Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.
The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?
Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.
The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.
So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.