"girls get uglier as they get older"

This past Monday I was assigned a group of four little boys to watch out for on my son's field trip to the Schiele Natural History museum in Gastonia, North Carolina. After leaping our way from one exhibit to the next, we met up with the rest of the first graders in a big, empty conference room.

Bagged lunches were distributed, and my son and the three others in our group sat down to eat. We were talking about the things we'd seen, Minecraft, and other whatnots, when out of the blue this one little toe-headed kid said it...

"Girls get uglier as they get older."

I'm talking seriously out of nowhere. The kind of out of nowhere that has you stabbing a drink-straw into your eye to make sure you are, indeed, still awake.

"No!" I blurted, because somebody needed to say it.

I glanced around. Did any of the female teachers or chaperons hear this kid? Were they cringing inside? What were they thinking... what were they feeling?

Although, it's not like there's anything particularly novel in Toe-Head's comment: it's a message that's screamed at women day in and out, their entire lives. It's the tribal drum our "youth-and-beauty" obsessed culture pounds on, until somehow "youth" becomes conflated with "beauty," and a multi-billion-dollar industry of "youth-beauty" products is propped up.

Fear of death is subverted into an advertisement for Maybe It's Maybelline.

Women are cut, siphoned, slathered, and painted, in an ever-more-desperate attempt to cling to the one thing that culture tells tells them gives them value. "Women are good for looking at," the culture intones, "until they get older. Women get uglier as they get older."

Sometimes it takes a seven-year-old to just come out and say it.

So I said "No!"

And then, raising my voice in hope that the closest, aging woman might hear, I said, "No, girls get more beautiful as they get older! Young girls are often silly and foolish and selfish, but as they get older they get more wise, and also more kind. And that makes them a lot more beautiful."

The kid just looked at me.

He didn't answer, but I got the feeling he didn't buy it.

What's one little voice, against a barrage of hair-coloring-product ads?
What's one little whisper, against the bright-color tsunami of manufactured discontent?

my grandmother Phyllis Milligan, one of the most beautiful women I've ever known, with my son


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