I haven't been watching many reality shows lately because of the crying. There is simply too much of it. Last season on Project Runway, Christopher cried because he was sure that he was the only person in the world who would design a dress inspired by a rock (something I am sure he is wrong about). I have no idea how much crying there is on The Hills, since I was never a fan, but it did catch my attention in People magazine that Heidi Montag, star of the show, cried after she had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day. Heidi, I know from a quick Google search, is 23, although since her plastic surgery she looks 33. Which is actually something to cry about.
I have been interested in and done research on this subject spun slightly different: What happens if your mother (not your favorite reality star) has plastic surgery? This is the subject of my new novel for teenagers, The Girl with the Mermaid Hair.
If, as a teenager, you spend hours in front of a mirror deciding, say, whether one nostril is larger than the other or worrying whether your breasts point in different directions (typical teenage obsessing), do you outgrow this madness or make more radical choices if your mother comes home with larger lips, a smaller ass, a new chin, a different nose, bigger breasts? How do you feel if your mom suddenly doesn't have any expression in her face? Or if you look into your mother's eyes and no one is home?
Your main job as a teenager is to learn to love yourself. How can you do this if your mother hates herself?
In my research, what was so startling was how aware all the teenage girls were of their mother's fear, or, more accurately, their hatred, of aging. One girl said, "Every time I wrinkle my forehead, my mother points it out and tells me not to. Even if I'm in the middle of a really important conversation." Another spoke about "competitive dieting" with her mom, how she couldn't help but engage in it even though she thought her mother's obsession with fat was "crazy." There is a study out this week from the Girl Scouts of the USA telling us what we already know, which is that the fashion industry and its use of ultra-thin models is making teenage girls too obsessed with being skinny, and distorting their body image. In my more limited unscientific research, the mothers are as strong an influence. Going on shopping trips with mom, usually a bonding experience, became all about hearing moms moan about their fat and rolls. Or seeing your mother trying on something, look in the mirror and say, ""I look ugly."
I have vivid memories of my own adolescence when the main purpose of shop windows was not to see the clothes in them but my own reflection, when hours could be spent in front of a mirror deciding if my eyebrows matched. Emotionally, teen life is no different today, but now you can act on your own insecurities. You can fix them.
A lot of healthy acting out occurs in the mirror, as my research showed. Singing and dancing and even telling off people who hurt your feelings or trying on new identities. But there was also a lot of obsessing about body image. One girl got dressed using four mirrors, running from one to the next: one had good indoor lighting, one was a "skinny" mirror, one had natural light, one she could get the closest to. "If something is wrong with you," a teenage girl said, "the mirror magnifies it." Another said, "If I think something's wrong with me, like my thighs are too fat, when I look in the mirror that's all I see."
God knows, I am not advocating growing old naturally, just to remember what a tender fragile time adolescence is. In my research, one teenage girl confided, "Seeing my mother after her surgery scared me to death." We need our moms to be stable and secure. I have so many friends who will tell me with surprise, when looking at photos of themselves when they were younger, "Hey, I was really cute. I didn't realize it." No one does. You have to get older to realize it. Imagine if you got older and realized that you'd destroyed your younger self. You had operated it away.
Now that's something to cry about.