I hope you never notice the magazine rack at the supermarket.
I hope you never see the billboards on the highway or the ads on the side of the city bus.
I hope you never learn about Hollywood and the fashion industry.
I hope you never listen to pop music.
I hope you never walk down the makeup aisle.
I hope you never hate your own appearance.
I hope you never pick up the habit of putting yourself down whenever someone compliments you.
I hope you never feel the pressure to physically conform to the perverse standards of a disordered world.
I hope you always stay exactly as you are right now. Innocent, carefree, unencumbered, pure.
But these could only be the hopes of a foolish idealist like your Dad. I can rub the genie lamp and make a thousand stupid wishes, but you will grow. You will start to learn about the culture that surrounds you. You will form opinions about yourself. Your vivacious, bubbly happiness will give way to more complex emotions. You will develop new dimensions.
In these times, here in your very early life, you only cry because you’re hungry or tired or you want me to hold you. One day, though, your tears will come from a deeper place.
And, when that day comes, I want you to remember one thing: you are beautiful.
Beautiful. A work of art — full of life, exploding with a unique, dynamic, vibrant energy.
Beautiful. Eyes like the morning, a strong and powerful spirit, a face that brims with joy and hope. Beautiful because you were formed by God. Beautiful because He has known you since before you even existed, He has loved you since the beginning of time. Beautiful because you’re real, beautiful because you are.
Remember this. It’s important that you remember it, Julia, as you live in a society that’s dedicated to making you forget.
Those commercials and movies and songs and cosmetic products and plastic surgeons and diet pills and trendy clothes and Cosmo magazine covers — they will all try to feed you something. An image. A broken promise. A false salvation. A poison. An airbrushed, manufactured, painted over, photoshopped, marketing ploy. A ‘sexiness’ that’s about as beautiful and feminine as an assembly line. A ‘hot’ that’s more sterile and processed than canned food.
This is the price of living in a culture of consumerism. We all pay the toll, Julia. Your Dad included.
See, modern humans spend every waking minute surrounded by advertisements and product placements and carefully crafted, focus grouped ‘messaging’ of all kinds. It tears you in a million different directions, but the lesson is always the same: you are not good enough. You need to be ‘improved,’ they’ll tell you. Demolished and rebuilt. Shamed and made over. Pulverized and perfected.
They pull out their metaphorical shotguns and blow giant holes in your psyche. They hollow you out and convince you that they’ve got the right thing to plug the gaps. They create a void in your conscience and pour their propaganda into it. This is why we have an unachievable, inhuman, digitized idea of beauty in our society. We’ve fallen for the ultimate scam, and the scammers have reaped dividends.
A little while ago, around your mom’s birthday, I had the crazy idea that I would attempt to purchase her some clothing items as part of a gift. By the way, you can tell that your Dad is a very hip and trendy dude, seeing as how he just used the phrase “purchase some clothing items.” Anyway, my quest was unsuccessful — not to mention bewildering and terrifying — but I feel like I was enlightened by the journey. Apparently, the shops in the mall have collectively determined that every woman is a size zero and none of them care about dressing modestly (I still don’t understand how there can even be such a thing as a ‘size zero’ — all human beings must, according to physics, have some mass, right?).
Of course, these stores are wrong. Most women aren’t rail thin and many of them aren’t interested in dressing like music video back-up dancers. You just wouldn’t know it based on the selection at these boutiques, which, it would seem, have a clientele consisting mainly of mannequins and runway models.
I guess I’ve learned to take a few things for granted. As a guy, I can walk into any clothing store and find something that A) fits, and B) provides my body with basic coverage, which is the whole reason clothing exists in the first place, according to Wikipedia. As you will eventually discover, women have an entirely different experience. For them, even something as simple as clothes shopping becomes an all out assault on their values, priorities, and body image.
And women aren’t the only victims. Men might not be chasing Hollywood beauty, but we have our own unreasonable expectations, imposed on us by ourselves and the world outside. We all — men and women alike — feel the pressure to present a façade. We all want to appeal to the masses. It’s like we’re locked in this eternal competition to be beautiful, or popular, or successful, or whatever, except we set our bar for beauty, popularity, and success according to the standards of the very strangers we’re trying to ‘beat.’ We want to be like everyone, and liked by everyone, but also better than everyone. This parallel battle for sameness and superiority wreaks havoc upon our souls, and the damage can sometimes be irreparable.
It’s gotten worse now with the internet and social media. The struggle to impress our peers has invaded and consumed every minute of our lives. Julia, please understand this: of the entire population of the planet, only an infinitesimal percentage of them will ever be more than anonymous to you. Only the tiniest fraction will ever give you more than a passing glance. You should still love and respect these strangers, but you don’t need to impress them. Be a beacon of charity and truth to everyone, but you don’t need to worry about the opinions and judgments of every single person you happen across on the street.
It doesn’t really matter how they feel about you, yet many of us want to be desirable to everyone, even and especially those we don’t know. We want them to feel something when they look our way. Feel what? I don’t know. Envy. Admiration. Inferiority. A combination of all three, I suppose. We certainly can’t allow them to carry on with their day feeling better, or more attractive, or smarter, or more successful.
A silly way to live, isn’t it? We gain nothing from it, Julia. We do everything we can to impress the unknown faces in the crowd, and where does that get us? Nobody really cares in the end, anyway. Those faces are likely immersed in their own self-absorbed psychological vacuums, and whatever impression we make on them will dissipate as soon as we leave their line of sight.
We’ve all become like puffs of smoke to each other, evaporating just as quickly as we appear.
It’s a vicious, violent, tormenting cycle, and I don’t want you to be a part of it.
I’ll do whatever it takes to see to that, although honestly, I’m not sure what it will take, exactly.
Maybe Mom and I can just hold you close and love you.
Will that be enough?
And maybe I can just keep reminding you that you’re beautiful, even now, when you can’t really understand what I’m saying. Maybe if I say it often enough, you’ll believe me.
Will you always believe me?
I hope so. I pray so.
Remember, Mom and Dad are two of the very few people on Earth who will tell you the truth about yourself. The truth that, from your first moments in this world, you’ve been like a vision, full of warmth and light. You don’t need to be photoshopped or edited or remade or made up, and you never will. You don’t need a “touch-up” or a “correction.” You were molded by the hands of God and given to us as a gift from Paradise. You don’t need to add fad diets, expensive shoes, and forty layers of makeup to the package.
You will meet a lot of people in this world, and many of them are out to take something from you or sell something to you. So they’ll try to attack your self-image, suffocate your confidence, make you vulnerable, and seize whatever it is they want.
That’s the game.
Never play it.
That’s the lie.
Never believe it.
Never believe it.
I’ll protect you for as long as I can, Julia, but the day will come when I can no longer shield you from it all.
That’s why I wrote this letter. For the times when the pressures of the world — the constant, deafening din, screaming “you’re not pretty enough, you’re not good enough” — become a little too heavy to shoulder. Whether it’s 7 years from now, or 17, or 70 — whenever you need a reminder, here it is: