Saturday, November 7, 2009

True Beauty

"If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear you might someday find yourselves believing that's all you really are. But time erodes all such beauty. What it cannot diminish are the wonderful workings of your mind - your humour, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you.
"I so wish I could give [you] a more just world. But I know you'll make it a better place."
Little Women

Yesterday I got told by a colleague (and friend) that I am not a beauty - quite the reverse. I could "use some work" she said. Exactly what she meant she didn't elucidate, (perhaps plastic surgery). But the point is this. After my initial hurt and sadness faded, I started wondering about our modern definitions of beauty. This is a topic certainly not lacking in commentators, I know. Hollywood's depiction of the 'average' woman leaves much to be desired - something bemoaned by mothers, teachers, and feminists alike. And truthfully, by anyone with half a brain.
But I suppose I mean that I became thoughtful about my own, personal, definition of beauty. Affected as I am by media and common opinion, I do wish that I could look just a little more like Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba or Audrey Hepburn. Which may be why my colleague's comment upset me. It IS important to me to be found attractive, and I've tricked myself into thinking that I look okay - not all the time, but a fair portion of the time. And occasionally, that I might even look a little bit beautiful.
I'm not really that deluded about myself. I know the flaws - the slight doubling of my chin, the red patchy quality of my skin, the wideness of my thighs. But I hope that I have learnt effective ways of concealing these so that eyes are drawn more to my soft lips, expensive haircut, polished (albeit chipping) nails, slim wrists.
How is it that I've come to this - daily critiquing my appearance in front of the mirror hoping the world will not shun me for that which they do not see.
What did they do in the days before mirrors? Before expensive hairdressers, makeup, nail polish, prints? How was their beauty judged when women had no equipment with which to adorn themselves?
What if I was forced to endure such suffering - how would I cope?
As is always the case when something I think I need is taken away from me - I would at first rebel. I would rant and rave. But after a day or two, maybe a week, I think I would feel relief so fierce it would be like remembering how to breathe again.
And then, perhaps, I would remember the true measure of beauty. Not the appearance of perfection. But selfless thoughtfulness, generosity, love. Moral courage.
And maybe, just maybe, if I pursued these things in my own life, I could make the world a better place.

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