Breaking Down Beautiful

Growing up, my hair really bothered me. It was brown and straight, which elementary-school-me interpreted as super lame compared to my curly-haired, blonde, or redhead counterparts. So, in fifth grade, my mom let me get a perm. I liked it for a while, but when you’re eleven years old and a perm sticks in your hair for a year, you get annoyed with that too… especially when mom doesn’t let you buy a straightener because “you’re the one who wanted curly hair.” I found new things to dislike about my hair when it was curly, and even found myself beginning to miss the super straight locks I had been so keen to leave behind. In seventh grade, I was rocking some awesome bangs and blue highlights for a while, which made me feel “edgy” and “different,” but I got tired of that eventually too.

Currently, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be one of those beach blondes with perfect saltwater waves… but oh well. If I was one of them, I would still find things to dislike about the way I look. Maybe it would be my eyes instead of my hair. Sometimes, looking in the mirror can be the most terrifying part of the day. It’s so easy to measure your worth based on the way your hair falls, the span of your shoulders, the size of your nose, or any other arbitrary physical attribute. It can feel like that’s all there is, and it can feel like you live in a petri dish under a microscope, illuminating everything that sticks out as “wrong.”

Under my microscope, I see boring brown hair, prominent nose, big feet, slightly puffy stomach… I could go on (and on, and on…) Everyone has their own microscope full of things we wish were different about ourselves. In some ways, it’s as if we’re taught to dislike the realities of our bodies and strive toward “ideal” ones instead… but ideals are ideals for a reason. We can claw our way towards them all we want, but there will always be something to change: something to add makeup to, something to suck in or push out, something to judge and fragment from ourselves. Whenever I pick apart my reflection, I’m picking apart myself in the process, pitting pieces of me against one another and leading to nothing but frustration.

Physical ideals are completely constructed to influence us to think and feel in a particular way. Magazines and movies show us glossy, perfected bodies and tell us that’s how we “should” look… but they forget to tell us that the bodies they’re showing us are probably modified by something other than a healthy lifestyle. Most of us probably know this, but that doesn’t mean they hurt any less. Like I know I’ve mentioned, bikini season is one of the most stressful parts of my year (as I’m sure it is for a lot of people), because that’s when I see all those perfect bodies bared in their two-pieces. Bodies I will never, ever look like. In some of those ads, it’s easy to tell that it’s most likely impossible to without the magic of Photoshop, but it still sends me into “if I hadn’t had that extra slice of pizza two months ago…” mode.

I like pizza a lot (it’s what I had for dinner tonight). I’m not going to stop eating pizza just because I don’t think my stomach isn’t flat enough. I’m not going to get another perm just because it sometimes feels bland to have straight brown hair. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with forgoing pizza or modifying your hair… whatever makes you feel good is probably something you should be doing. But do it for you. Not the magazines, not the boys, not anyone but yourself. There’s always going to be an ideal telling you what you’re not, but you have to remember what you are. I’m bad at that. I look under my microscope and throw up my arms in defeat at all the flaws I think I see.

I always hoped that the right person could make me see what I couldn’t under my microscope. I hoped that underneath my self-conscious exterior there was really a “pretty girl” just waiting to come out, but having time with myself has shown me that you should never leave it up to anyone else to find your beauty. You need to find it on your own. I once read that the difference between a beauty and a beautiful woman is that a beauty has no faults in her face, but a beautiful woman might have faults that only add to her charm (Henry James. He’s pretty cool). Maybe the reason it can be so hard to see beauty in ourselves is that we’re expecting a beauty: a flawless porcelain doll. If we expect a beautiful woman (or man, or whatever gender you identify as), we might come to an entirely different result. We might begin to see what we never thought was there.

Beauty is so tricky. If you measure it based just on how you look, you’re picking a temporary part of yourself to base a big part of your self-confidence on. If you only focus on whether you’re having a good or bad hair day, if your eyeliner looks just right, or if your outfit is on point, you’re selling yourself majorly short. Settling into being single has focused my attention on my exterior a lot more than normal… for a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of girl, that’s really scary. I sometimes feel like I’m surrounded by all these “properly” attractive girls and I have no idea how to assimilate. It makes me wonder how the hell I’m supposed to keep my head up without covering it with extensions or learning how false eyelashes work.

Getting to know myself is teaching me that finding my own beauty is more important than finding someone else’s. I’m learning that, despite what the media might want us to think, there’s no one “right” definition of beauty. We assume that beauty only has to do with the way that we look, but the times when I feel the most beautiful have almost nothing to do with my appearance. I feel beautiful when I nail an interview, when I’m writing, when I’m with my family, when I’m singing to my cat while I’m baking cookies… I feel beautiful when I’m being me, no matter how weird and dorky “me” is sometimes. That beautiful feeling happens too on the rare occasion that I’m in makeup and heels. My beauty is constantly changing, but it’s always there– and so is everyone else’s. What we see on the surface is only a slice of who we are and only a hint of the “pretty girl” who’s there in each of us.

I am not a beauty. Parts of me deviate from society’s prescribed ideal, but all those parts make up one me who’s pretty cool. My hair isn’t long and goddess-like, but it’s short and sassy. My nose isn’t cute and flippy, but it’s my dad’s and it smells just fine so I’ll take it. I have big feet, but I’m clumsy so that just means I have more square inches to balance on. My stomach isn’t washboard-flat… all the better for days when one slice of pizza just isn’t enough. My body isn’t perfect, but that’s okay because perfect is pretty boring anyway. Beauty is in your attitude, so if you believe in yourself you’re doing just fine. Remember that size and looks don’t have to define you, and remember everything that you bring to the table. Most of all, remember that feeling beautiful isn’t a choice anyone can make for you… you need to make it for yourself. Let yourself see what your microscope doesn’t always let you, and don’t be afraid to believe in your beauty. I am not a beauty, but I’m beginning to realize that I am beautiful.

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