently, though, there wasn't much to be done about it. For instance, those girls of my generation who were intent on upping their beauty index basically had a choice between a beehive and a Laura Petty flip. But the world my daughter lives in offers an astounding range of options. Not even counting the things they can do with a tub of eyeliner and hairspray, they can now elect to have Botox injections, laser de-scarification, nose jobs, boob implants, tummy tucks, stomach stapling, liposuction, muscle-building programs, powerful abs, buns of steel, bulimia, anorexia, fingernail art, toenail pictures, tinted contacts, bikini waxes, instant tans, tattooing from full-body disfigurement down to a discreet butterfly on their rump, flesh piercing, X-treme makeovers, color consultants, clothing industries that target teens like mall rats in a barrel, musical genres that speak to nothing but well-proportioned "booties" ... . Gad, I don't know how the thoroughly modern miss can ever decide on a look with so many empty vanity enhancements to choose from!
So, to help my kid out, I have always made it relatively simple for her. "No damn way," I suggest. "You're beautiful enough as is. If, when you reach the age of ... oh, say, 45 ... and still feel you aren't as pretty as you'd like to be, then we can discuss it again. But until that time, be happy with yourself and gimmee one of those big smiles of yours."
For these 14 years, she has seemed relatively resigned to my advice. Always before, when she questioned why I wouldn't let her wear a coat of makeup to school or a midriff baring ensemble to Gramma's house, I didn't have to go into the details of why I would allow no under-age offspring of mine to go about looking like a cheap Vegas hooker. I could simply say, "It goes against what I believe," and she would sigh with despair and drop the matter. Good girl.
But I fear my jig is up. She's grown up enough now to not believe everything I say, dammit. She wants the details. She wants to know what church I belong to—the services of which she has never once seen me attend—that forbids our daughters from looking like cheap Vegas hookers if they take a notion to. From now on, I will need to be more precise in my strict-icity. I will need a good reason. A real reason.
But above all, I must not rely on reality teevee for guidance. As a general rule, reality teevee no more portrays reality than the Fox News Network portrays the news. What is "real" about a steady stream of big-titted, luscious-assed bimbos trying to snag millionaire stud muffins on exotic beaches? What is "real" about scantily clad gold-diggers of all sexes wrestling for prize money in the mud of some wilderness somewhere? What is "real" about anything Donald Trump does, for Christ's sake?
And now, the lowest blow of all—The Swan. Follow the plot carefully, fathers: they take a bunch of not-so-luscious young girls—daughters who would be the first voted off any other reality teevee show—slice them up like so much deli luncheon meat, and re-assemble them into today's standardized idea of drop-dead gorgeous. Possibly you've seen it. (In all truth, I haven't. I suppose to be fair, I should actually watch a teevee show before I call it a carbuncle on culture's butt. But listen, I don't have to roll in dog shit to understand the concept of "filth," now do I?)
So far, the lovely Miss Cope hasn't exposed any plans for elective surgery. But if she's unhappy with her hair today, how much longer will she be content with her nose? Why wouldn't she be coveting Laura Croft's lips? What if, as she approaches the age of legal status, she decides Pamela Anderson's chest would go good with her new shoes? I can hardly stand to think about it.
Excuse me ... I'm off to give that "skin deep" talk one more stab. Time's running out on me. Maybe if I throw a bag over my head as I lecture this time, I can get part of it to stick.