I remember the first time I met J. I’ll call her J instead of her real first name, just in case by chance she is out there somehwre, reading this.
I couldn’t see any beauty in her at all. Short, dumpy and blonde, with a chin so minimal as to be non-existent, watery blue eyes, freckles. Nothing exciting.
We sat next to each other in our lecture, and as we were both new to Uni and didn’t know anyone, we started talking. She was so friendly and interesting. She was cool.
J told me about her plans (to be a pediatrician) and her background (a family of farmers with no education at all). Over the next few lectures I learned how proud her parents were that she was here at Uni, the first of her family. And I learned how she’d topped her school in, well, just about everything.
As time went on, I started to see J differently. I saw the character in her face, and the warmth and intelligence in her eyes, and the humour – and wickedness! – in her smile.
Over time, everything that had once been ordinary in my eyes disappeared.
She was beautiful. I couldn’t see her as anything other than beautiful.
The eye beholds…
Our eyes see what we want to see.
Once I began to know J, I saw everything that makes up the unique person that she is. I stopped seeing everything our society judges and criticises in women. Because she brought positive experiences into my life, everything I saw in her was positive.
I forgot how plain I’d thought her when we first met. Even now I can vaguely remember, but not well.
So it surprised me a couple of years ago when she confessed that she’d always struggled with the way she looks. She had difficulty accepting compliments. She found it hard to accept that a man could be attracted to her for anything other than short term sex. She – like me, and practically every other woman I know – compared herself to the images we see everywhere online and on TV and in the media, and she found herself lacking.
She thought her body freakish. And ugly. And bad. Anything but beautiful.
I’ve always found it odd that our friends and lovers can see the beauty in us that we cannot see in ourselves. They see us, as we are – all the good and bad. They see the whole human being, and they love the things that make us what we are, even if we don’t fit stereotypical beauty.
Like J, I find it hard to accept anyone could find me beautiful. Being dedicated to Aphrodite helps, because She is a Goddess who helps the beauty and power of all women shine forth. But it’s still hard.
I’m over 40, and all I see in the magazines is 20-somethings or very very airbrushed celebrities if they’re older than that. I see nothing that can make myself feel normal, feel beautiful by comparison. So I don’t look.
But it’s still there, that insecurity. It’s not just women, either. I told my boyfriend that he was beautiful the other day. He is. Yet he shrugged the words off awkwardly, disbelievingly. I think he thought I was saying so to make him feel good.
The thought that I could be saying the truth – impossible! How could he be beautiful! He’s not tall, dark and handsome. He’s actually kind of chubby and gingery and pale. But I happen to find him beautiful, because I see the person inside. I like what I see when I look at him.
When I look in the mirror, all I see is flaws. I see the wrinkles around my eyes, and is that another grey hair? I see the lack of skinnyness, despite my hours and hours in the gym and watching what I eat. I see a very ordinary woman staring back at me. Nothing special. Tall, gangly, blue eyes, brown hair (going grey)…I’m no Scarlett Johannsen.
So many of us find ourselves the hardest person to love. We’re told we’re supposed to look like this or that, and of course we fail. Even the celebrities, chosen for their genetics, need to be airbrushed before they are perfect enough to be consumed by the masses. What chance does an ordinary human have?
Maybe we need to look in the mirror less, and listen more. Maybe we should listen to those who see us, know us, love us, instead of comparing ourselves with a perfection that doesn’t exist.
Not only do real women – and men – come in all shapes and sizes, but different people find those different shapes and sizes attractive too. Brad Pitt is meant to be the most handsome man on the planet, but he does nothing for me. Everyone’s tastes are different.
Maybe when someone tells you they think you are beautiful, they’re telling the truth. They’re not saying that you look like Scarlett Johanssen or Angelina Jolie. They’re saying you are beautiful as yourself. Not even Scarlett or Angelina can manage to look like you.
Maybe the mirror lies. Maybe it’s a story-teller, weaving pretenses of what we think we should be, when we’re actually okay just as we are. Maybe the mirror is cruel, and untruthful.
And maybe we’re not hard to love after all.