As consumers we are constantly bombarded with slick images of beautiful people enjoying life in beautiful places while surrounded by beautiful things. The message is clear, beauty is the ticket to gaining everything and anything one could ever want. Yes, the bombardment of ‘beauty propaganda’ has skewed our very perception of beauty and its value: beauty = success, love, and happiness.
And yet, even though we will staunchly assert we believe real beauty comes from within, there are the inevitable traps that, if not careful, has us ‘chasing beauty’ whatever the cost. I mean, we can’t help it when considering all the slick marketing we are bombarded with in television commercials, magazine ads, billboard imagery, etc.
Fortunately I had two strong influential aspects from my childhood that prevented me from chasing beauty: parents and siblings. Though my mother would stress the importance of “putting your best foot forward” in dress, grooming, and manners she made it clear that it is what and who we are at heart that really matters.
Of course, my siblings kept me humble when it came to looks through the constant critiques or reminders of all imperfections and flaws. For instance, by pointing out the zit on the tip of my nose for the millionth time. And, speaking of my nose, I can’t even begin to recount the countless nose jokes I grew up hearing.
Now, I’m not saying I was immune to the concerns, worries or insecurities regarding my looks because, after all, I was a typical teen – but I’ve never been consumed with my looks. And while I can appreciate beauty I’ve never been able to understand the power it wields … from being used as a manipulator for selfish gains to compelling girls to, literally, starve themselves to death.
What’s sad to me is how hard we can be on ourselves as women, wives, friends, sisters, and mothers when it comes to looks in general and weight in particular. The perception of beauty has been skewed because we have allowed technology, such as Photoshop, to define it for us. In Photoshop world the only dimples you see are as exclamations on a gorgeous sparkly white toothy smile and every body is svelte and toned.
Why am I talking about this? Because so many are chasing beauty – well, an unrealistic definition of beauty – to the detriment of their health, their sense of worth, their emotional well-being, and happiness. And for what? To look like an image that has been re-touched so much that it doesn’t even look like the woman that posed for the picture. And yet, think about this: at some point looks have to be backed up with something more meaningful.
For instance, we all have met people whose physical beauty was ‘betrayed’ by an ugly personality and in no time at all we begin to see the person through their personality … ugly. What is so wonderful about this, however, is it also works in reverse – people who may not be pure beauties physically become transformed by a beautiful personality and we quickly start to see them as beautiful.
Is the way we see beauty really that important? I think so – at least, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to from my own personal experience. Why? Because if my relationship with my husband was established on looks, well, I’d be in a lot of trouble … we would be in a lot of trouble … and probably would not be enjoying a close relationship now. Why? Because my disease has been having fun rearranging the way my body looks.
Just call me Mrs. Potato Head. Remember those silly toys? First it was a Mr. Potato Head until a company ‘suit’ decided to introduce a Mrs. to the line – hey, all things equal when it comes to playing with looks … and they start early with ‘it’ being all about looks. Anyway, I’m far from the, uh, hee, hee, wink, beauty that Gene married. Actually, my sister, CJ, would probably say I would never have been able to run fast enough to chase down all the beauty help needed to give me the right to even joke about being one.
However, in all seriousness, I not only struggle with the way illness has impacted my looks in general but particularly how I look to my husband. I have a feeding tube in my stomach … I have a tracheotomy in my neck … I have an ugly red scar where my right breast was removed … and, while I’ve alluded to the next thing I’ve never had the guts to just say it – but it must be included because it’s part of what affects my self esteem regarding how I look … I have to sleep wearing a diaper. I cringe inside when Gene has to look at me even though he has only been wonderful about everything.
I’m not alone when it comes to experiencing something that has drastically changed my body. I think of my sister, JB, and how she is having to face this very issue as a new amputee … and her amputation is as high as is possible before having to have part of the pelvis removed. I think of all the faceless, nameless women with mastectomies, limb amputations, are burn survivors, or have some sort of paralysis.
If everyone in any aforementioned situation has gone through life chasing beauty because of believing looks are needed to succeed in life and love – what happens when the “image” has been distorted from illness or injury? Sadly, I’ve heard numerous stories of women who have found themselves alone because their mate couldn’t handle touching let alone looking at their altered body.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate beauty as does Gene. I care about my appearance and looking my best. Yes, I like it when Gene comments on how I look before we head out the door … but first and foremost, I want to be valued for who I am – I want to be loved for what I contribute to our relationship and not because I have abs of steel. Okay, I don’t have abs of steel but I’m just saying, you know, I wouldn’t want to be loved for something so superficial.
I know the thoughts and feelings expressed here really don’t amount to anything more than words on a screen because chasing beauty springs from an individual mindset – it’s a personal issue that everyone must decide for themselves. However, I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned through my experience will motivate others to give serious thought as to their true feelings regarding the role looks plays in their lives – the energy expended in trying to look like an image that no human could realistically attain.
Come on, Ladies, it’s time we embrace who we are – curves and all – with a sense of verve because, if nothing else, we’re alive … we’re a part of this awesome universe and we share our little piece of it with people we love. And, I don’t know about you, but when I look at the people in my life I see them all as quite beautiful.