If you listen to any popular music, watch any chick flick, or page through any best seller fiction, there is one deeply obnoxious and repetitive characteristic that always arises in the representation of the female subject: she is totally ignorant of her beauty. She is so stunning that men fall all over themselves when she clumsily traipses by (because these woman are also totally clumsy, but in a delicate way…?), yet she has apparently never walked past a mirror. As a result, we unknowingly instill in women the idea that thinking they are beautiful is in direct opposition to being beautiful. They must bear all markers of beauty, and NEVER THINK ABOUT IT.
That is ridiculous.
Shouldn’t we be a society that tries to be aware of what beauty is, and how to recognize and cultivate it? I’ve been thinking about those questions lately, and I decided to take stock of what actually makes me feel beautiful. How’s that for narcissism? Ok, here goes.
I feel beautiful when I wear my favorite pair of jeans.* It’s not that they are that impressive, but they fit well and I feel comfortable in them. And that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when my nails are painted and I’m rocking some lipstick. This is ridiculous, as James hates both, but they make me feel collected and colorful. And that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when I’m singing along to the radio in the car, or when I’m dancing as hard as I can at a wedding. Both activities make me sound/look like an idiot, but they make me happy. And that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when my house is clean, my apron is dirty, and I’m rushing to open the door for people to come over. Obviously for the house to be clean and the kitchen to be dirty, I am probably not looking beautiful, but it makes me feel hospitable. And that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when I’ve just finished a long run. Objectively, I look terrible, as I sweat like a man, and my face gets really splotchy. But after I’ve run all over this city, I feel strong. And that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when I’ve taught a good class, turned in a good paper, or given an excellent presentation. Since at least one of these activities occurs at home in my sweat pants, they obviously don’t make me look beautiful. But they make me feel intelligent, and that makes me feel beautiful.
I feel beautiful when it’s late, and James and I are laughing on the couch. Usually this means I am in my pjs, hair in the messy bun, glasses on, and laughing with my squinty-eyed, toothy laugh. It’s not pretty. But it makes me feel loved, and that makes me feel beautiful.
No matter how I look, I feel beautiful when I feel useful, when I feel relaxed, when I feel necessary, when I feel confident.
Part of my New Year’s discipline, along with treating my body better, is to have more grace with it. When I actually take stock of all the things that make me feel beautiful, almost none of them make me look beautiful. They make me happy, make me strong, make confident, make me loved. These are the things that make us beautiful, and we should be deeply, constantly, blissfully aware of them. They protect us from all the other things that try to lie to us about what beauty is and how we get it.
What makes you feel beautiful?
Oh, and just in case that top photo gave you an unrealistic impression of my sweet modeling skills and photogenic self, here’s how most of the many outtakes looked. Skills.
*Ok, let’s talk about the jeans. You might remember my serious First World trauma from my jean search. Well… I came crawling back to Madewell, armed with an amazing coupon and a humble pill. It was still a little bit traumatizing, as my pair came and fit for all of 2 days before they were so stretched out I hesitate to call them skinny jeans. I dragged myself back to the store and broke down for the poor sales associate. She offered to take them back and send me a new pair. At the sight of my panicked face and death grip on the jeans, she asked me,”You really don’t want to let go of these jeans, do you?” NO BECAUSE I MIGHT NEVER GET ANOTHER PAIR. But I did let go, and they did send me another pair, and they are the best jeans imaginable.