When I was younger I begged my parents to let me get a nose job. Like Ilse, I was taunted at school and hated my nose so thoroughly I was sure my face was an affront to the people around me. My parents, to their credit, never considered letting me have surgery. They simply assured me I was beautiful the way I was. But here's the thing: I knew that wasn't true.I was a smart kid, and I realized that compared to what was considered beautiful, I was absolutely awkward-looking. As my friend writer Jaclyn Friedman once said to me, the problem isn't that girls don't know their worth--it's that they absolutely do know their value in society. Young women know exactly how ugly the culture believes them to be. So when we teach girls to simply "love themselves," we're implicitly telling them to accept the world as it is.We're saying that being beautiful is something worth having when we should be telling them a culture that demands as much is toxic. In a lot of ways I'm glad I was considered unattractive as a kid--there is an upside to ugly. I developed a sharp sense of humor, a defense against the taunts. I thought more deeply about how good and bad people can be. I started writing. I found feminism.There's nothing wrong with embracing ugly. It's okay to feel inferior--we don't feel ugly or less than because of some deficit in our confidence, we feel that way because we're systematically trained to believe it. Because society depends on it. Self esteem won't change that--shifting the culture will.
The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?