I can’t remember the last time I really worried about being appealing… I think it was a really long time ago. -Meryl Streep
When I was seventeen years old, Meryl Streep shared with me—well, not me personally, but me as a reader of Vanity Fair’s January 2010 cover story, “Something About Meryl,” written by Leslie Bennetts—profound advice that I’ve remembered for nearly a decade. Streep’s message was: don’t wait until you’re 60 to let go of other people’s opinions.
Auditioning for roles early in her career, Streep was painfully insulted by directors for the way she looked. In an often-told story from one of Streep’s many auditions, producer Dino De Laurentiis said to his son (in Italian): “Why did you send me this pig? This woman is so ugly! Blech!” Streep surprised De Laurentiis by replying in fluent Italian, “I’m very sorry that I disappointed you.” Streep demonstrated tremendous courage by defending herself, but, nevertheless, the insults caused her to agonize about her looks.
Meryl Streep’s Universal Experience
Streep’s experience is, to this day, relevant to all young women in their late teens and twenties, regardless of whether they are pursuing an acting career. We are constantly bombarded by society and media telling us how we should look and act. Yes, those in the public eye have it worse, but we all suffer. Society and media have led so many young woman to worry about their looks, just like Meryl Streep did. We are told: “You will only look beautiful if you are skinny and sexy and if you invest your energy and money in cosmetics. You are not beautiful.”
But, for the people pushing this message, you will never be beautiful enough, because then you won’t have a reason to buy their products.
I hear this insecurity in my girlfriends’ voices—an insecurity that diminishes their self-worth and makes them feel less beautiful. Personally, I have been working for years to stop putting myself down. We may see women put each other down in order to gain self-security, value, or social advantage. If we are scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves down, then aren’t we scrutinizing and hurting each other as women? Ouch. Streep shared something that we can do—although, only you can do it for yourself.
You Have the Power
Streep arrived at this realization after years of experience and self-reflection. She made a decision: insults would neither consume nor define her. “So much of a young girl’s life—of my life—was taken up by worrying if I was attractive enough, or appealing enough. After a while, I got sort of tired of worrying about it.”
Streep finally got sick of hearing what people thought, but she believes this process of letting go is something each person figures out for themselves. She describes it to Bennetts as “the way people have to get sick of drinking and drugs before they stop.” Streep continues, “As there begins to be less time ahead of you, you want to be exactly who are, without making it easier for everyone else.” She chose to free herself of false insecurities created by those who put her down.
We can’t choose how the media tells us how to look, feel, and act, but we can control whether or not we internalize that image. Streep demonstrates this possibility, and we, like her, can say, “Oh, the hell with it.”
It is a choice.
When I read this article at seventeen, I committed—and remain committed today—to work on feeling good about myself, so that, when I’m sixty, I will have no regrets over how I felt in my twenties.
Nine Years Later
Revisiting Bennetts’ article nine years later also stirred a desire in me to (possibly, one day) have daughters. Streep—a mother to three girls—saw that “[a]s girls grow up, as soon as boys come into the picture, you figure out that you have to modify that assertiveness thing in order to even be acceptable, let alone appealing, within the cohort of girls as well as boys.”
I want to be a mother who teaches her daughters that they are beautiful just the way they are. I would tell them, “Don’t second guess. Let loose from your ‘ifs and buts.’ Be yourself. Those who see you for who you are will see this light shining from within you. You will captivate them and they will respect and admire you.” I want to serve as an example of deriving self worth from within, rather than from society’s standards. But in the end, it will have to be their choice to ignore the scrutiny and insults. I would do my very best to guide them away from the negativity and backlash.
Raising our girls with these values will begin a new cycle of self-assurance, but first we have to break our own detrimental behaviors and reach a stronger and healthier mindset for ourselves.
As soon as I read Meryl Streep’s message, I made a decision. I have been working on breaking out of this typical behavior of young women in their late teens and twenties—constant fretting about the way they look, act, and feel. I am not spending my time as a woman in her twenties worrying if I am attractive enough or appealing enough.
I know I already am.1