"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mabel Cotter - Beauty, Self-Esteem, And Honesty

Mabel Cotter was beautiful, but somewhere along the line her self-confidence got damaged; and when she looked in the mirror she didn’t see the sensuous lips, full cheeks, lustrous eyes, and aquiline but graceful nose that men saw, but something quite different, blemished, and irregular.

Mabel spent a lot of time and money on makeup, hair styling, and clothes to compensate for her many imperfections; and as a result she became even more attractive – stunning in fact.  Tall, blonde, blue-eyes, and sinuous, she could have had any man she wanted; but no matter how determined she was to see what others saw, she could not; and as a result developed an edgy and very off-putting hauteur.  Men’s admiring comments were nothing more than self-serving flattery, a bald and puerile attempt to seduce her.  She was having none of it.  Until they saw what she saw and completed her vision of uniform perception, she would ignore them.  Honesty was her deal-breaker, and male flattery was only the most obvious and crude form of their duplicity.

To make matters worse, she loved men, dreamt about them, and imagined the most uninhibited sexual liaisons with them.  She was as conflicted as any woman could possibly be – devastatingly beautiful without knowing it; insisting on male honesty when that was an oxymoron; and caught in an existential loop that had no end.

“Self-esteem”, she said. “That’s my problem. Why wasn’t I born just a few years later?”

She had been born and schooled before the self-esteem movement had taken hold, and she felt that had she had the encouragement of her parents and teachers like today’s children, she might have never been trapped into her current miasma of depression and despondency.

A friend of Mabel’s from college had become a primary school teacher in West Hartford, and when she learned of her interest in self-esteem, she invited her to sit in on one of her classes.  Her second-grade class was a diverse one with many black children, a number of Asians, and a few whites.  While not an inner city gulag typical of the Hartford school system, John Adams Elementary School still had its issues.  The children were from disadvantaged homes where learning was at a premium – all learning, apparently, for not only could these children not read or write, they had no conceptual ability whatsoever. Most children by the second grade have grasped the fundamentals of concept formation – number, quantity, metaphor, and substance. They have begun to correctly match language with concept.  A hole is always a hole but sometimes it is a moth hole, bunghole, black hole, or pit.  Bridget Arthur’s children knew next to nothing.

Bridget had been trained in the Art of Self Esteem – how, through acknowledgement and encouragement of special abilities and ‘intelligences’ children could be brought out of their worlds of ignorance into one of ideas and meaning.  Ironically, the new method began with identifying a child’s worst feature – overweight, physical unattractiveness, mental deficiency, or social ineptness – and creating a dossier on the basis of it.  For example Isaiah Johnson had difficulty with even the simplest addition problem.  He understood ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘three’ – two eggs, three hens, one dog, etc.; but he couldn’t for the life of him add them together.

No matter how hard Bridget tried, she couldn’t get the boy to add anything.  Therefore, she crossed ‘Mental agility’ off her list, adjusted Isaiah’s dossier accordingly, and went on to find out what he was good at.  In his case, Bridget explained, it was coloring.  Even though he  jammed his crayons so hard onto the paper that they broke, and flayed wildly inside and outside the lines, the boy was obsessed by coloring.  He wasn’t actually good at it, but that was less important than his passion. “Look at how well Isaiah colors, class”, she said to her second-graders.

Mabel was less interested in cognitive theory than physical attributes.  In other words, how to make the fat girl happy about herself or the ugly one convinced of her own beauty. She was sorely disappointed when she saw that Self-Esteem had nothing to do with altering reality, just shifting focus and priorities.  The fat girl would always be fat, but she could tippy-toe gracefully.  Mabel had hoped that educators had found a way to build the self-confidence of girls to such a degree that when they looked in the mirror, no matter how ugly they were, they would see Scarlett Johansson/Jennifer Lawrence.

Bridget told Mabel of a behavioral psychologist from Harvard who had developed such a perceptual modification approach.  In repeated trials he had taken the most unattractive girls between ages 8-12 and got them to believe that they were in fact Hollywood starlet material.  He was acclaimed by many as a revolutionary hero who had taken B.F. Skinner’s often manipulative and unethical theories and used them instead for very worthwhile ends.  A school which had been one of his experimental venues had now included the Harvard psychologist’s theories into classroom procedures was nearby and not far from New Brighton where Mabel was living.  She asked if she could sit in on one of the classes.

She was overjoyed to see how the children in the class so respected each other, and how even the least endowed girls walked tall and confidently. Plants grow well in the hothouse, but when they are rooted in rocky soil, their leaves drop off.  This was the explanation the teacher gave when Mabel related what she had seen a few blocks away.  Boys from another school so badly ragged on the girls from the experimental school that they all broke down in tears and ran home. 

Thanks to this foray into progressive education, Mabel was able to finally get to the root of her own problems.  It was a lack of self-esteem after all; but the reverse of what she had seen at Bridget’s school.  Bridget ignored physical and mental deficiencies and created a false sense of confidence by focusing on non-essential qualities, thus doing a grave disservice to her students.  The Harvard experimental teachers did even more damage by distorting reality and sending their charges out into a world which cannot be fooled.

No, what she lacked was an honest assessment of her abilities and insufficiencies. She should have been told she was beautiful instead of being told that ‘beauty is only skin deep’, or ‘beauty is as beauty does’, or a dozen other pasty homilies.  Her mother repeatedly told her she had two left feet and would never be a dancer, and she was right about that.  Why did she hide other truths?

Once Mabel began to understand Feldman’s ‘Principle of Ego Reference’ which stated that a person must face the unvarnished truth about physical, intellectual, and social traits and abilities before being able to integrate all into one, integrated, and satisfied whole, she began to heal herself.  It all comes back to honesty, Mabel said.

Some who heard this story were unimpressed.  “It’s like getting an investment banker to get over his guilt for having made so much money”, a friend of mine said. “Mabel is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. What’s the problem here?”

I would rather have one beautiful woman realize her beauty, embrace it, flaunt it, and share it than have a thousand of unattractive women come to grips with their homeliness.  Honesty, Mabel insisted.  Flattery and insincere self-esteem are two sides of the same coin.

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