When I was younger, I competed in pageants. It seemed like a Southern girl kind of thing to do. I was just in a few, really, and was a runner up a couple of times. The only one I won was a Junior Miss pageant which was mostly judged on scholastic achievement and interview skills. At least that’s what we were told. And I completely believed that after winning the competition since I’ve been told often that I interview well. Plus I was a good student.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of beauty again lately since it comes up too often in female conversations. Plus my daughter said it came up in her psychology class recently–how the beauty ideal is all about symmetry of features, etc. But if Chanel is right, then beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself…with self-confidence…with the way you see yourself…where the expected definition of beauty ends. Well, that’s great, Chanel. I’d usually agree with you, but I have a confession to make. I had a moment this evening where I felt far from beautiful. And I was embarrassed by it. And a bit angry with myself for feeling that way. After all, I try hard not worry about the physical aspects of beauty because I know beauty encompasses so much more than that. It’s like winning a pageant based on intelligence and communication skills and getting a medal instead of a tiara. It means a bit more. Or at least it should. After all, I do think beauty is subjective, truly in the eye of the beholder. I know I find people and things beautiful that other people don’t. And sometimes I don’t find someone attractive that a friend does. And really, that’s all cool. Otherwise, we’d all be desperately trying to win over the same people and the whole world would descend into more chaos than we currently have.
So I remind myself that the only people whose opinions really matter to me are the people closest to me. My family, my boyfriend, my friends. And of course, myself. They know the real me, so I hope they see something beautiful in me. Most days, I really am thankful to say, it’s all good. But some days…I wish I had the tiara.
I was talking with some friends at work today when one of them (a guy) asked me why women trash talk other women. Apparently, at his wife’s place of employment, someone got upset that the younger, attractive women were dressed to impress. He said he thought most women dress up more to impress each other than they do to attract guys anyway. While I don’t disagree with his thought process, my immediate response was that the woman in question was jealous. It’s hard for a woman to realize that maybe her peak has passed. I imagine it’s hard for guys too, but let’s face it, the importance of physical attractiveness weighs much heavier on women. Do a Google search on “aging gracefully” and 98% of the images are women. Most of the quotes are geared toward women, as are a lot of the comics. And I say this not just from what our culture dictates, but what I’ve experienced personally. I dated a guy who once told me he didn’t care whether or not I found him attractive. He felt it was something he didn’t need to worry about. Of course this was after he told me I was “average” and had no qualms about pointing out the women he did think were beautiful. Which only encouraged the trap that most women fall into…constant comparison. For women, worrying about how we measure up to the next girl is almost instinctive and subconscious. Although, I do believe it has been actively bred in our society. It’s no secret that most magazine pictures are airbrushed and most celebrities have had a team of experts putting them together. Yet even though we all know this, so many of us still hold ourselves up to unrealistic standards. We are supposed to age gracefully, which means not aging at all or at the very least not looking our age. But that completely discounts every other measure of what makes a person beautiful. The heart. The soul. The wisdom, kindness, intelligence, empathy. The way they laugh, they way they smile, their acceptance, forgiveness, grace, strength…A beautiful person is so much more than a beautiful face. Of course most of us want to be physically attractive, but gravity is hard to fight. Sun damage is hard to reverse. The act of living means our bodies take a bit of a beating. Do I look at twenty year old girls and feel jealous sometimes? Yes. But then I remember that they’ll look something like me when they’re my age, if they are lucky enough. If their bodies go through childbirth and years of yard work and house remodels and exercise. Winters skiing and summers swimming. I’m thankful my body has held up as well as it has. I’m thankful I haven’t lost a limb or gotten skin cancer or any number of horrible maladies that bodies can go through. And you know what, I’m going to age because that’s what bodies do. I’ll try to hold off as much as I can for as long as I can because, well, I guess I’m just vain enough. I’m maybe not quite at the point of dressing only for comfort. But I also want my body to last as long as it can. After all, I hope I have a whole lot of years left to live in it.
After months of whining about the snow and cold and ice storms, it was a joy to see this tree covered in white today. That’s one thing that is amazing about spring: flowers show up over night. I’m so thankful today for the beauty of the season, especially what’s in my own front yard.
I noticed online that there was quite the stir surrounding The Biggest Loser’s weight loss today. I didn’t watch the show this season, although I have seen it in the past. Apparently the winner lost about 60% of her initial body weight, causing many people to say it was too much. Some even went so far as to claim she looked anorexic or sick and unhealthy. I quickly stopped reading comments, but I’m sure not everyone was nice about expressing their opinions. I had other headlines to investigate, such as Lady Gaga’s eating disorder and Gwen Stefani referring to her younger self as “chunky.” I followed that up with an article about the 12 foods that all dieticians keep in their own houses.
Obviously, there was theme today…What is it about body issues that is so universal? And what makes us so wildly judgmental about them? I don’t have an opinion on the headlines I read today except that they made me sad. It reminded me of how obsessed our culture is with looks and how adversely affected we all are by it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Pollyanna. Every society in every time frame has had standards by which they mark beauty. It’s probably always going to be that way. We love beautiful people. I just wish we could shift the definition of what we find beautiful. Healthy is beautiful. Happy is beautiful. And you know what, those two things come in all sizes.
I remember being a teenage girl. Crazy time. And that was before Instagram and Facebook and cellphone camera selfies. We didn’t have images of ourselves plastered every where for everyone to see and judge. But the pressure was there to be thin and model-like. I’m only 5’2″ and built like a gymnast. I was never going to be waiflike as I desired to be. I think I knew that, but it didn’t stop me from hating how I was, as I called myself, short and stocky. And I had my own measurement of whether or not I was getting fat. I’d place my hand, fingers wide across my leg when I was sitting down. If my thighs were larger than my hand, I needed to quit eating. I spent way too many hours of my day worrying about how much I was eating. Trying to see how long I could go without eating. Judging myself against every other girl I thought was thinner that I. The life of a teenager girl is oftentimes constant comparison.
Of course, now I wish I had worried more about what I was eating. I wish I had realized that what mattered most is being healthy. Being strong. I’m thankful I never developed a full-blown eating disorder, and I’m thankful that I don’t let my body issues override my life anymore. Of course there are things I don’t love about myself. But my short, muscular body has served me well over the years. I plan to take care of it, so it continues to do so.