Being part of the writing community is a beautiful thing. Recently, I was reminded of this truth. First, the wonderful Jennifer Gracen was nominated for the “I’m Beautiful The Way I Am” challenge and after posting her 5 photos, she nominated Patty Blount. Both of these women are beautiful ladies and it was fun to see the photos of themselves that they chose to share with us. And then Patty had to go and nominate me.
Nope. Nope, nope, nope.
Nope. Not doin’ it. No way, no how.
That was my reaction, because I’m not beautiful. Sure, I get the self-empowerment message and wholly support it. But this is an area where I really struggle. And I struggle because that saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder is so true. I view myself harshly. And yes, my sweet Mister would say that I’m beautiful and so would my mom. But I would never, not in a million years, ever even think those words about myself, let alone say them.
Because I’m not beautiful.
Beautiful is something elusive. A term society uses in an attempt to describe a collection of body parts of symmetrical proportions, of the “right” numbers, the “right” shapes, sizes, colors and all that. Using that notion of beautiful, I am not beautiful. And yet the whole thing has got me thinking about beauty and self-love and doubt and the stupidity I am capable of committing, especially against my own self.
Because I am not beautiful. Yet.
I have no photos of me being beautiful. But I have gadzooks of them capturing moments where I have been happy. Moments when important aspects of myself are visible.
And if I expand my definition of beauty to something more realistic–more representative of the beauty I witness so often in others, then I too have photos of being beautiful. The most beautiful people I have ever seen are far from symmetrical or well-proportioned. They are old ladies filled with wrinkles and sagging skin. They are men with quiet expressions and soulful eyes. They are babies enraptured by their world. They are examples of people content with themselves in that moment and at peace. And they are usually happy with their life at that moment.
Based on that, beautiful is a moment where what matters most is present and witnessed. And also based on that, one day, I fully, 100%, expect to be beautiful. Therefore, I’ve collected a few photos to explain why I’m not beautiful yet but intend to be one day.
Here is one that you might remember. Last year I dyed my hair purple. It was the first time I ever did something to radically and intentionally draw attention to myself and my appearance.
Purple hair gave me lots of opportunities to talk about supporting loved ones with cancer. But more than simply changing my hair color, purple hair gave me a new way of looking at myself. It’s hard to see yourself as staid and boring if you’re sporting brilliant purple hair. So while I’ve long considered myself to be one of the most boring people on earth, perhaps it’s time to remind myself that I’m not actually boring. Just cautious. There is a big difference between those two things. And there is nothing wrong with being cautious. Embracing this aspect of myself is a big part of letting go of what I’ve long thought I should be like and enjoying how I really am. Acceptance is a beautiful thing.
Here is a photo from about 7 years ago when we did a family photo shoot with Amy of The Art of Joy and she captured this picture of me “flying” Littlest across the labyrinth at work. I love this photo because how can I not adore that gorgeous smile of his…he is having so much fun and I got to be there. In fact, this is how I like to think of myself as a parent: giving my kids their wings to fly. In looking back over 1000s of photos, I realized how many of them are either taken by me (and so not of me), or have me with my kids. Which is fitting because now, whatever I am, I am more “Mom” than anything else. And while I didn’t dream of being a mom when I was a little girl, I think being these three people’s mother is the best thing I’ve ever done. In fact, I think that becoming a mother and then mothering my children for these nearly 16 years has allowed the best parts of myself to be seen. All my worst parts have been put on display as well, but it’s the best parts that are front and center with my kids and my life now. My best may not always be beautiful, but it is real and loving and so very grateful for the chance to experience the world again for the first time as I journey alongside my three children.
I suppose of all the photos buried on our computer’s hard drive, this one looks the most like “beautiful” by society’s terms. Mister Soandso talked me into doing a photo shoot. (Yes, Kate Kelly is gifted!) He wanted some photos that show me like how he sees me. I’m sharing this one because doing a photo shoot like this is actually very empowering. It got me to stop waiting for perfection to happen and instead embrace what I am today. It is impossible for me to be any taller or any younger. And honestly, I’ll probably never be much thinner either. But allowing this middle-aged body to be photographed in anything other than “mom-jeans” and baggy shirts was a chance to see what the man who loves me sees. Varicose veins, stretch marks, scars, and laugh lines are all a part of me. They prove that I’ve lived this life…not carefully or easily, but with exuberance. I’ve lived so that I have stories to tell. Embracing the life I have rather than wishing for something in the future or regretting things in the past has been a huge part in find the beauty in life.
Years ago, I would tell young people to take risks where they could and where it was safe to do so. Take a risk and do that which some small voice has always whispered in your ear, but that which you’ve denied. For me, that was doing stand-up.
This is actually a goofy photo of me – I have no idea where I was in this set although I know it was at a show at The Brody and it was from my first show where I really tried to incorporate the “rules” for comedy writing in my sets. Doing stand-up was a big part of my coming-of-age. It was during those years that I really started to be comfortable with who I am and the gifts that make me ME. And I do love making people laugh. I can think of nothing more beautiful than getting to do something that makes you happy.
And here is one of my very favorite photos of myself ever taken. I don’t rightly know just what about this photo makes my heart so happy, but if I were to guess, it is because this photo was the first time I ever really saw my mother in me. It isn’t that I actually look like her, but that I’ve seen her with this exact expression. Knowing that she will always be smiling at the world as long as I do, feels important to me. And since Biggest looks like her as well, she will live as long as he does…. The passing of a smile from generation to generation is beautiful. It affirms what connects us and why family is so important.
When I die, it won’t be any of my individual body parts that my family misses. They will miss my smile or how I hugged them or how my hands made their favorite foods. They will remember what really is beautiful about me…when I am enjoying life as it is rather than wishing for something else. They will remember how I grew into a person who finally saw herself as beautiful by accepting her foibles and embracing the stories that gave her both scars and smiles. And they will remember how their own beauty was mirrored in me.
May we all find mirrors that show our beautiful selves.