Daughters are familiar with their mother’s insecurities. We inherit them the same way we inherit their forewarnings of lit stoves, strange dogs and icy weather.
To us, they are a factual misfortune. We learn that the round, soft stomachs of our mothers are actually called “tire tummies.” We learn that they can be rid of with special foods shaped like rectangles that come out of metal film or plastic-wrapped dinners that you heat up in the microwave. We learn that the big, comfy lap we sit on is bad too, because maybe her hips are too wide or too narrow. We learn that her nose is too bird-like and that her hair is too frizzy.
Slowly, our mothers transform before our eyes. No longer are they the heroines who we once saw them as—large, full and without a jagged edge or angle, halo-lit from behind, the givers of our lives and the nurturers of our souls. Suddenly, they are paunchy and unkempt. They are fragile. We inherit the beliefs they have of themselves and internalize them. We are taught to believe that we come from that which is ugly.
We inherit the beliefs they have of themselves and internalize them.
In time, we grow up. We become teenagers, and then, our hips are too wide or too narrow. Our button noses elongate, and our bone structure defines itself into prominence. Other women look at us with joy and tell us that we look like our mothers. Internally, we shirk at the compliment, having long ago learned that such a thing is undesirable. Our mothers look at us heartbroken, wondering why we feel that looking as they do is such a bad thing, unaware that they are the ones who taught us that it is.
A treasured friend of mine, who I love for her remarkable thoughtfulness and open mind, confided in me that she is considering a rhinoplasty (a plastic surgery performed on the nose). She admitted it with hesitance, sure that I, a devout feminist, would bristle at such a desire. In response, I told her that I, too, have aspects of my body that I don’t like.
“I can lose the belly,” I say, pinching the fat of my stomach to prove that I am, in fact, aware of my faults, “but my jaw,” I shake my head, “it will always be a weak, undefined jaw and there is nothing I can do about it.”
She looks at me and contemplates what she is about to say next.
“I don’t know if I should tell you this,” she begins, “but there are procedures to fix that.”
For the first time in my life, I am made aware of the possibility of a world where my chin does not slope lazily into my short neck. I see a world where my neck is long and elegant, my profile sharp. I see myself as the beautiful women I watched on TV as a child, the ones who I imagined I would look like when I grew up, not the one I became.
My mother and I share the same short waist, short neck and weak jaw. We share the same curly hair, blue-green eyes and Slavic Jewish ancestry. We share a love of astrology, a compassion for the earth and a desire to tote around small animals like kittens. I inherited my mother’s perseverance, strength and good sense.
I inherited my mother’s perseverance, strength and good sense.
I inherited things from my mother that I, at one time in my life, would have preferred to be without. Yet, along with those things, I inherited empathy, sensitivity and the spirit of a free thinker. I am my mother’s daughter. Even if it was free and I was promised it would go perfectly, I would never undergo a cosmetic procedure that would detract from that.
When I look into the mirror, the face that looks back at me is not just my own, it is the face of all the women in my matrilineal line. From my babushkas in the cold North, I received my round face and sun-hungry skin. From my Celtic grandmothers, I inherited my curly hair and green eyes.
Now, when someone tells me I look like my mother, I smile, for what could be more beautiful than that?