Saturday, August 1, 2015

Pretty vs. Cool, Parenting and Rickie Lee Jones

“Beats are supposed to be cool, but who knows what that means? I can only tell you what it’s not.” –Ruby Tabeata, The Beat on Ruby’s Street

What does your daughter see when she looks in the mirror? What about your son? The American obsession with looks has been given the seal of approval by an ad nauseum number of studies that tell us appearance matters. (Breaking news! This just in.) 

Sure, it matters. But what kind of appearance and who makes up the rules? When I was twelve I was obsessed with fashion magazines, trying desperately to look like someone I never would or could. Fashion models had tiny hips (if any), the straightest noses imaginable, perfectly flawless faces and tight, fat-free skin that barely covered bone.

Still, somewhere in my consciousness, is the nagging reminder of how much I failed to achieve this ideal. Yet, somehow, I had no shortage of what used to be called “suitors,” and a pretty respectable number of adventurous, romantic relationships (not to mention two marriages, the second of which continues to make me extraordinarily happy).

I don’t know exactly how this happened, but I do know that at some point I began to think differently about appearances. My thinking coincided with seeing a clip of Rickie Lee Jones performing two or three of her most iconic songs. I wanted to listen to her, but at the same time I couldn’t stop watching her. And I didn’t even know why.

Rickie Lee didn’t look like other rock star ladies. She doesn’t glitter or preen. She smiles a lot, and she doesn’t look past her audience; she looks at them and connects. She’s never dressed to show off her body and though her actual features are symmetrically beautiful, that’s not why you’re looking at her.

You’re looking because she’s cool. Somewhere, someone called her the duchess of cool and it stuck like glue, because that’s who she is. A few nights back I had the good luck to catch one of her shows, and she was even better than she always was. And I couldn’t’ help but notice that while lots of rock stars (men included) are getting their faces pulled  tight as drums, Rickie hasn’t gone in for plastic surgery.

Bravo, Rickie, for your beauty and your artistry and for continuing to write the songs you want to write, despite whether anyone decides how “marketable” they are. They are songs that stop us in our tracks and stay in our heads for years, and more importantly, our hearts. They tell us to stop looking in the mirror to judge ourselves. They tell us joy matters, even though life is hard.

They tell us to stop worrying about being pretty, because we are already. They show us how to be cool, but not in some dumb magazine-ish way. They inspired me when I started writing about a twelve year old girl growing up in the middle of the Beat Generation. She tells us what she knows: it’s  not cool to care about how you look. Her mother says pretty fades, but cool is forever. Rickie Lee is a testament to that.

So the next time your son or daughter says she doesn't like what she sees in the mirror, take them over to YouTube and introduce them to Rickie Lee Jones. Talk about the difference between looking cool and looking pretty. And oh, yeah— throw out those fashion magazines.

For some cool articles about tweens and body image, I would check out a ton of articles by Galit Breen, but certainly this one:

What Your Tween Sees in the Mirror” –