Regardless of gender, color, or age, many of us care deeply about how we look. We are naturally drawn to objects of beauty and we desire to be considered beautiful. And yet for many of us, such standards of beauty are hardly attainable– at least without allowing our lives to revolve around achieving those standards. Going down that path often leads us dangerously towards sickness, addiction, selfishness and loneliness.
More importantly, whether we feel confident about our looks has very little to do with what we actually look like. This is due in part to the fact that beauty standards actually change all the time. Between the media, our peers, our families or our cultures, physical beauty is constantly being redefined. Whether it’s height, weight, shape, color or size, standards of physical perfection are always just beyond our reach, visible but never attainable. And what we struggle with is envy— for others who happen to meet whatever standards we find ourselves falling short of, and for the attention they might get for it. After all, isn’t that what the evil queen in Snow White suffered? (And by the way– Snow White was considered beautiful because she was pale as a sheet.)
I have spent a lot of time in front of the mirror. At various points I have considered myself beautiful, average, unattractive, and everything in between. I’ve desperately tried to lose weight under the guise of fasting. I’ve worked hard to perfect my makeup to hide the flaws I see on my face. I hate being tired, because I don’t see it as the result of a full and well-lived day, but as a cause for droopy eyes and sallow skin. And then I go into the bathroom and ask, Mirror, mirror on the wall: Am I beautiful at all?
But as I said, culture’s definition of beauty is always changing. Take eyebrows, for example. Marilyn Monroe had heart-shaped brows. Audrey Hepburn’s brows were thick in the 50s and thinned out in the 60s. On recent fashion runways, the models’ brows were bleached white. And now every makeup artist is advocating thick, bushy Frida Kahlo-esque brows. What’s next?
As I grow and experience the deeper, richer realities that life has to offer, I am slowly becoming less drawn to the mirror. I am no longer concerned about our cultural obsession with redefining beauty every season. I am also not convinced that any campaign for a certain body type, eye color, hair texture, or brow shape is going to solve the problem. Because as soon as we select a specific trait (even if that trait has been discriminated in the past), we alienate someone. Instead, we need to look for beauty beyond the mirror.
This quote was attributed to Anne Lamott, but I think the concept has been around since the dawn of time. To “joy,” I would add generosity, hope, peace, and warmth. I desire my face to be beautiful not for its features but for its expressions. I hope that my presence will be defined not by my shape but by what I exude. I was raised with the old proverb, “Beauty is only skin-deep.” And it most certainly is– until it becomes something rich and deep enough to touch the heart.
This is a post that is linked to Wednesday Words, as well as a discussion on body image on Delightfully Tacky. Check out other great posts using the links!