Beauty Is Deeper Than Skin



Yesterday I went to the grocery store with my older son. He’s seven. We were in the frozen foods section, more specifically, I was perusing the ice cream concoctions trying to pick something that really sang to me. As my son waited for me to chose, he looked at the magazine rack.

“Mom, there’s so many magazines about Michael Jackson. Why?”

“He just died, sweetie, and when someone dies they usually do stories about them.”

“Why so many stories though?”

I went on to explain that Michael Jackson had died young, and unexpectedly, and that he had been a star for a long time so a lot of people were curious about him. We were keeping it simple, still. Then he pointed to one of the magazine covers with a recent picture of Jackson, post, post, post-surgery but before the surgical masks.

“Who’s this girl, Mom?” he asked, pointing to the photo of Jackson in a red shirt, perfectly coiffed hairdo, expertly shaped eyebrows, makeup just so.

“Honey, that’s him. That’s Michael Jackson.”

“He looks so strange. Like a girl, but also strange.”

I put the ice cream back in the freezer. We were going to be here awhile. I picked up one of the magazines and turned to a picture of Jackson as a young boy, probably not much older than my son is now. I showed him what Jackson had looked like as a boy. I explained that Jackson didn’t like how he looked, that he thought if he changed the way he looked, somehow he would be a better person, happier, more loved. So, he changed his face. I pointed to the nose and explained how Jackson had part of it cut off and reshaped.

“Like with scissors?”

“No sweetie, with special knives. He went to doctors and they did it.” He jumped back from the magazine, terror on his face.

“I know,” I said. “It seems crazy and it hurt a lot, but he thought it would make him happy, and it didn’t. He thought there was something wrong with his looks and if he changed them, he’d be happy.”

We went through the skin color, eyes, cheeks comparing the Michael Jackson I loved as a child, the boy who sang with perfect pitch “you and I must make a pact,” with the strange emaciated figure of recent years. I watched my thoughtful, intelligent son. When I sensed we had reached the saturation point; he had taken in all he could, I simply said “You know that who you are as a person is not about what you look like, right?” And he nodded forcefully. “It’s about who you are, what you do, how you treat people.” And he smiled.

It sounds so basic when you’re a kid. Remember in “Philadelphia,” when Denzel Washington’s character says “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four year old?” Well, the fact is, you can explain it that way no matter your age. It’s that simple. Michael Jackson is the absurd example; he was looking for happiness at the end of a scalpel. It’s not there.

And my wise son had the last word. “So, it’s like if you have curly hair, that’s OK or green eyes. But if you’re mean that’s not good. It’s better to help people. I like to help people.” And as we made our way to the check out, my son saw an older woman taking her groceries out of her cart and he offered to help her. And I think that’s beautiful.


  1. Theo is lucky to have a mama who is willing to be honest and break it down to what’s important when all she really wants to do is check out the ice cream aisle. Lovely J.K.


  2. This is sweet Jenny. Kids are so great at taking the ball and running with it.


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