I’ve always looked up to Amelia Earhart. She was an adventurer, an innovator and an entrepreneur. She changed the aviation industry forever and inspired generations of women to go after their dreams. And she had a boatload planeload of spunk to boot.
So you can imagine my surprise when I recently found out that she didn’t like the way she looked.
What? How could this be possible? That precious pixie cut, that contagious smile, how she looked in that adorable bomber hat… How could this girl ever think she was ugly?
Maybe we should start at the beginning.
Earhart was born in Kansas but quickly realized that her true home was in the clouds. A daredevil, Earhart is remembered for her groundbreaking feats of aviation, most notably being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone. Her courage lifted the spirits of Americans — even during the Great Depression — as she set aviation records in altitude, distance and endurance.
But it was her last flight that she might be most known for — a flight that tragically never arrived at its intended destination. At age 39, Earhart set out to be the first person to circle the globe, taking off from California with her navigator. They made it all the way to New Guinea, completing some 27,000 miles. But then the unthinkable happened: Her plane disappeared. Investigators believe that it went down near a group of small, uninhabited islands in the remote South Pacific. A massive search was triggered to no avail.
Earhart made headlines again recently — 75 years after that fateful day — after excavations of the island have turned up clues that she may have landed safely and inhabited the island as a castaway. Found on the island were several products believed to be manufactured in the U.S. in the 1930s. They include: a woman’s compact, a flight jacket zipper, a jar that may have once contained Dr. C.H. Berry’s Freckle Ointment, and one green bottle that was possibly St. Joseph’s Liniment used for first aid and mosquito repellent. Investigators believe that “the abundance of cosmetics and beauty products on the desert island provides further circumstantial evidence for the presence of an American woman.”
I’m so intrigued by this stuff! I could read for hours about Earhart’s life, differing theories of what happened to her, and even the outlandish propagandist theories. (No, I don’t believe Earhart was spying on the Japanese for FDR when she was taken hostage and executed.)
Now investigators are setting out on a new expedition to find Earhart’s doomed plane, armed with new, deep water submersibles and side scanning sonar technology. Should they find the wreckage, they will be one step closer to solving one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time.
In reading all the new press surrounding this old mystery, I’m stuck on one (or many) points — Earhart’s freckles. That jar of freckle ointment found on the island was marketed in the early 20th century under the promise of making freckles fade.
“It’s well-documented Amelia had freckles and disliked having them,” said Joe Cerniglia, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) researcher who spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match.
When I see Amelia Earhart, I see classic beauty. I see bravery. I see an entrepreneur and adventurer who changed the course of the aviation industry forever. But when she looked in the mirror, Amelia saw ugly freckles. I suppose it didn’t help that media outlets referred to her as “Lady Lindy” because of her physical resemblance to fellow aviator Charles “Lucky Lindy” Lindbergh. Being told you look like a man can’t be great for your self esteem.
But Amelia isn’t alone in her insecurities. Why do we women do this? Why do we second guess ourselves based on how we look, based on things we presume to be flaws? I hate that Amelia felt the need to change the way she looked. I hate that her freckles made her feel less than beautiful.
But what about me? I’m working hard in my career, faithfully blogging, writing my first novel. I’m a dedicated friend, a loyal daughter, sister and aunt. But what do I see when I look in the mirror? Do I see my bravery, my courage? Do I see my talent or my spunk? Or do I just see the metaphorical freckles spattered over my skin? Freckles can manifest themselves in different ways for different people: overweight, a big nose, crooked teeth, frizzy hair, blotchy skin, wrinkles, a flat chest, wide hips. And sadly, the grass isn’t always greener: underweight, a small nose, yellow teeth, flat hair, pale skin, pimples, huge breasts, no curves.
As much as I want to grab Amelia Earhart by the shoulders and shake her, I should probably be doing the same to myself. Perhaps I should be proud of Amelia for succeeding so much in spite of her insecurities — the same insecurities we all have.
Funny thing — among many other accomplishments, Earhart was a successful writer and author who served as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine for two years. If Earhart could see what happened to the magazine over the last century, I wonder if she’d be saddened. I wonder if she’d hate the emphasis on outward beauty being shoved down our throats every day. And I wonder if she’d burn her freckle ointment and write an article about it in protest.
Because that’s the Amelia Earhart I believe existed underneath it all, complete with adorable freckles, a bit of an attitude and an amazing two-story tree house where she and her navigator and new love lived happily until the day they both died of old age. (Just my personal theory.)
On beauty, Amelia Earhart said it best in her own words… though she may not have known it at the time:
The stars seemed near enough to touch and never before have I seen so many. I always believed the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, but I was sure of it that night.