We lived in a modest house on Vine Street during the first three years of my life. I have quite a few memories from that house, surprisingly enough. I remember trying to teach my Polish grandmother how to speak English without an accent. I remember sucking the candy coating off of a whole box of Aspergum. I also remember standing in the room that was called the  den wondering if I was going to be pretty when I grew up. In retrospect, I think that’s a strange inquiry for a two and a half year old. I wonder what that even meant to me at that age.

As I grew up, especially after puberty I was told that I was pretty. Actually I was told that I was very pretty. This seemed odd to me because what I experienced inside was not consistent with what other people saw. I eventually learned to accept people’s reaction even though it was not consistent with my internal experience. I learned to accept it kind of how one might accept a collective hallucination. When is it that the self-hatred begins? Does it start before the age of three? What two-year-old child has an investment in how others perceive her?

When I was studying transactional analysis during my intensive group therapy era, I remembered a “game” Eric Berne called Creeping Beauty. Creeping beauty described the emotional predicament a woman can find herself in as she ages and desperately tries to grasp at her disappearing youth and beauty. I remember feeling that I was at risk, considering my attachment to my external appearance and I wanted to be careful to avoid that pitfall.

In her earlier years, my mother was considered a beautiful woman. She had a long neck like Audrey Hepburn. I think the men in my family had an attachment to women being beautiful. It’s interesting that at three years old I would feel the pressure.

What I came to learn over the years was my attractiveness to other people had nothing to do with my outer appearance. This knowledge was hard won. In college, after a very disappointing relationship, I gained forty pounds. I weighed as much as when I was pregnant. The depression from the grief and the weight gain were inexplicably entwined. I began to understand that extra weight was like armoring, protection against what felt unsafe. It was perhaps in my forties I realized that what people were attracted to in me had nothing to do with my being thin or pretty. I started to realize that, contrary to common thinking, what people were actually drawn to what my teachers referred to as a “light.” This is a quality that everybody has, but I bet creeping beauties never get to find this out. I suspect this is the primary pitfall.

The  women in my lineage have carried a lot of unexamined self-hatred. I’m sure being raped by Cossacks didn’t help. During the time of pogroms and concentration camps, the oppressors didn’t discriminate between genders.  The way I think about it, the experiences of my ancestors paved the way for me to do the self exploration necessary to increase my quality of life. Because of them, survival was handled. My children and I could now create our lives using what we’ve been given.

Advertisements