I saw a new show up on Netflix last week - One Day at a Time - and I thought I’d try it out. I watched one episode, then two, then three – which is, I think, the beginnings of a binge. I honestly have no idea what the target age for this show is, but I could imagine myself as a pre-teen watching this with my mom. They tackle a lot of big stuff – sexism, religion, immigration, PTSD, family economics – and they do it well. It’s casual, with some gravitas, but not preachy.
One particular story line caught my eye and I’ve found myself mulling it over for the past week. It hit home, big time.
In episode 2, when Elena is having some problems getting people at school to take her seriously, her grandmother convinces her that her peers will take her more seriously if she wears makeup.
“Makeup makes you beautiful,” says Abuelita, “beauty gives you power. And that is why I never let anyone see me without it.”
And look at that makeover! She’s gorgeous. But look at that smile in the first picture. She’s gorgeous either way, and in spite of the rave reviews that she faced at school, Elena ultimately chooses to show herself to the world the way that she sees herself.
“You use makeup like armor because it makes you feel comfortable,” Elena tells her Abuelita. “Well, this is how I feel comfortable. I like the way I am, even if you don’t.”
BAM. That’s what I want my daughter to hear while she grows up. It’s my job to make sure she knows that she’s beautiful (don’t worry, all y’all who are going to get on my back about telling her that she’s smart – she is, and I do, but every child is beautiful and I tell both of mine so several times a day), and it’s her job to decide how she feels comfortable showing her beauty to the world. I don’t wear a lot of make-up, but I make no judgements on those who do. She doesn’t have to prove her value to the world by straightening her hair and putting on the right shade of eye shadow.
These Ugly Duckling makeovers have always been around, but they don’t usually end with the protagonist choosing herself. It’s not easy growing up stuck in the “awkward stage” for an extended period of time (which I was), especially in the day and age when Ugly Duckling movies were in their heyday.
They were fantastic movies, fun movies, perfect movies, that always featured someone like me – smart, passionate about something, and entirely awkward and completely uncool.
In every one of these movies, the formula is the same. The smart feisty girl tames her hair, applies a lavish amount of makeup, and the world is her oyster.
She ceases to be invisible, everyone in her life sits up and takes notice of how gorgeous she is, and everyone recognizes that she’s a strong, talented woman.
The message remained consistent and not all that subtle: true beauty lies in makeup and hair styling tools, and the world will only take you seriously once you learn how to use them. Also, glasses are absolutely not permitted on beautiful faces.
However. I loved these movies because I had hope that if only I could transform this
the world would fall into my lap. I would marry the most handsome high school senior of my dreams, I would become independently wealthy, and I’d have the fairy tale ending that everyone always dreams of.
I feel as though that’s not the most productive dream for a young woman to have, and I wish that I had more portrayals like Elena to model my dreams after.
If the styled hair and articulate make-up makes my little girl smile when she grows up, or the messy bun, clear face, and stylish glasses that give her that beaming smile, the only thing that mattes is that smile.
Disclaimer: I’m a member of the Netflix Stream Team. I get some fun and special perks in exchange for writing posts about Netflixy things, but I don’t get paid and I always have a few Netflix posts in the hopper regardless of obligations.
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