Skip to content

The ‘Mama Instinct’ answer: They’ll do fine.

The things we do as parents.

We want our children to do well. We want them to succeed. We want them to say the right thing. To be respected by adults in their lives.

And sometimes that leads us to act in rather silly ways.

Last week that lesson hit home for me. I was teaching an online course at Athena’s Advanced Academy, a provider of online classes for gifted kids. We don’t test for the “gifted” part of it—our approach is that if kids can’t keep up, they figure out that they’re not in the right place.

For the most part, this approach works great. Research shows the the most reliable predictor of whether a child is gifted is the parent. Parents are keen observers of their children, and they notice when their kids are different.

“Trust your mama instinct” is something I heard often when my kids were young.

But sometimes we go a little past that. Sometimes, after trusting our instincts, we feel compelled to go beyond and, perhaps, do a little extra work to insure that our instincts were correct.

In a class last week, one of my new students turned on her microphone three times to answer questions. I always love hearing my students’ voices, and love waiting to find out the surprising and insightful things they will say.

But in this case, once, then twice, then three times, I heard the mother’s voice in the background prompting the child on what to say.

“Really?” I thought. “Who signed up for this class, the kid or the mom?”

I had a mix of feelings.

I was affronted as a teacher that a parent would invade our space this way.

As a parent, I was horrified that a fellow parent wouldn’t know how damaging this was.

As this child’s teacher, I felt that I was sharing in her mortification.

Just to be clear: All the other students could hear the mother. As far as I know, none of the other students was being fed answers by a parent. They were taking part in the class in good faith, being who they were: complex bundles of gifts, deficits, inconsistencies, and contradictions.

But this is a story with a happy ending, or at least, a funny one.

The last time my student turned on her mic to answer a question, you could clearly hear the mother’s answer in the background first, and then the daughter’s.

But the answers didn’t match. The girl ignored her helicoptering parent and used her own mind.

I almost cheered.

Parents, please understand:

  You have your life; your children have theirs

      Your children will make mistakes, and this is how they learn

          Your children will sometimes be brilliant

and yes…

    Your children will say things that are not brilliant

         Your children will sometimes be wrong!

Here we are, complex bundles of gifts, deficits, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Get used to it. Let your kids go, and let them make mistakes. If you can’t trust your own “mama instinct,” trust mine:

They’ll do fine.

Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting.

Home for the holidays

21 years ago I moved a couple hours south from San Francisco to live with my then boyfriend, now husband. I also coincidentally ended up living a 15-minute drive from my parents’ farm, which they had just purchased after looking at properties many miles apart from Central to Northern California.

A typical scene at a family gathering: A glass of wine, conversation, kids, and at least a couple of dogs!

This was the start of a family life that I never envisioned when I left my parents’ home in Michigan at the age of 17, moved out to California, and expected to be the adult child furthest from my family seat. I ended up raising my two children within a short drive of a farm that became the center of an extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, and my two healthy, active parents.

My mother never gave me much parenting advice, feeling that she and my father had pretty much been dumped into the middle of the hardest job they ever had with no preparation. However, she did tell me one thing that she and my father had made a decision about before they had children. They made a conscious decision that their family was going to get along.

Maybe this sounds like a little thing. But it wasn’t to them, coming from families who bickered, fought, and kept their distance as adults.

I’m not saying that my siblings and I, our children who are cousins, and spouses and other extensions of our family don’t ever have disagreements. But my parents did see success in their approach.

I wish I could offer a formula for other families, whom I often see suffering during the holidays because of the pain that they carry as a group. But there is no formula that we follow except that simple decision that our parents made: No matter what it takes, we get along.

Sometimes it’s not easy. I know that everyone in our family has things that they don’t say, that it might actually feel good to say in the moment. But there are many things in a family that simply don’t need to be said. We are not each other’s therapists, friends, or supervisors. All of the other categories of relationships amongst humans are severable.

No matter whether you see your family or not, they are family. They are by definition, not by choice.

I know people, adults now, who have chosen to take this tactic within their complex extended families though it means that they bite their tongues when other family members don’t.  I can’t tell you that this is the right thing to do, though they assure me that they get some benefit from it.

Others I know have chosen to sever their relationships, even to the point of denying their children a relationship with grandparents. And they have just as good reasons.

I am looking forward to our last holiday celebration on the family farm, which my parents are now leaving after maintaining it on their own for 21 years. When I was 17, I had no appreciation for what my parents had given us. But now with teenagers of my own, I completely understand.

To have an extended family that can come together as a family and get along is a gift that my parents created consciously and without precedent in their own families. I hope that it is a gift that my own children and their cousins will also inherit and cherish.

Thanksgiving at the farm

Further reading: 

Posted in Parenting.

Tagged with , .

When the beautiful becomes ugly

This should be a beautiful photo: the bounty of my parents’ farm near Corralitos. Holy basil, limes, lemons, and peppers—the bounty of late summer.

That’s the problem. This is December. The only natural bounty in this photo is the lemons and limes (which are more productive in winter). Otherwise, the holy basil should have gone to seed; the peppers should just be a memory, forlorn, brown stalks shivering in the wind.

This picture makes me sad, anxious, perplexed.

Sad because the fires raging in Southern California are directly related to the reason I am picking fresh peppers in December.

Anxious because I fear that the doomsday predictions of climate scientists are, perhaps. too optimistic.

And perplexed because I just don’t get human nature.

What does it take to get us to change our ways? How can we know if the little things we’re doing individually are having any effect at all? How can we not be angry at our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens who are not only ignoring the signs, but blithely taking part in the actions that are causing these problems?

We are a parasite killing its host.

My personal belief is that we won’t take care of this problem until we agree to spend political capital on it, and unfortunately, the people in charge are in denial. They just passed a tax bill that will stifle investment in renewable energy. They have told our automakers that they should cede our leading role in alternative fuel vehicles to China. They say that human-caused global warming is a fiction made up by scientists.

Well, this isn’t fiction. A beautiful bouquet of holy basil on my counter in December. No rain in the forecast for 10 days out. Southern California burns today; so far Northern California is safe. But for how long? And what happens when the water greening the Central Valley runs out? What will be on wintertime supermarket shelves in Washington D.C., Texas, and Iowa?

I don’t see beauty. I see a parasite killing its host.

Posted in Culture.

Tagged with .

How to raise boys who respect women

I hope you didn’t come here looking for answers, because this will be a column full of questions.

How is it that we’ve come so far, but we haven’t come far at all?

Before feminism, men gave women a bad deal: You stay home, forego most opportunities for self-fulfillment, have no financial or physical independence, and put up with whatever life deals you, and we’ll take care of you. It was imperfectly enforced: poor women still had to work though with little pay and no status; all women had to risk that there were men who weren’t interested in holding up the we’ll take care of you part of the bargain.

Then we got feminism, we got some basic civil rights (though they’re still not guaranteed in the US Constitution), and we got the sexual revolution. That pact between men and women was thrown out: women were then expected to work, expected to do both the jobs they used to be confined to and also their new jobs, and expected to be sexually free. Men no longer had the responsibility of taking care of women; we were supposed to be strong and take care of ourselves.

Then we got third wave feminism or post-feminism (depending on who’s defining it), and we realized that we still hadn’t quite got it right. Men were still preying on women but women weren’t being protected. Women could get jobs, but with no guarantee that they’d be treated equally once they were there. Women were supposed to be sexually available but were also supposed to take care of themselves when they didn’t want to be sexually available. No one had clearly defined the line between “flirting” and “harassing.”

How do we raise sons in this world?

I don’t know. Men are now being called out publicly for behavior they committed which was excused under the first pact (any woman not in the care of a man is fair game), and which was encouraged by the second pact (women who go out in the world are sexually available to all men).

I haven’t asked them, but I’m guessing that the moms of these men didn’t raise their sons to behave this way. Heck, maybe even their dads didn’t. (Being a dad was different 50+ years ago.)

But I’m speaking here from the perspective of being a mom. I’ve always hoped that if you are a woman who expects and receives respect from the men in her own life, and if you model that behavior in front of your sons, it will eventually take root.

Here’s the problem: It’s not like you can enforce respectful private behavior the way you do, say, manners. When your child doesn’t say please, you prompt him, right? And eventually he turns out to be a polite person (when he’s not at home, that is).

What do you do when your child starts laying the roots of private disrespect for girls in his life? Will you even see it happening? How much more influence does what your son sees in media and out amongst his friends have on his behavior? We can do our best at home, but these things don’t happen at home.

If men’s private behavior is so different from their public behavior, how can we prevent it?

Is this actually a question about raising girls?

I am in no way a believer in the men-are-victims-of-their-own-biology line of reasoning. Men can, and do, control themselves.

All humans control ourselves: We learn not to defecate in the backyard. We learn to eat in a socially acceptable manner. We learn how not to throw fits at the DMV.

None of these behaviors follows our biological programming.

So the argument that men will be men and thus women have all the responsibility for protecting themselves is b.s., pure and simple.

How can we parents make sure that our kids’ experiences are different?

Boys that sees girls as friends and people first are less likely to treat women as targets later…or so we hope!

Humans will always be complicated, and no human system is perfect. But there’s just got to be a better way.

Men should know when they are harassing a woman.

Women should feel empowered to deal with it publicly.

As a society, we’ve been in a place where any woman not directly under the care of a man was fair game. We’ve been in a place where women were assumed to have full agency and were expected to stop victimization at the hands of men. But we’ve got to get to a place where men take a responsibility for their own and other men’s actions, and where women are able to get the support they need when they can’t handle something on their own.

But what is the path from here to there?

Sorry, just questions today.

Posted in Culture, Parenting, Sexual Politics.

The Rake, otherwise known as that which keeps me up at night

A few weeks ago we got a visitor. We knew it wasn’t human, but past that, we weren’t taking bets. It sounded like someone was raking concrete….. in the forest behind our house. We wondered if it was bats. We wondered if it was a band of exotic birds that moved in because of global warming. We wondered if we’d ever sleep again.

It starts up every evening at sundown. It goes like this:

Yes, there was a cat’s meow in there, too. That’s just part of nature at our house.

But I’m writing about the raking sound. Keep focused on the raking sound, OK? Please understand that we can’t focus on much else.

I posted on Nextdoor, the source of all local wisdom. You used to have to find a wise guy with a long white beard sitting over a campfire.

Things have changed.

Anyway, my neighbors, whom I could have talked to on the driveway but instead with whom I exchanged electronic messages sent over miles to servers which then translated them and bounced them back, told me they were barn owls.

A lovely little family of barn owls living in our redwood tree.

Really? I wanted an exotic explanation, and I got barn owls.

Sure enough, my son and I went down and saw this mess under one of our redwoods:

Zoom in, enjoy the guano!

So, OK, we love nature. But does anyone know an owl sharpshooter? Because we could really use some sleep! We’ve got the white noise generator (affectionately termed the “windge” when nothing else would get our preschooler to sleep), up as far as we can stand it.

I dream of raking concrete. Really.

When I was young, I would put up with many things. I would put up with my cats sleeping on my face.

But now, having raised two children, I have my priorities. And my priorities are sleep, sleep, and sleep.

Before the barn owls, we had golden eagles. I’ll tell you, I know which kind of neighbors I prefer.

Anyone know how to serve an eviction notice on owls? Anyone want a nice home, set back from the street, super quiet?

We might have one to sell you.

Posted in Culture.

Loving and loss

I had a dream:

My family was in Paris. We were on our way to see a friend, who’d rented an apartment there on Forest Ave. (As it goes in dreams, all the street names were borrowed from Palo Alto!) My family and I were going there, but somehow we got separated and I was alone. Everyone around me was a tourist; no one knew anything. I tried to use my Google, but it kept sending me around in circles. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll call Abe!” I tried to use my phone, but it wouldn’t work.

“Oh, no,” I lamented, “I’ve lost my Abe!”

I woke up.

My favorite lil’ guy photo.

Not surprisingly, this dream happened in the early morning hours on the day that we were taking our firstborn to college. It’s a happy day, but it’s also the saddest: we’ve finished the job, and our son is leaving our house.

True: I know all the things you’re thinking. He’ll be back soon enough. He’s not going far away. This is just a natural part of life.

All true. But it’s also the official break with his childhood. It’s the official start of his adult life. It’s the very real experience of not having anyone to call on to take the garbage out.

My husband and I would jokingly call him “the man upstairs” in the last year. His bedroom was upstairs, and if we needed anything done, we’d text “the man upstairs” to get it done. It was great to have another adult in the house, but it was also clear that it was time for him to strike out on his own.

This is the sweet-n-sour taste of a job well done. When we send our kids off into the world, we feel good about it. We know that they will do the best they have with what they’ve got to start with (same as we did). We know that we’ve given all we could possibly give.

But we also know it’s an end. They’re going off to their own lives. The cycle starts again, and we think, misty-eyed, about our own college experiences.

And then they’re gone.

And we’ve lost. But we’ve also won.

Posted in Parenting.

Tagged with , , .

Parenting to avoid regret

In my previous post, I wrote about fear porn, journalism which is designed to make parents fearful of the choices they have to make now. Parents who get immersed in this crap that’s being spewed at us become immobilized, fearful that everything we do may put our children at risk in some nebulous and undefined future.

I advocated rational decision-making, in which parents make a decision based on the information they have on hand. Then, I wrote, parents should simply move on. Regretting past actions doesn’t change the past action, doesn’t change the results, and certainly doesn’t make us better or happier people.

I always want to make sure on this blog to say that I am not setting myself up as an example of perfection in parenting. I believe that parenting is a messy business, and we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us. The reason I write about it is that I feel that parents exchanging information and ideas has transformed parenting—I hope my contributions help transform it for the positive.

So here’s my:

Case study in avoiding regret

At the age of eighteen months, one of my children was diagnosed with a congenital disorder. It was a physical part of the child’s organs that did not work correctly. At the time, all the data that had been accumulated on this particular disorder said that the best practice was to put the child on a low daily dose of antibiotics and watch to see if the body would correct the problem on its own.

I had no reason to question this information. The science was sound—this was a relatively common problem and my child was in no way special or different. (Though to us, of course, he’s very special and different!)

We went with the standard treatment. He ended up taking a daily dose of antibiotics for three years, then had the problem surgically repaired once it was clear that he was in the small percentage of children in whom the disorder doesn’t correct itself with no intervention.

Simple story, right?

Like many things medical, it wasn’t so simple. The human body is incredibly complex. We may know more about how outer space works than we know about how the human body functions. Medicine is still a frontier. We think of the barbers who sawed off limbs in the 17th century as barbarians; in fifty years, doctors will probably see the doctors of today as barbarians. It’s all relative.

In the time after he went on antibiotics, data started coming in that suggested that longterm antibiotic use might have some pretty wide-ranging negative effects on the body. You may have read about the human microbiome. That’s all the stuff that’s living in your gut. It turns out that the stuff living in your gut doesn’t just affect your digestion. It may be related to, in no particular order:

  • autoimmune disease
  • depression
  • autism
  • eating disorders

And so on.

So in putting our child on antibiotics for three years, we were now learning, we may have…

Stop right there

This is the problem: we may have. I put an underline and an italics there, because here’s where I’m getting to my main point.

We can’t know what result our decisions had on our child’s future

That’s right, we can’t know. Perhaps, without the therapy, our child would have lost a kidney, been on dialysis for the rest of his life, or even died. Perhaps our child would have been just fine.

But perhaps, just perhaps, the antibiotic therapy actually caused other issues that have come up in the meantime.

This is when we need to depend on our belief that rational decision-making is always the best approach

Sure, I could spend days, weeks, months, and years in regret. I could feel like I have to do something to “fix” the result of making our decision.

But the fact is, we made the decision armed with all the knowledge we had at the time. Certainly, some scientists were already studying the microbiome and had suspicions about its connection with various human maladies. But that doesn’t change one fact.

We made the right choice with the information we had on hand at that time

If you haven’t read my previous piece, please go read it so that you can understand the context. Do I suspect that the antibiotic therapy may have contributed to some issues that we faced later? Yes.

Am I tempted day in and day out to regret my choice?

Of course.

Do I regret doing what was seen as medically necessary for my child?

Absolutely not.

I made the best decision I could make at the time with the information I had on hand.

It’s time to move on now, and we’re moving on. Our child is a healthy, wonderful teen. Our family is secure in the knowledge that we always try to make the best decisions we can, and we try not to beat ourselves up over what we might perceive as past mistakes based on our current knowledge.

Parenting is a messy business, and we are all just doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us.

Posted in Culture, Health, Parenting.

Parenting in the age of fear porn

Faced with clickbait articles about all the harm we can do to our children, it’s hard to know how to make decisions. Parents are facing very real distress at the onslaught of competing voices. I am not immune, of course, but I have made a choice.

I advocate rational decision-making based on using the information we have, then moving forward with our lives without regret.

Here’s why:

Rational decision-making is a process of watching accumulating data and making the best choices given the data we have.

There’s a great temptation to parents to try to figure out what to do based on our fears of the future. Will we regret making this choice?

But there’s no reason to regret your past choices if they were made based on the best data you had at the time. Rational decision-making allows you to let your future self off the hook.

Fear journalism is not there to inform us or help us in our decision-making.

Fear-based articles are not there to inform us. They are there to titillate us. People get off on reading scary stories about what other people “did to” their kids.

I remember what it was like when states started enacting seatbelt laws: I kept running into stories about how “my kid/mother/friend” was “thrown clear” in an accident and “would have died” if s/he’d been in a seatbelt.

Of course, the data on seatbelts is absolutely, unequivocally clear: they save lives. For every person who might have been “saved” by not being in a seatbelt, millions really are saved.

Make the right choice for now and don’t regret it later if more data proves that choice wrong.

It’s very common for parents now to agonize over choices they have to make for their children. Many of these choices are medical, and involve a new vaccine, therapy, or treatment. The best way forward in all of these cases is to check out the reasons for the treatment, what the current understanding is, and go forward with the treatment if there is no clear reason not to. In the future, accumulated data might suggest that the risk of that particular treatment outweighs the benefits in certain cases. Or maybe a commonly accepted treatment will be replaced by something better. But that won’t change the rightness or wrongness of an individual choice at this time.

The right choice is to do what current understanding says is the best choice, and not regret it later.

Decisions made based on fears of what might happen aren’t rational and don’t have good outcomes in general.

Just because sometimes they turn out to be “right” doesn’t make them rational. Most of the time decisions made out of fear have worse outcomes than rational decisions. But there’s very little money in publishing stories about bad things that didn’t happen: “My Kid Didn’t End Up in a Wheelchair Because of Polio” isn’t very enticing clickbait.

People seek out titillation.

We are living in an age of fear porn.

Parents are the most vulnerable victims of fear-based journalism. We are making choices for other humans that could change their entire lives.

One area where fear-based journalism has had a great effect is vaccines. We read and hear these fear stories daily. “My child got a vaccine and this horrible thing happened.”

But the data on vaccines is abundant and the scientific community continues to agree: The overall effect of vaccines on our population is a clear positive. If you like to get your journalism with a dose of humor and foul language, check out this piece by John Oliver. If you like a point-by-point refutation, this is a good one from Australia. If you want links to the data, start at the CDC.

With vaccines, the only rational decision to make is to go with the data we have on hand and move forward. Fear of what might happen leads us to make irrational decisions. Understanding the data lets us make the right choice for now and move on.

How we live and parent is our choice.

You don’t have to go with the crowd and live a life based on clickbait-generated fear. You get to make the decision about how to live your life.

The rational way to get through this life of too many competing voices is to make the best decision based on the information we have on hand and move on. But this is hard to do when we are facing the onslaught of fear journalism.

Reject fear porn.

Avoid clickbait, let your future self off the hook, and stick with the science.

Also, listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

More on this topic:

Posted in Culture, Health, Parenting.

Tagged with , , .

In praise of a job well done

I’ve always had a problem with the idea that there are “important” and “less important” jobs in human society. I, for one, consider the guy who comes and gets my garbage regularly very important.

But whether or not some jobs are seen as more important by our society as others, I think everyone should join me today in appreciation of a job well done.

Any job—I’m not ranking them by importance today.

Here’s where I started on this train of thought. Last week we hired my mother’s housekeeper to come clean our house. We are four people, one of whom would be considered “neat,” one tidy enough but not terribly particular, and two—the ones under eighteen—well, let’s just say that they are as “neat” as Donald Trump is “consistent.”

Over the years, I have tried it all: training, cajoling, bribing, threatening, modeling, yodeling.

OK, I didn’t try yodeling. Perhaps I should.

But our house pretty much never attains what I, the neat person, would call clean. I work and work and cajole, bribe, and sometimes do the job for them, but somehow, the house always feels like it’s got an impenetrable layer of scum on its surface.

Enter the wizard of housekeeping, the woman who can walk through a dirty room like the pied piper and leave it neat and incredibly, awesomely clean.

I just did my weekly deep cleaning of the kitchen and it was clean. Not that I didn’t have spills on the counter, scraps on the floor, and scum in the microwave to get rid of. But that ever-growing layer of scum was simply gone. 

How does she do it? She tells me that she knew from a young age that this was something she was good at, and that doing the job gives her satisfaction.

Back to that garbage. By the way, my older child once had a classmate whose mom was a sanitation worker. She told me she loved her job. She loved getting up early and getting things done, being home for her kids after school, and not bringing her work home with her. She felt appreciated and important.

Our own garbage man seems cut from the same cloth. He’s a man who likes a job well done. After we’d been living in the house for years, they changed the payment system and somehow our bill went amiss for a few months. Our guy came to the door and told me that he figured there was a problem, because he knew we’d always paid before. He was supposed to cut off our service, but he didn’t think that was right.

It was a job well done; I called and figured out the bookkeeping mess, and he took our garbage.

So far I’ve only mentioned jobs that are what most people would put in the “less important” category, but my point is that we can all appreciate a job well done. I love it when my kids have a great community college prof who knows what her job is and does it so well our kids are tricked into thinking the class is “easy.” I love it when I have a problem with a local store and the salesperson figures out how to fix it so that we both end up happy. I love that our retired neighbor runs our private road association like a job that he’s getting regular performance reviews for.

I totally loved it when I got The Guy Who Knows Things at AT&T and in 30 seconds he figured out the problem with our account that had bedeviled three other employees before him (who had all blamed the problem on me and my phone, thankyouverymuch).

I asked him if I could get his direct line, and he apologized that they didn’t have direct lines. Next time I call, I guess I just have to ask for That Nice Guy in Texas Who Knows Things.

As a parent, I hope I’m instilling in my children a love of a Job Well Done. We talk about how a problem got solved by someone who worked hard, or a product was made well by someone who cared, or a politician actually went out and did the thing they promised to do.

I am hoping that one day this will translate into my children actually cleaning their toilets without being cajoled, harassed, and threatened, though I’m not holding my breath.

A Job Well Done seems to be a rare thing in our society. I think we need to celebrate it. It doesn’t matter how prestigious your job is. Housekeeper? Clean that floor better than anyone else. Salesperson? Know your products and stand by them. CEO? Take the share of responsibility your paycheck implies that you have.

No matter what you do, finish up the day knowing that you did your best.

Note: Ah, how time flies. I found this draft that I wrote last year… and though I still love the sentiment, I can happily report that I no longer have two under-18s (one has graduated and is off to college!) and my 14-year-old has suddenly gained pride of place and is cleaning his own room. Crazy how much changes and you don’t even notice…

Posted in Culture, Parenting.

Beauty and the modern human

Recently a Facebook “friend” (a young woman I was in a class with for a few months) posted that she had been deemed “ugly” by an app that purports to be able to divine whether someone is “beautiful” using math.

Apparently, her “interocular distance” was too wide, and some other such nonsense.

Well, yes, it’s nonsense—but I’m sure that mathematically, it’s true. This young woman is striking by anyone’s measure. She doesn’t look like anyone else. Her eyes are noticeably far apart. But does that make her ugly?

I was lucky to have been assigned John Berger’s Ways of Seeing as college reading. No doubt it’s terribly dated now, but at the time, it was mind-bending. Using the nineteenth-century oil painting tradition, he showed how “beauty” in many instances is actually more about power and ownership.

Real beauty isn’t perfectly symmetrical faces. It’s not female bodies molded to fit an ideal invented on a computer screen. It’s not the perfection of a Photoshopped landscape that removes all irregularity and dullness.

The Botticelli head cut out by John Berger in the opening sequence of “Ways of Seeing”

When I think about things I find beautiful, I know that it’s the imperfection that sets them off. Why would I find beauty in a face so generically perfect I wouldn’t be able pick her out on the street? I read somewhere that all the most successful actors have something “wrong” with their faces.

But this is the joke our modern culture is playing on us: On the one hand, we prefer imperfection. We find people attractive who have all sorts of imperfections. Sometimes the imperfection itself is what attracts people.

On the other hand, we are pressured to change our own selves to make ourselves more and more perfect, less and less interesting. Women especially, but men more often now, fuss about their faces, their butts, their ankles, their hair. In a world where we actually can change almost any aspect of our looks, people are starting to think that they should.

The problem is, perfection isn’t attractive in the literal sense of the word: humans are not attracted to perfect specimens. I read recently about an experiment that underscores this: viewer were shown two photos of the same subject. One photo was a selfie, approved by the subject; the other was an informal photo taken by a researcher. The viewers overwhelmingly choose the non-selfies as “more attractive.”

This is from a 17 Magazine article about taking the perfect selfie. What a perfect illustration of how repulsive we can make ourselves look when we are trying to please other people!

In other words, what we do to ourselves in the name of social acceptance may actually have the opposite effect. When thong underwear were all the rage, for example, a male of my acquaintance confessed to me that he found panty lines very erotic.

I was very heartened by the responses that came from my “friend’s” real friends: They were appalled, amused, outraged. One of her friends posted something like, “the male half of this species begs to differ.”

I feel like each one of us needs to consider that everyone we meet is subject to this sort of media onslaught. We need to appreciate each other’s imperfect beauties, and do it out loud. We need to appreciate the individual ways in which people make this world more beautiful, whether it’s by what they wear or what they do.

Our culture is hell-bent on making us all feel like ugly, repulsive creatures who need to submit ourselves to daily torture to pay for our sins.

I beg to differ.


Posted in Culture, Psychology, Sexual Politics.

Tagged with , .