Ashlee Simpson and Me

August 11, 2006

Today, the universe told me this: Ashlee Simpson got a nose-job.

More specifically, Ashlee Simpson went on record in Marie-Claire magazine as supporting quote-unquote real beauty and said things to the effect of “everyone is made differently and that’s what makes us beautiful and unique” and helped some inner-city teenage girls make a mural celebrating real beauty while pumping her fists in the air and hollering “what tough mother-fucking bitches we are!” and just generally getting all hopped up on girl power – and then trotted off and had her nose done.

And, consequently, brought something of a shit-storm down upon her surgically-altered head.

Bear with me.

The shit-storm came in the form of, reportedly, some thousand outraged readers of Marie-Claire, who opened their ‘real beauty’ issues of the mag after Ms. Simpson the Younger revealed her new, better, altered face. Such was the shit-storm that the new editor of Marie-Claire (who was not editorially responsible for the Simpson spread) allowed extra space in the latest edition of the mag for reader letters addressing that matter and stated, on behalf of the magazine, that “we’re dazed and confused – and disappointed – by her choice too!”

I’m not going to address questions concerning the hypocrisy of a fashion magazine – no matter how “progressive” that mag – criticizing a celebrity for fiddling with her appearance. Whatever. Marie-Claire has sniffed the armpit of the girl-power market and is going after it. Great. Better than going after the aspiring Pussycat Doll market. But still. It’s a fashion magazine. It sells Maybelline (maybe she’s born with it… maybe not!)

I don’t care all that much about whether fashion magazines grow social consciences. I don’t read them for their social conscience (in fact, I’d say that the more socially pious such a magazine gets, the less likely I’d be to read it.)

What I do care about: asking to what extent beauty is socially constructed and figuring out how to shield my daughter from the more pernicious aspects of that social construction. No, I’m not going to do that math here. (Yes, I felt that massive, collective sigh of virtual relief.) What I need to do here is figure out why and how such ideas about beauty matter to me. Figure out why that Ashlee Simpson story hit me in the gut.

To that end… onward to the cliffs of HBM’s psyche!

(Deep breath.)

I have always hated my nose. In sixth grade, some ass named Donald nicknamed me ‘Big Nose’ and it stuck. That nickname had run its course by the time I entered seventh grade, but still, that year of rhino-mockery stayed with me. For years I did everything that I could to avoid being seen in profile: my hands fluttered constantly near my face, and I was ever pulling my hair down over my cheeks as a veil.

I hated how I looked. Hated it. I would have sold my soul, in some painful, angst-ridden moments, to change my nose. To my young, insecure mind, if my nose were smaller, everything would fall into place. My face would be a face, not just landscape surrounding a nose. My face would be a face. Maybe, it would be pretty.

As I got older, I relaxed a little about my nose. Sometimes, when I was feeling dramatic and confident and having a Diana Vreeland moment, I even liked it. But mostly not. Mostly, I thought, I’m smart and funny and maybe sort of pretty, or at least, I might be sorta pretty, if it weren’t for the nose…

And then I’d beat myself up a little for obsessing about my nose. Because, you know, cool girls don’t do that. Cool girls don’t care. Cool girls are proud to be all jolie laide, yearn to emulate Charlotte Gainsbourg, take to heart Marcel Proust’s dictum that pretty women should be left to men without imagination.

Cool girls don’t care about tiny little cheerleader noses. Cool girls don’t care. It’s not cool, it’s not progressive, it’s not bad-ass to care.

But I did. I cared.

I get why Ashlee Simpson cared.

But I wish that she didn’t. I really, really wish that I hadn’t. That I wouldn’t now, ever. And I wish, more than anything, that my daughter will never. Care about her looks, her face, her nose.

I wish this more than anything. That she not be Ashlee Simpson (on so many levels, but for now, let’s focus on this one.) And that, in this singular respect, she not be like me. That she not care.

I have two conflicting dreams for my daughter. In one, she inherits most of her looks from her father, who is smashing handsome with a fine straight nose and who is blessed, along with rest of his family, with some serious Dorian Gray reverse-aging genes. In this dream, she never has to give her looks a second thought. In this dream, she never wonders whether or not she is pretty because she is never plagued by the concern that she is ugly. She will be blessed with the luxury of having no need of concern over her looks. She will not have reason to care.

In the other dream – the more powerful dream, the better dream – she inherits my looks, the good and the bad. In this dream, she has my eyes (as she already does) and my nose and my smile and they become her own, completely her own. And she loves her looks. In this dream, she recognizes, early and for always, that she has a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart and a beautiful character and a beautiful soul, and that this beauty radiates from beautiful eyes set within a masterpiece of a face. Her face, her beautiful, unique jolie jolie face. She will care – but she will care well. She will care for herself, her self.

In this dream, it won’t matter what the Ashlee Simpsons of the world do or do not do about their magazine-cover faces. It won’t matter whether or not magazines or soap companies launch campaigns for ‘real beauty.’ Because in this dream, speaking about ‘real beauty’ will mean speaking in redundancies. She’ll be perfectly content, happy, to be real, beautifully real.

This is my wish for her, my dream. I’ll do everything in my power to make it real.

I’ll begin by loving my own beauty.

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    { 74 comments }

    Janet August 14, 2006 at 9:49 am

    Let’s be honest. Someone in her PR dept sat Ashlee down and explained to her the way the game would be played. You can go on like this, being the cute punk, younger sister, or you can revamp your look and give your sister a run for her money. She chose the latter.

    But let’s not be fooled. I don’t think Jessica is exactly untouched, either. As is at least half of Hollywood. Yes, the same exact people who spout exactly the opposite.:(

    owensmomma August 14, 2006 at 10:49 am

    You are beautiful!!

    I love reading your blog! It’s funny, intelligent and just so likeable!

    I think we all grow up hating certain things about ourselves, our weight, our names, lips, eyes, etc. You name it, as a teenager, you probably hated it.

    Magazines, media, all have a hand in telling us what beautiful is and what beautiful isn’t. I’ve decided to write my own definition because quite frankly, we aren’t all perfect size 6s with perfect features.

    To me, the imperfections are what make us beautiful.

    ~Kellie

    Andrea August 14, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    The celebrity spotlight is so much more harsh than reality as far as looks go, and I am not surprised Ashlee Simpson bowed to the pressure of a new nose.

    I understand your sentiment here immensely, and I think you look fantastic. Your nose gives you character and keeps you from being cookie cutter. And most of all, it FITS you.

    But I understand some of the other side of the coin as well. I’ve had a breast reduction. I was wearing a bra by the time I was 9 and I just didn’t stop growing when I should have. Pre-reduction, I probably came in at a FF, or at least a EEE. I never fully knew my measurements because I was afraid to get properly fitted. I was already too self-conscious to admit my chest was pretty. I knew walking in the grocery store that the looks I got weren’t admiration. The looks bent more towards awe and a hint of horror, as in, “Oh my word, that must be difficult to live with. Lookit her! How does she find clothes?!”

    Of course, my case was extreme. I’m only 5’3″. I wore a size 9 jeans in high school, and still had an E cup. So, the decision to get them reduced was easy, not to mention geared toward back and neck pain relief as opposed to the perfect C cup. Now, I’m a DD. I’m not perky, and I’m not perfect. But at least I’m in the spectrum of normal. I paid a price, too, by way of the scars and sacrificing breast feeding. But when people meet me now, I’m not the chick with the boobs. People notice ME now, because this is the me that was in there all along. I’m comfortable with myself now.

    wordgirl August 14, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    I hated my nose,too, though I’m glad I waited for the rest of my face to grow into it. I honestly can’t imagine my face with a small nose now. It just woulnd’t fit. I think you’re beautiful.

    Kristin August 14, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    what a beautiful woman you are! and thank you for such a timely and thoughtful post.

    lildb August 14, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    damn straight.

    Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly August 14, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    You are beautiful and so is your writing.

    Lisa

    Amanda August 15, 2006 at 5:04 am

    Fantastic post. Beauty is more than skin deep.. sometimes it just takes a lot longer to see that when it comes to our own self.

    It’s funny, because as I was reading about your covering your cheeks with your hair, I remember doing the same thing. From about age 11 – 14, I thought my nose was *huge*. Any photograph there is of me at that age, I am covering the bottom half of my face (nose down) with my hand/hair/whatever I’m holding). I’d forgotten all about it until now.

    Summer August 15, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    First I’d like to say your nose in NOT big. You’re beautiful and part of that beauty is knowing where beauty really comes from.
    I have so much to say on this that I will posting something soon. You have definitely made me think. Such a sensitive subject for all….uniquely beautiful and standardly beautiful alike.

    Tina C August 15, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    A boy in 4th Grade used to make fun of me for having hairy arms. at the time i took it to heart and hated my hairy arms, never thinking ‘what a stoopid thing to make fun of someone about.’

    recently i was recounting this boy to friends, and it was pointed out that he ‘probably liked me’ that’s why he was making fun. duh. although since elem. school i had finally come to accept and love my hairy arms, it made me feel better to know that’s what was probably happening.

    Anyway, maybe that’s what Ronald was doing to you too??

    something blue August 16, 2006 at 1:37 am

    That powerful dream that you have is a force to be reckoned with.

    To never feel those taunted teasing words about our own appearance and to deal with those repercussions. The horrific words get stuck into our psyche and it is hard to push them out. To watch our own mothers struggle with their desire to stay slim and youthful not fully accepting their own physical appearance is damaging to a child. The media then tops off our unworthiness and the desire to achieve the impossible.

    I want my daughters to fully recognize the complete beauty of their souls as well. It is in acceptance and comfort that beauty radiates.

    Mrs. Davis August 16, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    With two sons, I am more concerned about how they SEE beauty in women than in how they look (I am already convinced they are going to be dashingly handsome like Teresa Heinz Kerry’s sons).

    But I have struggled with my own self-image most of my life. I have scars from 3rd degree burns on my thighs (a fondue pot spilled on me when I was four), and this was a source of great angst and some teasing through most of my childhood. The options for plastic surgery when I was young were very limited, and would have meant scarring on another part of my body to “transplant” my own skin over the scars, so I passed. Now I’m sure there are better options, but the scars have mostly faded. Mostly. And the older I get, the more I find there are other parts of my appearance that bother me much more than these scars.

    BTW, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was honored recently at the NOW conference, to kind of a mixed response from those attending. This is an interesting take on it:
    http://pandagon.net/2006/07/23/biggest-disappointment-of-the-now-conference/

    Petite Mom Blogger August 16, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    This was one wonderfully truthful post. And even though you didnt write this to hear what I’m about to say I still want to say it. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! And, you are so talented and smart!

    I’ve always always had issues with my self. I’m so much smaller than everyone ( 4’9 and less than 90 pounds) and people always say how young I look and I dont like it. They think I should like it but actually it bothers me alot. The hardest part of all is that I dont get taken seriously and that I find it hard to make friends because of my looks.
    Looking this way was torture for me in high school.

    My 5 year old son took his height after me and it hurts me so deeply because I dont want him to ever go through what I did. I know being short will even be harder on a boy. I have even went so far as to checking into to hormone/growth treatments for him but ultimately decided against it after we were told that he actually wouldnt be as short as me.

    Either way, we all have issues about ourselves and it is sad. Having children has changed me and made me feel so much better about myself but it wont make me forget.

    sweetney August 17, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    pretty, pretty lady.

    Stephanie T. August 17, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    What a lovely, lovely post, and I have the same dream for my daughter (and, hell, for myself!)

    Nancy August 20, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    Ashlee should have thought about what happened to Jennifer Grey after her nose job…

    I know for me my ultimate goal with my girls is to teach them to love themselves, so that the criticism/praise they get from others won’t be the reason they try to dress/act/look a certain way. It will be a hard lesson to teach since I struggle with my own self-esteem issues. But oddly, I love myself more (as is) as I grow older — so hopefully my message will not be a hypocritical one.

    Haley-O August 21, 2006 at 12:13 am

    HBM, for some reason, I didn’t see any of these new posts! I was wondering why you hadn’t written since the breastfeeding post! Sorry…Anyway, you are beautiful. And you’re a beautiful writer. No one can get writing-surgery. You have a natural gift. That’s a beautiful thing. Our society needs to stop obsessing about our bodies….And focus a bit more on inner beauty (I know, obvious…). You’re gorgeous by the way. I think your nose is lovely! But we’re always our own worst critics aren’t we….

    Jen August 21, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I can’t even tell you how much this post touched me. Take a look at my story of My Beautiful, Bald Little Girl about 3 posts down on this page and you will know.

    http://urbanmoms.typepad.com/urbanmoms/2005/09/index.html

    Thank you. I have the same dream…both of them.

    toyfoto August 23, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Late to this party, but I wanted to compliment you on a wonderful post. It is sad that people have an ideal they feel they must live up to, but I think it’s human, too. We make ways to “fix” ourselves, to better ourselves all the time. Education, plastic surgery, diet and excercise … whatever it is it seems to be a balancing act.

    bunmaster September 7, 2006 at 12:37 am

    durrrr… I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said but I just wanted to tell ya I think u r real purty like.

    Anonymous September 14, 2006 at 11:39 am

    Self Help Will Nerver Be The Same

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    blueberry October 6, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    Thank you…your post resonates with me. When I was very young, I was teased for being chubby, and I never forgot others’ comments. Now, I’m no longer chubby, but those comments remain with me, and I have trouble believing those who tell me that I’m too slender these days.

    S. January 31, 2008 at 2:43 am

    I spent my elementary years wearing the classic Coke-bottle glasses, possessing a head of frizzy hair that wouldn’t “feather,” and not always having the right clothes. Peers confirmed my unacceptable appearance to me on a regular basis. One of my most vivid memories is from when I was about 12; I had spent an hour before the mirror and felt fairly satisfied with the result, then went outside and was BARKED at by some older boys riding by on their bikes. Later I got contacts and learned the art of makeup application, and suddenly I was considered reasonably pretty and acceptable, but I have never felt it. I never feel presentable unless I have my hair styled and some makeup on. Now, as the mother of a 7 year old daughter, and two sons, I am exquisitely aware of how my attitudes about myself will affect her and her brothers. They all need me to see myself as a whole, wonderful person, whose worth is not defined by looks. And P.S. the picture you posted is adorable; that kid back in school was as ugly a soul as the boys who barked at me.

    Anonymous October 29, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    is that your nose or are you selling bananas?

    bwah hah ha ha haa

    your pal,

    The Donald

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