The Truth About Beauty

At 2 am this morning I gave up the battle with insomnia after lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, my thoughts racing.

It was time to acknowledge that sleep was again elusive, a fickle lover for at least the next few hours.

My thoughts kept getting ensnared in a topic that I have known for weeks that I really need to write about.

Not going to be easy.

Not going to be pretty.

I actually brought the box of tissues with me to the keyboard before I even put the jazz on, before I even struck a key on the keyboards.

It is time to get real about beauty.


I should preface this with the disclaimer:

I can only speak for myself.

But something tells me that I am not alone in this deeply ambivalent battle with my own self-esteem.  The woman in me lives in lifelong tension with the feminist in me and is locked in a battle with who society tells me to be.

No one ever seems to win here.

There is no lesson that an American girl learns so deeply, so thoroughly, at such a young age than the lesson that to be beautiful as it is defined in magazines, television shows, movies, books is to have value, is to be lovable, is to be worthy.

If we do not live up to this image—and almost none of us are thin enough, white enough, blond enough, blue-eyed enough, curvy enough (but not too curvy)—we enter a lifetime of struggle with cultural norms, insecurity and battles with our self-esteem.

I have never fit the cultural norm for beauty at any point in my life. As a child I was never the thin, blue-eyed, blond angel with gorgeous ringlets who knew when to talk politely and when to keep her mouth demurely shut.

By the time I was a pre-teen, I had accepted that I would never be more than “pretty on my good days.”  I never blossomed into a swan. In my head, I was already ugly, fat, “too” smart, not one of the cool kids, “other.” We plant low self-esteem and body dysmorphia early in our young, oblivious to the consequences.

Even as a child, and certainly as a teenager, I asked hard questions, cared deeply about social justice which baffled the people around me, asked “why” a few too many times. I was called “hard-headed,” “opinionated,” a “bitch” more times than I could count. The implication was always that had I been beautiful, I might be forgiven these offenses but that because I wasn’t, I was fair game as an object of ridicule, able to be dismissed or more often, put firmly in my place.  And the more that society, that the people around me, tried to take me down a peg or two, the angrier, the louder, the more oppositional I became.  By the time I was 15 or 16 I was so heartily sick of being told that I would be prettier if I “smiled more”, if I was more “polite”, if I was more “nice” I thought I would explode and burn the world to ashes.

In college, I spent four glorious years saying “fuck you” to society’s norms, kept my hair short, stopped shaving, wore black and gray every day and enjoyed the fact that other women didn’t seem to care if I wasn’t a 5’11”, size 0 supermodel with perfect breasts, perfect skin, naturally straight white teeth and a body that a sack of potatoes would look good on.  They seemed to like that I was smart, that I was passionate and opinionated.  I was able to tune out societal standards of beauty.  I could rock myself in college and never sleep alone if I didn’t want to.  Intellectually at least, I learned that I was still lovable, still fuckable, at least by other women, just as I was.

And I still mostly, at least intellectually, believe that.  Hell, I’m a good feminist, I practice what I preach here.  I dress for my comfort, I could care less about make-up and I am apparently missing whatever part of the X chromosome carries the gene where a woman instinctively knows how to use a blow dryer and a lash curler and use accessories with the skill of Coco Channel.

I turned 50 this year and have been learning  the hard way that being a middle-age woman is as big a societal offence as being an angry, opinionated, challenging teenage girl.  I have apparently committed the crime of aging as a woman.  And the societal sentence for this heinous crime is invisibility, to become unseen, to become desexualized, to be seen only as a mother, or a crone, but not as a woman or even a full, complex human being.  This has been a harder pill to swallow than I anticipated.

If I am completely and totally honest with myself, I must admit that there is still a deep hidden part of me that still desperately longs to be beautiful.  Some days even I can’t define what I mean when I say the word beautiful.  I know I don’t need or want to look like a runway model but I would be lying if I didn’t admit at least to myself that I want to be seen by others, by the world, as worthy, lovable, alluring, sexy, interesting, intriguing, smart, compassionate, funny– all at same time.  Beauty doesn’t mean to me at 50 what it did at 7, or 16 or 25 but it still just as evasive, still just as much out of my reach as it always has been.  And I hate that it still matters to me.  I hate that it still impacts my feelings of self-worth, my self-image.

And that is my hard truth about beauty.

 

58 thoughts on “The Truth About Beauty

  1. Oh my! I go through that everyday . I live in a country obsessed with beauty. Whichever way you look , people are going to find fault. Balls to all. I am just too fed up with people dissecting me on a daily basis. I loved your post Christine.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you Yassy! Hard post to write– it bothers me that it bothers me if that makes sense. Intellectually, I feel like I should be above this but I think I am still a vital, interesting woman but hard to remember that when the world judges or doesn’t see me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have learned to turn a deaf ear most of the time. Yes, intellectually we are way above all this crap, I never tell people I write cos then that will be another bone of contention. I will be teared apart.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes! It is driven by money and power, the need to keep women from becoming truly empowered. To empower women and release them from this illusion will change the world…can’t have that now. 😉 It is breaking the hearts of men too because since they were very young, they were never taught how to love a woman who is real. Sad…I have been contemplating this in earnest for a while. I am astounded that you stated what was on my mind. Have you read “The Beauty Myth”, by Naomi Wolfe? She speaks of this…reading it will change your life. You are wonderful for speaking truth! Keep going!😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I actually have not read The Beauty Myth but was a Woman Studies Major at Mount Holyoke College. Amazing how things I learned then come together for me now in this changing life space. Thanks for the positive encouragement– always good to know that my words resonate. This was clearly a deeply personal piece and hard to admit that I still have this Achilles heel

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Women’s studies at Mount Holyoke? I think we all have that heel. I have been fighting it fiercely since I have three sons and I teach in a girls school. It’s all about power. I can’t tell you how consoling to me your post was. Thank you.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. This is a tough subject for most women particularly when our intellects conflict with what has been so deeply ingrained in us since we watched our first Disney princess movie. I truly hate that it still matters to me in my heart of hearts.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I am burning my bra. Or maybe I will get over myself. Help the homeless, feed the hungry . Do something to get my mind off myself . There are desperate people In this world.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks for the post. My sister is fabulously beautiful (for real – people stop us everywhere we go to comment on how gorgeous she is. It’s weird). Relatives will comment, “Wow, your sister sure did win the genetic lottery, didn’t she?” I’ve always been “the ugly one,” and even though it shouldn’t bother me it absolutely does. She can get away with anything because she’s pretty. Society has a way of giving her a free pass where I don’t get one. I don’t get it. I’ve watched it happen multiple times, and it’s an ugly truth of our world: beauty trumps a lot. Thanks for helping me see that I’m not the only one for feeling ridiculous for caring, yet oddly caring nonetheless.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I really feel like we are socialized into this at such a young age that although we can intellectually tell us that beauty doesn’t matter, or that beauty is so much more than our physical looks, the reality is the world responds to us differently. It is crazy, isn’t it? I admire physical beauty but I personally respond much more to beautiful souls.

      Like

  5. Now that is a beautiful soulful write that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think one needs to come to terms with the fact that beauty means different things for different people and that one cannot grasp and become beautiful in all those notions all at once. You can only have a certain type of beauty. As for yearning for the plastic notion of it as it has become defined by media, there will come a time when beauty is no longer defined by external appearances and by clichés fabricated by those who do not have enough soul to raise the importance of having it as a standard of beauty. It’s true that a lifetime of brainwashing with standards that don’t even make sense can be hard to do away with but I think this will soon be the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christine, it struck me as I was thinking about how to describe the essence of your writing, just exactly what it is. Your writing voice is the actual literary manifestation of your internal dialog. Which I find to be an incredible feat in and of itself. But beyond what that seems to symbolize of its own merit, it reflects such a heightened degreee of emotional intellect and courageous honesty toward yourself and that of the deepest and furthest realms of your own human experience. I have never seen such levels of forthrightedness and continuity of personal account. That your uninhibited verities of streaking conscious thought would be of such graceful eloquence and precise prose reflects a truly unique and exceedingly rare confluence of the multitude of factors that form expression is nothing short of phenomenal. Almost as much as my affinity for verbosity and effusive sentence structure lol. I am very much attuned to the struggles to which you refer here. And although I know it certainly isn’t the purpose of your writing this to invite perfunctory plies to appease your person, I wish to simply express the honest truth of what I personally find to be beautiful, and that which I intrinsically know on a cosmic and quantum existential scale to be the same truth held by those who understand the true nature of what beauty is. For only when one transcends the realm of superficiality and irrational indoctrination, is one able to see, feel, taste, touch, smell, hear, think, speak, and indeed, know beauty as it truly is. It is not a preexisting notion that adheres to any paradigm, physical or ethereal, conscious or subconscious. It is something that both slowly forms and springs forth from the essence of each individual’s soul and character. Beauty is not something that we become. It is something that becomes us. The very reflection of our ephemeral coalescence of buzzing motes of infinite energy. There is naught but a blank slate where there exists a body by itself. The beauty or the unattractiveness of the physical form is a direct reflection of the heart, soul, and mind which any given body houses. Physical beauty is solely contingent upon the perception of the intangible elements of a person’s being. The elements that forge eternal. There is no simpler truth to it than this. And although I know that the arbitrary burdens of our petulant culture and societal state of evolution and transcendence shall remain to bear down upon all women with a force far greater than the merit of its individual and collective components, you can at least know that there are souls out there who understand and experience the truth of beauty and that they readily share in this with the world around them. That being said, you should know that I find you to be one of the most beautiful people I have ever known. In every respect. For I see the person that you are, and that person has become you in this physical realm. Never forget that you are a beautiful human being whose radiant soul exudes the light of love for all to bask in. I know you understand that what I speak is not mere words, but the fundamental truth of love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Max– your timing is exquisite. It has been a REALLY hard day– something I rarely admit out loud– where I have been filled with as much self-doubt and bitter self-recrimination as I am capable of. Your words are timely, beautiful and healing because I do understand how sincerely you mean them. “Beauty is not something that we become. It is something that becomes us.” is exactly what I needed to hear tonight. Thank you my dear, dear friend for reminding me of cosmic truths and true light. Now you’ve made me cry!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Christine, thank you for being a beautiful human being. I am aware, at least to some extent, through my observations, what it means to exist in such a way, and that it’s not an easy thing to uphold. I admire and appreciate you for all that you do for the people in your life and for those fortunate enough to have discovered your wonderful words of unabashed and raw human expression.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Max; my heart could not help but become amatively bound to your every word. If only more would take a moment such as you to express their deepest appreciation of another…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. thank you Jenn, for being attuned to such things. we need more people like you who possess mindful awareness and are unafraid to express their truth. Our souls are cosmically connected. But you know this 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I found this post to be very riveting; no words can express the emotions I felt reading this post. As Max mentioned ; your beauty reflects in the way you write; the world would be too fortunate to have the privilege of embracing you…

    Like

  8. Reblogged this on Just Ruminating and commented:
    I can’t tell you how stunningly beautiful this write is by braveandrecklessblog. She writes of the struggles that every woman can identify with. I encourage you all to reblog it, tweet it, share it wherever you feel a girl or woman could benefit from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is so interesting and so true. And what a paradox the US is. And growing up in Australia which is bombarded with american culture, I never understood the fascination with the blonde, blue eyed ideal. And fortunately, in Australia at that time, no one questioned my qualifications as a woman because I didn’t wear makeup, or fuss with other such things. It puzzles me why those things are so important and defining in the US. When I first came here, I was intrigued by all the contradictions, the inroads feminism has made, but then the strange institutions like cheer leading!!! (Don’t get me wrong, I admire the teams that strive more for athleticism. It’s the predominantly sexist culture around it all that shocked the naive little Aussie I was at the time…I don’t understand it at all. And I don’t mean to offend anyone, I’m just so baffled by it.)
    And along the way discovering that we’re lied to all the time about what people find truly attractive. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised to find out what men found attractive in me when I felt so not attractive. It’s all such a big con.
    I really appreciate your honesty too!! And I hope you won’t give ear to voices anymore that try to hold you to absurd standards of ‘beauty’. You are obviously loved by many for who you are!

    Like

      1. Yes, another tragedy of western culture I believe…the way the aging process is so disparaged. (And maybe we could eliminate the cult of celebrity worship, imho…so damaging).
        But be assured again, you are seen and heard on this platform!

        Like

  10. Thank you for this! You reminded me of so many things I’ve wanted to say for years but never quite knew how. I’ve had so many experiences with “Beauty” that it became confusing and then used as a mask. It’s a topic with so many facets.

    Like

    1. It is complex, nuanced and loaded. It certainly is a different battle at 50 than it was at 16 or 30 but it is not as easy to let go as I had hoped. In some ways, I feel more vital and interesting and in touch with my sexuality than I ever have but the world wants to put me in a different box, like a broken lamp.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My story is from an odd perspective. You’ve encouraged me to write it. I have a fraternal twin. Even though we didn’t look exactly alike family would still get us confused so to tell us apart they went by weight. I was much bigger than my sister. In front of me they would say “D is the fat one, Deb is the skinny one” that started at an early age. It only got worse from there.

        Like

  11. Thank you for sharing! I am approaching 49 in a matter of days. I too have found aging a bitter pill to swallow. I have always felt as though I was not enough. I was not pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough, and the list goes on. I see on social media young girls (ages as young as 7) posing as if they are a sexual object. I believe this is learned from their own mothers, who had the same identity crisis as most girls. Society has put such a stigma on girls/women of all ages, to the extent that girls don’t act like little girls any more. I was shocked when I saw they made panties for little girls that were fashioned after adult women’s. I just want to scream, please let these little girls be. Let them play. Let them grow up slowly.

    Like

    1. When my kids were younger, I was shocked how quickly the clothing in the little girl’s section even at stores like at Target and Kohl’s were either hopelessly pink and gender stereotyped or completely inappropriate (I think we referred to them as “slut-wear for tots”) We ended up doing a lot of shopping in the boy’s department.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. On the one hand, this may be something we’ve all said and talked over and so it’s old news, on the other hand if it were completely done and old news, why do we still think about it? One thing I feel about beauty is I wonder if it would matter as much if men did not exist? I feel women see beauty differently. I used to be a model and I was surrounded by beautiful women of that typical genre, I didn’t find them beautiful. Then later on I used to find women beautiful who others said were not. It got me thinking about the male/female gaze (of course there are exceptions, this is a generalized statement) how for men there are certain ‘definites’ for women it’s more about something intangible that is linked always to personality. For a man who is balanced I”m sure personality is a big plus, but I’d suggest most men (not all) would be very happy with an exquisite type of woman irrespective of much else. Perhaps it’s how they are wired. For women I think it’s far more about other things, skin deep, and so, what if straight women were not inculcated into believing their worth lay in the male gaze, what if Disney had never existed, what if the media hadn’t picked up on it and run with it, what if women and mother’s hadn’t echoed it? What then? Of course this is totally hypothetical but I would also venture gay-women are ‘freed’ from the constraint of beauty to the extent they judge/value beauty differently (again, massive generalization as I know MANY gay women who take their cue from the worst of men) if so, then this would cause women not to perceive another woman as a threat. I often want to say to my hetero friends, just be with a woman! You’d be so much less tortured! I think a man gets bored of the same piece, he looks elsewhere, it’s hard wired into him, whilst women can seriously be happy with the same person and not need to be with someone else (again, exceptions exist everywhere). I might be hugely wrong but that’s my take on the emotional lives of the genders. I have yet to meet a hetero man who doesn’t believe he would desire other women even if he were with the love of his life, I have met many, many women who never think like this. Not putting women above men, they are the worst perpetuators of the ‘beauty myth’ but even-so, it’s the sickness in the play of genders that seems to be the biggest issue. As for beauty in its purest form, I suppose we could say ‘this woman is beautiful nobody can say she isn’t’ but there is a huge variety of what cultures consider beautiful. I grew up being told I was too thin, too white-skinned, because my family are dark-skinned and my friends were bigger and taller than I was. Then I move to America and suddenly people say oh I love your skin I love how thin you are, go figure. It’s horses-for-courses. The most beautiful woman is a woman who has a beautiful mind and spirit, it infuses her literally. Some men see that, some women see that, others are blinded by these ideals that are not even our shared ideals but spoon fed ideals. There is nothing worse than a boring empty headed woman, and many models are (no offense on those who are not) plus true beauty can be plain and boring, whilst ‘character’ can never grow dull. Give me Helen Mirren over Cindy Crawford ANY day. I actually do not find many of the women who are ‘considered’ beautiful nearly as beautiful as others would say they are, and who is to say a size zero is any kind of measure? Only in America and only in this time period, in others, it would be considered hideous. As for being really tall well considering many men like short women I would say that’s just for the sake of hanging clothes better. Yes that doesn’t mean at the end of the day we aren’t blown away by whatever we consider beautiful – because we are, but beauty is rare, and few have it, and those who do not, it’s the richness of their lives that makes them who they are, and many times a beautiful person will be shunned – i’ve seen this happen a lot – we usually only want to be what we perceive ourselves not to be because someone has put us down made us feel unlovable. If we were treated better and made to feel beautiful whether we were or not, we would be above that and beyond that. It is hard when you are brought up criticized as I was, you nit-pick yourself to death, but we both know things would be very different if we were brought up with stable confidence and attention and love. Those who are, irrespective of whether they are beautiful or not, believe themselves to be worthy which is what this is really about for all of us. My GF is physically beautiful, but even if she were not, she would be, she always believed in herself because she was taught to believe in herself. I think if more women were given that first confidence they would not torture themselves (or others) nearly as often. Ultimately physical beauty fades even in the most glorious creatures, if you have nothing afterward you are truly empty. You my friend are one of the richest souls I know, I see this by the responses of others, here on this post, and in general when reading you. I would rather be you than some empty headed size zero six foot blonde any day, and that, is the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s