Friday, September 21, 2012

On not being beautiful

Today I saw a girl who was unbelievably beautiful. That kind of beauty that makes you stare a moment longer even if you really don't mean to or want to. The kind of beauty that makes the giant monster of insecurity come rushing out of me. I descend into thoughts of craziness that seem perfectly reasonable: maybe I would run every day for two hours, maybe I would eat once a day for a month, maybe, maybe. And then maybe, I would be beautiful. But then I remembered that I would never have her perfect skin or her bright green eyes or her little nose or the sun-streaked light brown hair that made her look like she walked under a spotlight...

Luckily this doesn't go on for too long and I return to sanity but I am left with all sorts of questions.

Why is it that we (and by that I, of course, mean me) desire to be beautiful above all? 

I am not beautiful. I have days of feeling beautiful. The brush of a new dress against my thighs, the compliments of boys blinded by lust or love or loneliness or even just a little spur of confidence but I am not beautiful. At best, I am always only pretty. Some days, not even that. But I am a lot of other things. Things that for some reason I don't stack up as being quite as important as being beautiful, things I would trade for beauty. I don't know why, I try really hard to rationalise it and come up with a reason but I can't.

And worse than that, I attach to beauty things like success and happiness. It's easy to be confident and happy when you're beautiful. It's easy to put yourself out there when you don't have nagging insecurities about yourself. Rationalising those thoughts is even harder. 

Little girls are always beautiful first... and then become other things but always in relation to their beauty. Compliments begin with beauty and then travel to all the other things that you can be. Even when talking about beauty, we seek to redefine it in a way that includes everyone. You are beautiful in your own way. It implies that we all need to be beautiful. Why can't we be other things? Why can't we be okay with not being beautiful?

I think I used to believe that when I entered my twenties I would blossom into beauty and that all the physical attributes I so desired would somehow manifest and I would become beautiful. The world even promises it. But I did not and will not. I was born with all physical characteristics that I will ever have. Right now, at 21, my body is at the best it's ever going to be. And unless I resort to serious measures, my face is what it is. But learning to accept that you aren't beautiful is much easier to say than it is to do. Especially when the things that interest you - fashion, entertainment, film, music - all of these things revolve so heavily on beauty.

Instead what I have been working on is a respect and appreciation for the other parts of me. Parts of me that are not physical and have nothing to do with beauty. But are the characteristics that make me who I am. I am intelligent, introspective, creative, curious... (I didn't plan the alliteration.) Instead of viewing them as consolation prizes for not being beautiful, I have come to view them as qualities that I have chosen for myself, worked on and developed because I want to be a certain kind of person.

Being beautiful has nothing to do with who a person is. It's genetics and whatever society deems to be most beautiful at the time. But our desire to be beautiful comes from the fact that beauty is a commodity. On its foundation we sell so much - not only products but ideas and ideals. And we want to be a part of that. Who wants to be beautiful for themselves? We desire to be beautiful for everyone else. We believe that it earns us love and respect and acceptance. I find myself thinking that not being beautiful will somehow hold me back in life. And as much as I tell myself that it isn't true, that the only thing holding me back is myself, I still can't quite believe it. I eat a certain way, exercise, dress, behave and all of these efforts are directed towards one thing: being perceived as beautiful. Like, somehow to be beautiful is the highest of accomplishments. No award or affirmation of success makes me feel quite the same way as a compliment does. (And mind you, when I do receive them, I always second guess the person. I convince myself that it is only because they care for me that they say nice things or that they want something or have some sort of agenda.)

The quest to be beautiful is exhausting and never ending. And yet, I never quit. As horrible as I feel when I think these things, I feel worse when I don't make the effort to be beautiful. For lack of a better phrase, it really really sucks. I want to believe that it is okay to not be beautiful, to not even be pretty. I want to believe that all of my other qualities measure up to something more and that they are not important only in relation to how beautiful I am.

I want to be funny and quirky and witty and a little neurotic, I want to be everything without feeling like the sum total of those things needs to add up to an idea of beauty. I want to experience happiness free of beauty. I want to stop behaving in a certain way simply because I think it's what beautiful girls do.

Beauty fades. And in time what matters is what we did, not how we looked while we did it. I'm not encouraging self-hate. If you are beautiful, don't let it be who you are. If you aren't beautiful, don't spend time trying to validate yourself as beautiful "in your own way". Accept that beauty is just one little thing, one little part of the person you are. (And when you do it, please tell me how.)

Once in a while, I experience the radiance of life when I get out of my own head and forget about being beautiful. And I want to be that way all the time. I want to be free. 


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