Defining beauty that is meaningful to you
I’m a pretty typical late Baby Boomer woman, I think. I grew up in an era (a really long one) where women were objectified constantly in the media (not that we’re entirely finished doing that) and where certain cultural definitions of beauty were foisted on young women at a most vulnerable time in life–high school.
In my case it was certainly cause for extremely harsh self-assessments of my body, face, skin condition and pretty much everything else related to who I saw as me. It was exhausting–never mind the rigors of high school–academic, extra-curricular and social pressures were all there in force. And my story is, I’m sure, similar to that of millions of women.
All that resulted in an ongoing search for an unrealistic, unattainable goal (in my day it was to look like a Cover Girl–Cybill Shepherd and actress Ali MacGraw (light and dark versions of the same idea). I remember being introduced to Sun-In lightening hair spray, for that streaky-blond look, and wishing for legs that were twice as long as mine. I thought it still might be possible for my 5′ 4″-frame to grow to Cybill’s 5′ 8″ stature. I mean, I wasn’t done growing yet…was I? Well, actually I was.
And the beauty-seeking habit continued for decades…with diets and hair coloring and expensive visits to salons and looking for butt-shaping jeans…
One person’s trash is another one’s treasure…?
I get that those norms exist in every culture and that they differ dramatically–we seek slimness in North America; in many African cultures a skinny woman is despised–without some meat on her she’s not considered healthy, or attractive. Definitions of how we clothe ourselves, what kind of jewelry we wear and how we alter what nature gave us all differs depending on where you travel.
So how and when did I stop the madness? Well, it was the day my daughter walked by me as I was in the bathroom with gloves on at the sink, ready to pour my 900th bottle of Nice’n’Easy Summer Blond over my scalp. My naturally blond hair had started showing tinges of gray since I was about 25, and I’d been trying to keep it another color (any other color) ever since. She glanced up from whatever she was doing as she walked by and said offhandedly, “you should just stop doing that, Mom. Your hair looks awesome just the way it is.”
Now, my daughter was a naturally gorgeous raven-haired, slim, blue-eyed romance novel heroine in the making, so naturally, I thought she was just being kind, just like all the gorgeous girls in school who could afford to be nice to the one who wouldn’t ever be competing with them. “Right,” I said. “Because people really think gray is sexy.”
“It’s not gray, it’s silver. It’s magic hair,” she pronounced with Hermionesque wisdom as she disappeared.
I stared at my image in the mirror, and slowly lowered my arms. I set the bottle of mixed-up goo on the sink’s edge. I pulled off the latex gloves and ran my fingers through my short tresses. A thought popped into my head from some other divine source, which was, “what do you really want, and why?”
The brutal truth was that at 45 what I really wanted was simplicity. As a single mom who was self-employed and a graduate student, I really wanted to keep costs down. I figured that even using the cheapest brand on the market that wouldn’t turn my hair orange was $12 a shot, and $12 x 12/year meant I was spending $144 a year on something that was…not necessary? Hmmm. Those of you who’ve been there, done that know exactly how much that is…a lot.
But super short and white hair…? Wouldn’t that add 20 years to my face? Would it make me look less feminine? And why exactly do I care? Well that’s not so much about vanity as my mother would no doubt identify it. Turns out, it’s about primitive brain hard-wiring of survivability.
There’s something called “sexual dimorphism” (the physical differences between sexes of the same species). In nature, a greater differentiation between sexes increases the odds of finding a mate. So anything that exaggerates the difference is seen to be more attractive to the opposite sex. And, youthfulness is considered cross-culturally to be beautiful as it highlights health and fertility. So, if I had hair as short as most men’s, and the color was most often associated with old people, wasn’t I failing on both counts?
And, apparently part of the successful reproduction thing has to do with attraction, and psychologically (and genetically) the more symmetry in a face, the healthier a person
is, the better they cope with stress, and therefore the more suitable to reproduce they are. This science turns into numbers at Anaface, where you can analyze your face for its symmetry and find out how close to a 10 you really are. Of course I did mine…over to the right are the results. Weird. But at least now I know where I’m symmetrical and where I’m not. A person needs to know these things. Give it a try. If you don’t like the results, just move the dots around a bit until you like them better. Or just accept that we all can’t be 7.3s. Hahaha. That’s a joke.
Waaaait a minute
This led me to a more serious ponder. Sure, I cared what I looked like. And of course I didn’t want to be unattractive to my partner…and then it hit me. Waaaait a minute. A new sun was peeking over the horizon. If he only loved me for how I looked on the outside, what kind of value did that relationship hold? And what was I assuming about him and his character? He’d never said one word about his preferences for my hair. Or my face. Or my skin, or body.
I stared in the face of a message from a higher power giving it to me straight. Did I look in the mirror and see beauty? Did it matter what anyone (even my partner) thought more than what I saw? The fact was for many years I didn’t see beauty when I looked at my reflection. I saw thunder thighs, breeder’s hips (yah, thanks for that one, Grandma), embarrassingly big boobs, too-thick hair that wouldn’t ever curl right, one side of a lip that was so much thinner and curved down that people asked me if I’d had a stroke (for real). I was even upset that the holes in my ears from a high-school amateur piercing episode were not even.
So now, at 45, maybe it was time to take a different look? And then this thought occurred: A revised version of the famous Forrest Gump statement…Beauty is as beauty does. Where did that come from?
Beauty is a beauty does
What was my definition of beauty? My very own. Not my mother’s, or grandmother’s, or friends”, or boyfriends’, or the media’s. I thought about people I considered beautiful. No matter what they looked like on the outside, I discovered I only considered people beautiful if that radiated from inside them. They were compassionate, kind and loving. Even the most facially symmetrical people I knew didn’t seem beautiful to me if they were mean-spirited, selfish or rude.
I turned that concept on myself, asking am I compassionate, kind and loving? And I realized that I had some work to do in that regard. That my focus had been on myself, my survival, protecting and supporting my kid…but in a fierce, closed way as opposed to a giving, loving way. I was operating from fear, not love. And that wasn’t beautiful.
Today, I’m slowly working towards being a beautiful person, and I’m less and less concerned with that outward appearance of that. The more grateful I become, the more compassionate. And the less I care about the wrinkles, the white hair and the droopy lip. I see the shine in my eyes, the smile on my face in the mirror, and I am different. I am beautiful.
Sometimes we have to look harder, deeper to find our own beauty. But it’s there. While thinking about all this, a phrase came to me. I will leave you with it to ponder for yourself: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so…behold your beauty.
Ask & you shall receive,