My first baby shower was absolutely amazing, if not a bit embarrassing. When I was seven months pregnant with Stella, we traveled to visit family in Austin, Texas, where friends and kin not only gathered together, but went to impressive lengths to create an incredibly moving video of the day. It’s the kind of keepsake that demands a level of thanks that you can’t quite reach.
Each guest was covertly escorted away from the hubbub of the party. A camera rolled as they each answered questions about me and Cody and their wishes and wisdom for us as parents. Later, it was all edited together into the amazing, aforementioned treasure trove of loving advice, recollections and encouragement. I cry every time I watch it, especially during my parents’ segments. My dad said empowering things about how to raise girls, noting that no way did he decide what to do with us based on our gender. We did everything, from “helping” him work on cars to sharing motorcycle rides. My mom recalled something I said when I was two. She’d asked me what bees were made of. In typical over-thinking Amber fashion, I sat there, with my fingers on my chin for a long while, and finally said, “Bees and paper.” Then, as the video closed, my mother expressed her wish that my baby bring the same happiness into my life that I’d brought to hers.
And no, I did not escape questioning. There I am… happy and lovely, because I loved being pregnant and was proud of my shape. But also bloated, uncomfortable, sweating, and wearing an unflattering, frilly and floofy white tank top designed, apparently, for a five-year-old girl. I don’t do frilly or floofy. It’s not me. Why I suddenly decided that such a look would work, precisely as my torso went from ruler to beach ball, is beyond me. My feet were too swollen for my sandals, raw pinky toes escaping through the side exits, but I refused to take them off because damn it, I bought them just for this very special occasion and I was sticking to them! (Literally, my feet were stuck in the shoes.) Emotional, exhausted, and coasting on an unbelievably horrid night’s sleep thanks to a granite futon and third-trimester discomfort, I did my best to answer some poignant questions.
What stands out most from my interview is my reply when asked about my biggest worries and fears for Stella, our then-unnamed, unborn daughter. Perhaps foolishly, I didn’t answer with concerns about her health. (Though, of course, her health is an immeasurable gift and not something I took for granted!) I said, without a doubt, that I was most concerned about how to raise a confident daughter. I know firsthand how devastating a lack of confidence can be. I was able to fight my way out, but it could have easily gone the other way. I’m lucky, and fully aware of it. I am deeply knowledgeable about the huge importance of self-esteem in girls, and determined to help minimize the struggle for Stella.
So, earlier this month, when I saw before and after pictures of Heidi Montag’s ten plastic surgeries, all performed simultaneously like a symphony of mutilation, I was upset. Floored and upset. Anger came quickly. Because she gave up. She didn’t choose to fight the good fight. To learn to love herself, to realize how truly beautiful she was. By not only undergoing extensive plastic surgery, but celebrating it in any media outlet that will shove a camera at her now-triple-D boobs, she’s happily promoting the at-all-costs pursuit of an unrealistic, inhuman beauty ideal . She’s endorsing the idea that to be truly beautiful, women require fixing.
Then, the anger subsided and I felt sad for her. She was naturally beautiful, but clearly didn’t think so. Somehow. Despite the fact that she’d wound up on TV in large part because of her looks. The level of insecurity required to choose such extensive and painful surgeries–10 procedures at once–is mind-boggling. Apparently, no one ever planted that idea within her–the belief that she is perfect and lovable just the way she is. Even if you lose your way and your worth due to all the bullcrap images and messages that surround us, with that kernel nestled somewhere below the surface, you can find your way back to sanity. Thankfully, I possessed it all along, and was eventually able to nourish it. If someone did plant such a seed in Heidi, it didn’t take root. Or perhaps Hollywood, or the attack-dog blogs that nip at its heels, crushed it.
After further processing of Heidi’s surgical madness, I had another, slightly more hopeful thought. Maybe, in a way, Heidi’s doing us a favor. We know that plastic surgery is rampant among celebrities, but it’s hidden and denied if at all possible. By speaking out openly about it, she’s exposing the insanity (and it really is insanity). Without realizing it, she’s illuminating the fact that it’s all gone too far. Sure, she says she’s not addicted, but she’s not fooling anyone. Because where does it end? The aging process will be terrifying for her, rather than empowering, as it should be. More procedures, in the name of “maintenance” if not “enhancement,” are surely to come. And we’ll likely hear about it–even though we don’t want to.
To get to the heart of the matter, all I have to do is think of what Heidi must have been like at Stella’s age. Seventeen months old. Back then, the world was Heidi’s oyster. I bet she loved ice cream to the point of squealing. She liked to play in the dirt, and maybe even taste it once in a while. Reality TV didn’t exist–only Sesame Street. The sight of her own reflection made her whole face light up–she’d tilt her head and smile ear to ear at the friend looking back at her. My heart breaks for that little girl, whose features and spirit no longer resemble themselves. I can only imagine how Heidi’s mother feels.
Heidi, you say you’re just doing what makes you happy. But this is just superficial stuff, and that’s not how happiness works. You haven’t done the real work. For your own sake and that of daughters everywhere, I hope you will.