I know exactly when the heads stopped turning to stare at me, when men stopped tripping over themselves to open my door, or when I knew I wouldn't be carded, and absolutely would be paying for my own drink.
Life is different for beautiful women. I know: I was one. I was "fat free," five-foot-five with big brown eyes, high cheek bones and dimples on both sides. With these attributes, I was forgiven for being flaky or making social faux pas. I'd receive attention everywhere, and since I was smart, I worked it into molding the life I wanted. I'd have ego boosts from causing car accidents or having bouncers scurry to open velvet ropes, but the change from fresh and young to aging and overlooked came too quickly.
It always does. If you're one of the lucky ones, and I wasn't, maybe looks alone can hold open doors for you until 40 without intervention. If you're unlucky, you're robbed early of your external beauty through injury, burns, or disease like me.
The luckiest of all, however, realize early looks are a small, superficial portion of who you are, and true beauty is a dynamic that shines through even on the darkest days. This beauty is cultivated. It is your inner essence: the talents, quirks and conundrums that make you, well, "you."
Changing the focus from women as beauty objects to people with substantial talents and personalities is the final frontier of feminism. It is what our culture is lacking to make women truly equal.
How, with all the messages hurled at young girls through life that attractiveness will lead them to a rich lifestyle, does a parent instill the values of creativity, personality, knowledge, and a sense of humor?
Preparing them directly for aging in the future at the age of 5, 15, or even 18 probably won't be effective. Their brains are still maturing. Most are not seeing past the next five minutes. They're busy being self-conscious about their current bodies.
Use body image issues to start a conversation about self-worth. Impress on young women that they are more than their looks. Tell them they can be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or the President of the United States. Tell them by the time they join the workforce, the term "glass ceiling" will only be read in the history books.
Start this as young as possible. When people come around complimenting your little girl on how cute, dainty, or lady-like she is, thank them, but then say what a hysterical comedienne she is. Redirect superficial compliments with compliments about wonderful grades or what a good friend they are.
Keep sending positive messages consistently throughout their life that they are capable of being secure, independent individuals. Do not suggest automatically they defer to their father or brother to open the pickle jar; Show them how to tap the lid to loosen it themselves.
Create an environment where women have significant decision-making power, and do not castrate other women based on their decisions. Judging other women, whatever the reason, will only instill insecurity in their own womanhood, weaken their power, and direct girls to the path of least resistance: their looks.
Above all, model what it is like to be independent, charismatic and successful. Surround young women with role models that have achievements based on their talents: authors, teachers, business owners, even stay-at-home moms. What is important is that value is placed on how well they complete their duties, not how cute they look while doing them.
Having strength, goals, friends with similar values, and parents who support creativity over beauty will give young female leaders the courage to go against the grain and teach themselves how to rely on common sense and wit over sexy banter and bra size.
When I lost my beauty, I'd never been happier to have the personality I'd cultivated, the sense of humor, the wit, my writing, and my intellect to fall back on. Luckily, I worked hard while I was beautiful to cultivate my inner talents, things that I appreciated far more than beauty, things I knew wouldn't disappear with age, that could never be taken away from me, or that didn't need the opinions of others to be substantiated. This feminine strength will come through altering the messages we send as role models to our future female leaders telling them that beauty emanates from the inside out through knowledge, genuine caring, a sense of humor, or talent. Beauty is the energy shining through the eyes, not what you look like on the outside, and with that beauty we can shatter any glass ceiling, or mirror, holding us back.