Pride in Ownership
My stepdaughter is eight years old. Unlike other girls her age, M. has not been begging us for pierced ears, striking Britney Spears poses in the mirror, or complaining that she's getting too chubby. M. has Down Syndrome, and as far as she can tell, her body is fine the way it is.
Tell M. that her tummy is big and she'll stick it out and giggle. Tell her she has pretty eyes and she'll say, "Yep." She would just as soon we shave her head as sit through one more tortuous combing-out of her thick, chocolate-colored hair.
She is not without vanity. Put her in a frilly, girly, silky dress, and she'll beam and twirl around. But looking "pretty" is not a need that consumes her. When the dress is put away she's fine wearing her brother's hand-me-down blue jeans. If you were to say she looked pretty in them she'd probably agree.
I have much to learn in this area. Being aware of societal constructs is not all it's cracked up to be. While I'm not saying that M. is lucky to have that extra chromosome, it certainly has helped shield her from certain outside pressures. The voices that constantly whisper snide comments about our appearances are inaudible to M. She never doubts that her body is fine just how it is because it doesn't occur to her to ask for anyone else's approval. Her body always measures up because it is hers alone.
Most of us don't own our bodies the way M. does. I certainly don't. My need for approval means that I've handed off ownership a piece at a time to television, movies, magazines, and even other people.
When I was in fourth grade one of the popular girls looked around the lunch table and scrutinized each of our noses. Mine, for whatever reason, was deemed objectionable. Because I believed she was right, I lost a piece of myself that day.
I wish I had known then, wish we all knew, what M. knows: that our bodies were not meant to be constant reminders that we don't measure up. We need to stop confusing our bodies with everyone else's and take pride in ownership.
When M. sees anorexic models in catalogs wearing clothes she could never afford, she is able to view the pictures separately from herself. The dress may be pretty, the model may be beautiful, but they have nothing to do with her. When it comes right down to it, they have nothing to do with any of us.