When I think about my life’s purpose, I cannot say with any certainty what I was put here to do, but I am positive of at least one thing – it has nothing to do with looking pretty. You wouldn’t know that, though, considering all the time and energy I’ve spent trying to be beautiful.
I wonder how many hours I’ve spent in front of the mirror to that end. Convinced I am. Convinced I’m not. And just generally judging whether I am fit for presentation to the world. Maybe it wouldn’t bother me if it actually felt good. Most of the time it’s an anxiety-inducing process that has increasingly become an exercise in hiding my imperfections.
Why is beauty mixed up with perfection?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The creation of beauty is art.”
So why is beauty mixed up with perfection at all? Do artists set out to create something perfect, or something meaningful and true?
Why can’t there be beauty in chipped nail polish? Gray roots? Crepey skin? Cellulite? Sun spots? Yellow teeth? Wrinkles? A crooked nose? Mismatched clothes? Is there no truth and meaning in that?
I can imagine that being a description of a beautiful painting – full of character and color – but not the same of a real woman.
Even when I think I look pretty, I’m self-conscious about it
I don’t remember having an opinion about the way I looked until I was 11 years old. One day during recess, a boy at school told me I was ugly. It would have hurt no matter who said it, but this boy was cute, smart, and popular. I was already struggling socially, so it didn’t do good things for my confidence going into junior high the following year.
It wasn’t until I was 14 that I learned how to make myself pretty. That’s when my best friend, Brandy, taught me how to put on makeup, wear my hair, and choose my clothes. It seemed to work. I finally felt like I fit in with the popular girls and I had the attention of upperclassmen boys. Translation: I felt alluring and admired (i.e., loved).
Then the worst happened. When I changed schools my junior year, the attention stopped.
As far as I could tell, everything about me looked exactly the same, but I was suddenly invisible.
Thankfully for my teenage ego, we moved again my senior year and, in my new school, I was treated in a way that made me feel attractive again. But the plainness I felt the year prior scarred me deeply. I’d felt invisible before – pre-Brandy makeover – but once I’d crossed over into feeling pretty, going back felt like the end of the world.
Since then, I’ve gone back and forth between feeling plain and pretty more times than I can count. It’s like I have a fifty-fifty chance of feeling attractive in this city, or that workplace, or this night out. I get that the way people respond to each another depends on all sorts of factors, but I’ve been associating attractiveness with worth for so long that I can’t seem to separate the two.
But you know, the thing of it is, even when I do think I look pretty, I’m self-conscious about it. Do I look too done up, like I’m showing off? And, if I am showing off, how shameful is that?
All of this feels terribly taboo
I’m embarrassed to admit all of this – that I’m concerned with whether other people think I’m attractive or not. As the years have passed, my concern with this has lessened, but I feel it threatening to come back full force with every new sign of the aging process.
I don’t know how this is reading to you, but all of this feels terribly taboo, like I’m saying things that should not be talked about. It feels wrong to admit that I not only try to look beautiful, but that there are actually times when I think I am.
It reminds me of that social experiment Dove did, giving women the choice to walk through entryways labeled Beautiful or Average. You can see their discomfort in having to make that choice. But you can also see how the choice they make actually affects their appearance.
Those who choose to call themselves Average walk through that door with what seems to be a resigned, joyless look on their faces. Those who choose to call themselves Beautiful walk through that door with a smile. The simple act of declaring themselves Beautiful – choosing beautiful on purpose – seems to make them look and feel just that.
I feel most beautiful when my appearance is the last thing on my mind.
You know what I’ve only just realized, since I’ve been working on this piece, I mean, is that the times when I feel most beautiful are the times when my appearance is the last thing on my mind – when I meditate, wake up from a nap, soak in a hot bath, take a long walk, water the plants, play with the animals, laugh with the people I love.
This tells me beauty is more than the way I look; it is absolutely how I feel.
So, I like to think if I do more things that feel good for me – in how I eat, exercise, and just generally spend my time – feeling beautiful will naturally follow. Because I don’t know that it’s possible to take good care of something without it being beautiful, in appearance and in the act of making it so.
I want my beauty to be a given
None of this is to say I want to shun the whole act of getting made up. I just want to change my purpose.
When I step in front of the mirror, I want my beauty to be a given. I am only there to choose how I feel like expressing it – playing around with colors, textures, patterns, and forms that enhance a mood or occasion.
So, being beautiful on purpose need not be an exercise in looking good.
Being beautiful on purpose can be a daily positive affirmation – “I Am Beautiful.” – reinforced by easy, healthy, creative choices made to feel good, have fun, and fuel a purpose that matters.
Do you remember the first time you had an opinion about the way you look? What triggered it, what came after, and how did it feel?