Pity the daughters of beautiful women who by some twist of genetics do not end up looking like our gorgeous fashionable mothers, but looking more like ourselves instead. They will always be the yardsticks that we will never live up to, and many of us may spend our entire lives trying.
People will be unkind and tell us that we do not look like our mothers; even if they say nothing else, the suggestion is implied. You do not look like your mother. You look like yourself.
And in some worlds and in some universes that is somehow wrong; it is somehow a bad thing.
In my case it was extended family who told me almost every day that I didn’t look like my mother, with an aunt going so far as to call me ugly. Although I grew more sensitive as I got older, as a child I was far tougher than my adult self, and I just stared back at her unblinkingly. My lack of reaction must have been disconcerting because she never really used that word to describe me again.
My mother added her own fuel to the fire, although in her case I know that it was not meant unkindly, and was perhaps more unthinking than anything else. One day, as I was adoringly watching her dress as she sat at her dressing table, as she delicately sprayed perfume at her wrists and at the nape of her neck, with a spray on my wrists for a treat, and as she applied red to her full mouth as my eyes took it all in, wide-eyed, she turned to me and said, ‘Oh, darling. I do wish you looked like me.’
From that moment on I wished it too. I would often stare for hours at myself in the mirror, hating every feature, every single thing that made me me. My eyes are large and set wide apart and my mouth full and nearly always turned down in a permanent sulk that is less about sulking and more about the way that it usually looks. I pulled at my snub nose trying somehow to make it longer and straighter, and more like my mum’s pretty nose. I poked and prodded at myself and I decided that I simply wasn’t enough.
This was tragic because I set myself up for a lifetime of disappointment. You see, women are frequently told that we’re never enough. We’re never slim enough, tall enough, pretty enough, hairless enough; our hair is never shiny enough; our teeth aren’t white enough; we simply aren’t flawless enough. We’re not perfect enough. Somebody forgot to mention to advertising agencies the world over that we’re not meant to be perfect, and that it is the imperfections that are endearing, but nobody really says that in an advertisement. They scream at us from the radio and from the television, and from hoardings that we can’t miss even when we’re the ones dodging other vehicles in peak traffic: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH.
You are not enough.
Most of us will live our entire lives trying to catch up to simply being enough, and we will strive for perfection because it’s what we do. We will strive to be perfect girlfriends, wives, and mothers; we will strive to be perfect at work; we will strive to be perfect best friends. We will even strive to be perfect daughters to the mothers that we don’t look like. We will strive so hard that we will push ourselves to levels of stress and feelings of failure even when we haven’t failed, and we will have breakdowns, and we will cry alone in the bathroom in the middle of the night, and some of us will experience full-on depression for which some of us will seek treatment, and the rest of us won’t.
Because we’re not enough.
But here’s the thing. We are enough. You are enough. Today is the only today that matters, and tomorrow is just another today that hasn’t begun yet. One day, years from now, on a whole other today, you will realise that all of those yesterdays where you felt that you were not enough, you were. You were more than enough. You were a champion. You were a star. You took everything that they threw at you and you asked for more. Because it’s what you do.
You are enough.
So do yourself a favour. Tell yourself you’re enough. And if you’re a beautiful mother of a daughter who doesn’t look like you, you tell her she’s beautiful.
You tell her she’s enough.