The Eye of the Beholder

I’m going to put something out there, but it is not meant to be shocking, self-deprecating or a cry for help! This particular topic keeps rearing its “ugly” head, and I have some things I want to say about it, but it’s a tricky one. So, I’ll just take a deep breath, and write what I have to write, and we’ll all see how it comes out.
In my whole life, I don’t think there was ever a day where I felt pretty. And while I think I carry myself with a certain confidence most of the time, that confidence rarely comes from security with my outer self. Instead, I feel that I am too fat, my skin’s too dry, my smile isn’t white enough, I don’t know how to dress, etc. A whole litany of issues of self-doubt. I don’t think it helped that in high school a boy I liked told me it was a good thing I had nice skin because otherwise I would be a real dog. That kind of thing sticks with you.
It’s gotten worse. The past several months of worry and anxiety hasn’t made me feel any better. I feel like I always look tired. I haven’t gained extra weight during this time, but after an early victory through increased exercise, where I lost 12 pounds, I have reverted back to my weight of a year ago. In spite of continuous exercise and trying to be careful with what I eat, I just can’t seem to make the scale go back in the right direction. I definitely don’t feel pretty now, and it takes a lot of inner fortitude to keep from feeling completely Quasimodo-like.
But here’s the joke, and the joke is on me. I recently went through some old pictures so I could have them scanned digitally. And when I looked at some of these old pictures of myself, say when I was 20, or 30, or even 40, I was shocked by how pretty I looked! Beautiful, even. And what a crime that I never knew it or felt it. And I have to wonder if I could travel ten years forward, and take a look back at my 52 year old self, if I might possibly feel the same way?
The reason I am sharing this is that this lack of self confidence in one’s physical appearance feels like an epidemic, at least amongst some of the women that I talk to. I want to be very careful here to not give away anyone else’s private story, but in the past few months this has just come up too many times, there are so many lovely, radiant, beautiful women walking around not feeling good about themselves. It hurts my heart.
And I tell them all my theory, about the ten years thing, and in that moment we can all see the logic and agree. But mere minutes later we revert to thinking our arms are too thick, or our skin is too blotchy or whatever other flaw we can focus on, instead of counting the things that make us lovely and loveable.
What’s the cause? Is it the “Hollywood” ideal that we can never attain? Maybe. The constant saturation of social media, where everyone seems to be living a happier, more attractive life than you are? Perhaps. But it doesn’t matter to me what the cause is, the only thing I care about is the cure.
Like a muscle that must be flexed, we must stop allowing ourselves to think this way. We must also be careful not to carry this legacy to our daughters and nieces and young women we influence. I’m not sure if this issue started with my generation, but I certainly never heard my mother or grandmother express such sentiments. So if this started with us, it must end with us.
Yesterday I was at the dentist, and the dentist went on and on about how I looked like Shirley Temple. And while I found it pretty funny, I was also a little humiliated. How could she compare me with a cute, little girl, America’s Sweetheart, so adorable, when I felt so absolutely hideous? I knew that she wasn’t trying to be mean or malicious but it confused me all the same.
Have you ever seen that magazine feature, I think it’s in Marie Claire, where they go around the country and ask girls in different cities, what they like about themselves? And they all answer with things like “my crooked smile makes me unique” or “my thick eyebrows give my eyes definition.” I always thought that was pretty funny, and a little egotistical, but now I’m thinking they may be on the right track. Instead of focusing on our shortfalls, we have to work at understanding our assets. And it’s going to take work since we have programmed ourselves to think so differently.
From now on, when I start cataloging my physical flaws, I am going to move every brain muscle I have to think in a different way. And while I will continue to strive to improve in areas that I can control, like diet and exercise, I will not allow myself to focus on my flaws. It’s not going to be easy, but I will try to think of at least one thing I feel good about each day. I will also keep telling the women around me how beautiful they are until they believe it themselves. And if you are one of those women that don’t have this issue, God bless you. In ten years’ time I hope to be you too, and look back at my old self and say, damn, she looked good, AND she looked like she knew it!
The end, for now

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4 responses

  1. Kathy, in this piece you express the voice of my inner self. I have never felt beautiful. I’ve never felt pretty. At best I’ve felt adequate. I hated my teeth, I hated my auburn hair, I hated my freckles and brown eyes. Blonde and blue eyed with golden skin was what represented beauty. I could never be that. I was too skinny for the first 35 years and needed to lose 20 pounds for the the rest. I do not want my daughter and grand daughter to feel this way. They will learn from me. I want to teach them what I have always believed in my heart about everyone, except myself. All women no matter their size, color or physical attributes are beautiful and that true beauty truly comes from within. Intelligence, kindness, empathy and a genuine smile make everyone truly beautiful. I must be that example. I must not be so hard on myself. If I don’t treat myself better and acknowledge my own beauty, they will never be capable of knowing their own either. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing your heart and for reminding me.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Kim! It’s a recurring conversation with so many of the women I know. It’s not easy to make the change, even since I wrote this I have had moments of instinctively feeling bad about some physical attribute. We have to change, we can change, and the change starts now.

  2. Thank you for this. I love your honesty and willingness to share what so many feel. Passing along to my daughters.

  3. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment, Calene!

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