Beauty Through the Act of Loving

imperfect-beautyYesterday’s post was about beauty and insecurity and denying who I am.  It was a difficult post to write.  I’m not even sure where it came from.  Getting that necklace in the mail was akin to jamming a stick of dynamite in a dam that I didn’t even know existed.  Feelings, emotions and tears started flowing, and they weren’t going to stop.  Apparently, they haven’t stopped yet.  I’m not done with the topic, and I’m convinced that this flood is sending me further down the path that I’m supposed to be on.  The tidal wave of emotions is pushing me faster, and I’m not afraid.  In fact, I can’t wait to see how far it takes me.  This is another exercise in authenticity and speaking truth.  Both of those expressions are over-used.  But if we set out in search of those things, with integrity, the pursuit of authenticity and truth gets us closer to who we are meant to be.

warning:  I took a challenge to write 2500 words today.  I’ve never struggled with coming up with the words.  I usually cut myself off in an effort to make my post more manageable (less tiresome).  This will be LONG.  Get a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or a milkshake, or skip it all together and haunt one of your favorite, less wordy sites.

So in response to my ‘beauty’ post, I got some warm, loving, complimentary comments from dear friends and dear family.  I didn’t want it to appear that I was writing that post to fish for compliments.  I guess I’m a better fisherwoman (why isn’t fisherwoman in spellcheck?) than I thought.  (I can cast a fly line pretty well, but I never catch much.  I can put a worm on a hook, but I’m usually busy sipping my beer, and I don’t see the tug on the pole.)  The comments were extraordinarily nice, and they made me very uncomfortable, just as any kind of compliment has always made me uncomfortable.

And as I was responding to my intelligent, beautiful cousin this morning the pistons in my still sleepy brain fired and I was hit by another thought.

(‘Beautiful’ and ‘intelligent’ are descriptors for all the women who commented on my post yesterday.  Thanks Mom, Donna, Lucy, Kate and Jessica.  I’m sure these apply to Jessica, even though I don’t know her well.  Yet.  Just as they apply to all the women that I am proud to know.)

Actually this thought seems to take the shape of some kind of raft to carry me further along on this flood of emotions.  The raft is keeping me up out of the water.   (That means that, for right now, I’m actually not crying as I write this.  I’m jazzed and excited about this realization.)

As I was responding to my cousin, I realized that even if I received 673 well-meaning, heartfelt comments attesting to my beauty (just typing that makes me want to throw up), none of them would convince me.  Okay, it probably wouldn’t really be 673, since I’m not sure I know that many people.  117 is probably the more realistic number.  I would perceive those 117 compliments as mere lip service.

It’s not about what others say to me/us.  It’s about what we think of ourselves.  That’s what I was trying to get at yesterday, but I was getting too wordy, so I cut myself off before making the point.  It’s what Sophia Loren meant in the quote I included about beauty.  This has been written about, in different ways, for years.  It’s about acknowledging ourselves, and not relying on others for feedback.  I’m always telling my kids, “Yes, I’m proud of you for this or that, but are YOU proud of you?  Do you feel like you did a good job?  Did you think that you did your best?”

It gets back to feeling good about myself FOR myself.  Feeling good about how I raise my kids, or how I write, or the kind of daughter/cousin/sister/friend I am.  If I am doing all these things in hopes of getting a pat on the back, I’m missing the boat.  I need to do those things to make me feel better about ME.  That isn’t a selfish motive.  The desire to feel good about myself should continue to lead me on a path of good choices.  I should be able to look in the mirror, like the character of the person I see, and respect her choices.  It’s not about the lines and puffy eyes that I will also undoubtedly see while looking in the mirror.  It’s about looking past that to see the depth of character.

Forever, it seems, I kept looking for approval from others – my parents, my friends, my extended family.  Then as I got older, I needed that from a relationship.  I needed to hear Mark say good things about me.  Clearly, I was barking up the wrong tree there!  And I know why I ended up in that relationship.  I didn’t get approving words from my dad, so my lizard brain told me that’s what I should look for in a man.


If you’ve ever watched the reality show ‘Survivor’, you know that they get to take one personal item on the adventure.  At least that’s how they did things when I was living with Mark, and he insisted that we watch the show.  That was about nine years ago.  Because I wasn’t particularly interested in the show, I’d sit on the couch and daydream.  I came up with the idea that if I were ever on ‘Survivor’ I’d HAVE TO pack tweezers.  My Italian heritage makes for one helluva lovely mono-brow.  I’ve been self-conscious about my eyebrows (in addition to a laundry list of other physical characteristics) since I was old enough to look in a mirror.  My dad once said to me, “Are you trying to look like Brooke Shields with those eyebrows, cuz I think she could use a set of tweezers.”  That was way back when Brooke first did the Calvin Klein ads.  I thought she was gorgeous – caterpillar eyebrows and all.  I figured that if she had the guts to sport those bushy brows, then I could do it.  Mine are bushier than Brooke’s, so I still tame them almost everyday.  I am aware that it is a contradiction that I won’t go out of the house without tweezing, but I’ll be seen in front of God and everybody else without makeup.  I maintain that it is our contradictions that make us interesting and keep us from being boring.  Besides, I need a convenient way to justify all the contradictory aspects of my personality.  Don’t we all?

where was I?

There were no shortages of snide comments in my family about looks.  I wasn’t always the object of the sarcastic comments.  Actually, everyone was fair game.  I’d hear my grandma comment on a gal at Bingo, or I’d hear my grandpa say that, “So and so was getting around okay, but that he looked like hell.”  It became obvious to me, at a tender age, that looks were very important.  At least my family thought so.  Looks were what carried you through life.  As I got older, I wondered what was supposed to carry us when our looks (if we had any to begin with) faded?  How were we supposed to compensate?  What if (and this applied to some of my family members – none of whom know about this blog.  Did you really think I’d open myself up to more eyebrow attacks?) we hadn’t developed any other useful skills (like looks are a useful skill) in the meantime?  What if we coasted on our looks until we ran into the brick wall of old age, complete with crow’s feet, saggy chins and gray hair?  What then?

As I got older, I developed an aversion to any kind of comments about what others looked like, including even positive comments directed at myself.  If I heard someone say something about what someone wore, or their hair or their body type, I’d cringe.  I knew that appearance had very little to do with what was underneath.  Appearance was the shell that, in  most cases, protected the vulnerable, tender person on the inside.

Perhaps that’s why I was drawn to Marketing in college.  I love the psychology of why people buy what they buy.  I love how easily we can be convinced that something is good, just based on the packaging.  After a couple years of marketing classes, I’d had a lot of interesting thoughts running through my head about appearance, looks, and deceit.  Then when we’d be sitting on the campus lawn, sunning ourselves, skipping class and somebody would comment on a co-ed as she sauntered by out of ear shot, my brain would yell, “Hey!  That’s just packaging.  Maybe she’s nothing like that on the inside, or maybe she’s all of that.  How can you know for sure?”

It’s like the fancy, expensive bottle of extravagant hand cream with the french writing, the unusual name, the drawn-out promises of rich moisture and the return of youth.  It looks good.  Maybe it is good.  The packaging is fantastic.  That’s what grabs you to begin with, and that’s what makes you buy the lotion.  It isn’t until you take the first dip that you will learn that  either this is the answer to all previous watery hand lotions, or it is just another version of the $1.78 drugstore variety that smells good but needs to be re-applied after every hand washing.

I have always known, deep down, that looks were on the surface.  Hell, we all know that.  But still, we put so much emphasis on appearance.  If I want to get people to read my blog, they judge based on first impressions.  If I want people to buy my ebook (assuming I ever get the damn thing done) they’ll decide whether or not they want to buy it by what the cover looks like.  When buying a new laptop, do you really overlook what the packaging is, or do you take that into consideration, too?  How about your car, or your house or your clothes or a meal?  Does a meal taste better if it looks better?  Of course it does, but only if it tastes good to begin with.  If you were blindfolded, would it taste any different if the presentation was lacking?  Okay.  I know.  The presentation, the packaging, the appearance – it’s all part of the initial first impression.  It all comes into play.  Just like the five senses play off each other.  But once you get beyond appearance, it’ll be pretty obvious, pretty soon, if there is any substance underneath.

My point, and I do have one.

Back to responding to my cousin’s comment.  I was feeling a little embarrassed about all the nice comments.  I was feeling cheesy for having written what I wrote.  Would everyone think I was simply soliciting compliments?  And that thought brought me to my next thought.  Kelly Diels and her wonderful blog, Cleavage, wrote something in response to a comment that I wrote on her blog.  She wrote, “I think it’s all about love.”  And while what she was writing didn’t necessarily have anything to do with beauty (I don’t think) it made me think that this, too, is about love.

And too risk being really sappy and mushy and feminine (YEA!  Let’s hear it for the feminine!) …

Everything is about love.  EVERYTHING IS ABOUT LOVE.  Everything is about love.

Love of others.  Love of self.  Love of the whole.  Love of the Universe.  Love of God (if you like that better than Universe).  Love of the crabby people.  Love of the people that hurt you.  Love of the brightest and the not so brightest.  Love of golf and Barbies and skiing and coffee and mom’s cooking.  Love of angels.  Love of a messy house. Love of the quandary of deciding between homeschool and public school.  Love of the struggle with this narcissistic ex-husband.

No.  I have not lost my mind.  Love of the struggle, because if we can love even the struggle, that gets at the core of who we are.  That is a true measure of our capacity to really love.  Love is about embracing everyone and everything.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and hug the first person that walks by our house.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to hug Mark when I next see him.  That means I will accept what we have been dealt, do my best to deal with it all, and continue to love the whole damn messy process.

I realized that loving my kids was the first time I have ever loved without expecting a return.  I loved because it felt so good to love them.  I didn’t love hoping to get love back.  I didn’t have to look pretty or be witty or be a good fisherwoman or even pluck my eyebrows.  I just loved and the act of loving them made me feel beautiful.

And then I thought of the times I’ve done things for others.  Donations, or kind notes, or offers of help or offers to listen.  All of those are acts of love.  And I always feel better about myself (beautiful) after.  I thought of the times I’ve done things anonymously, too.  I clearly wasn’t doing those things for the pat on the back, or the recognition, and still I felt so good about myself.

I saw the correlation between loving my kids, loving others and the direct result of liking myself more – thinking of myself as beautiful.  Not beautiful like great legs, nice smile, great shape, nice outfit – beautiful.  Beautiful like full of life and glowing from inside beautiful.

It’s about the young family we met on the cruise and their deep commitment and love for their one year old daughter.  People kept coming up to them and wanting to be near them.  They exuded love and beauty.  I could see that other folks wanted to get some of that.  Others wanted to taste that love and that beauty.  It wasn’t about how they dressed or how they looked.  It was about their love for each other and their love for their  daughter.  And they approached everyone else with that same kind of gentle, all-accepting love.  We were blessed to meet them, and get to know them.

Wanting to explore the feminine side of me, accepting that part of my nature, letting that aspect of me come out is part of the learning to love myself.  It’s not about being the prettiest in line at the grocery store.  It’s not about having the girls envy me because of my long lean frame (read that as lack of  boobs), it’s not about standing out in a crowd because I know how to artfully apply eyeliner and can put an outfit together, or because I’m wearing a funky necklace.  It’s about appreciating, and making the best of what I have.  It’s about celebrating me.  It’s about celebrating others.

It’s about loving me and loving others.  It’s about getting beyond the packaging or motives or baggage or affiliations or labels.  It’s about understanding that we all basically have the same desire to be loved for who we are.  We have the same  need to belong and be accepted.  Maybe we wear certain things in hopes of attracting the clan that will accept us.  Maybe we shun other things, in  an attempt to align ourselves with the clan that we think fits us best.

Oh…  I have more.  I could keep going on this topic.

If you are still reading, I am stunned.  I am amazed.  I am thankful.

I am beautiful because I love.

cue tears here…

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  1. And because you are loved! Those who love us the most see us as the most beautiful.

  2. Kate,

    I like this. Thank you. I immediately thought of my kids and how beautiful they are. Then I thought of you and all the others I love.

    All beautiful.

  3. It took me awhile to get all the way through this one, kept getting interrupted… but now the tears are flowing here too. You , my dear, I have envied, looked up to, admired your strength, well, put you on a pedestal. You have done all of this with grace and love. LOVE… yep it is everywhere.

  4. Annie,

    Let’s get down from the pedestals we’ve put each other on (too damn many expectations) and play in the grass.

  5. Re: accepting the 673 compliments…I live in a small town, and at the small town library is a darling gal I’ll call Cindy. Cindy is cute in both personality and looks. She also is a fashion goddess. She is very insecure about her looks, courtesy of her mother. I like the way she dresses and wears her hair, so I have complimented her. She ‘accepts’ them but you can tell they don’t even make a dent.

    One day, I was picking up a book and I complimented her purse. Her co-worker said, “Oh, that will make her day!” And suddenly, I was tired of sourcing bottomless pits. I knew that what I said was met with her mental denials (cuz I’ve been there myself), and really don’t make a difference in the long run.

    Here’s to being a character … and loving our own!

  6. Donna,

    I so know what you mean about sourcing bottomless pits.

    I had to quit doing that in my marriage. I don’t mind doing that (sometimes) for others. Hell, maybe Cindy needs 674 compliments to tip the scale and she’s on 673. You could be that 674th comment. Or not. But it puts a little more sunshine into the day to say nice stuff, even if it isn’t received in the way it was intended.

    BTW… I love your character.

  7. Yes! It’s all about love. One thing I’ve learned from my Reiki practice is that we ARE love. We are light and beauty. At our core. Nothing, nothing, nothing can change that. It’s amazing and awe inspiring when we can bring that out and show it to the world. That said, I have my days (too many in fact) where I look at myself in the mirror and don’t love what I see. Those are the days when I need to remind myself – I am love. And that’s all that matters.

    I was at lunch with a friend today and several times she commented (negatively) on other people’s appearance and clothes. She’s not usually like that (she’s dealing with a lot of stress) so I didn’t call her out on it but I was clearly not following along either. I think she got it eventually and said “I don’t know why I’m ragging on people today.” That kind of stuff never bothered me before and I would usually join in. But now it’s different. Now that I have a deeper understanding of how everyone is trying their best, how you never know what someone is going through on the inside, I’ve lost my nasty judgmental habit. (Mostly, anyway).

    Beautiful post, as usual.

  8. Jessica,

    I liked the story of lunch with your friend. That was such a kind way to be with her – instead of jumping on the bandwagon or calling her out on it. Sometimes I forget to make that choice in those situations.

    Thanks for the fine example.

    I just saw a flyer about Reiki the other day and thought of you. Gotta check that out.

  9. How did I miss this post? I LOVE it!

  10. Thanks, Peg.

    You are a true practitioner of the art of loving.

    You are a great example of loving across all lines and beyond all stuff.

  11. Somehow I missed these comments.

    Jessica, you said: “But now it’s different. Now that I have a deeper understanding of how everyone is trying their best, how you never know what someone is going through on the inside…”

    It reminds me of one of my grandmother’s sayings that I thought of as so profound when I was a kid: “Don’t judge the way someone walks until you’ve walked in their shoes.” I don’t ALWAYS remember her words, but I have to say it’s been a guide to me through my life.

  12. Pat,

    Your comment reminded me of something that happened the other night.

    A bunch of us were out to dinner. I was playing the part of the rude person at the table who was continually texting while trying to be involved in the conversation at the table.

    I apologized a couple times for my rudeness and explained that a dear friend wasn’t feeling well. I was trying to be there for her, as well as be at the table.

    And then I thought of all the times I’ve harshly judged another for doing the same thing.

    Next time, I’ll leave the table and make an actual call.

    Next time I see a ‘texter’, I won’t harshly judge in case that person has some pressing business to tend to, too.

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