Friday, September 18, 2009
Who Dictates Your Beauty?
The night before our son Kirk started kindergarten, my husband and I were looking back at some photos of his birth and infancy. My husband remarked, "We sure looked a lot younger!"
And for just a millisecond, my stomach fluttered with something akin to fear. I WAS older and would my husband still say I'm "hot" at 50, 60 and beyond?
But somewhere even deeper, I was okay even with that thought. My beauty truly is my own to define, admire and enjoy.
I can't think of a single woman I ever met that I didn't feel had beauty. Once on the public transit in San Francisco, handwritten list of all the local thrift stores resting in my lap, I watched a woman who looked to be in her late 80's take her time boarding the bus. She happened to sit next to me and I took in the diamond boulder on her finger, the silk scarf, expensive perfume and thought she must have a story.
She told me her husband hated the weather in San Fransisco and was staying at their other home in Palm Springs. We chatted until I got off and I remember thinking how cool it was she had taken the time to do her hair, her nails, her makeup, plan her outfit and put on the last, perfect finishing touch - the silk scarf. She was quite beautiful.
Back home I met my now deceased friend Birgit when she was about the same age as the San Francisco woman. She called when she saw a sign I had posted at the local grocery store wanting to buy perennial divisions. She invited me over to her modest one bedroom red house and showed me her amazing three acres of gardens, slightly weedy but with that glorious cottage style - something akin to walking into a Tasha Tudor book. She started me off with lots of plants (given freely as she insisted she did not "sell" plants") and big dreams of what did in fact become my own acre of flowers.
She had a very, very wrinkled face, never wore make-up, and always kept her hair tied up in a bun. She'd retained a strong accent from her Eastern European homeland and been a refugee of world war two, a widow with two living children. And like the Mona Lisa, you really couldn't take your eyes off her slightly shrunken face when she was dictating her very strong opinions on everything from gardening to proper child-rearing. She was a stunner.
And beauty doesn't only belong to women. I doubt anyone ever attended a Stephen Hawkings lecture thinking, now THERE is an ugly man. And I saw an old interview of Michael Jackson recently on Oprah, done after his plastic surgeries had given him a new, some would say freakish, face and long before any allegations of sexual abuse.
As he talked about the loneliness of being a child star and the harsh treatment he got from his father, you could sense sadness. And when he admitted he didn't like mirrors because he was never satisfied with how he looked, I believed him. But when he gave Oprah a quick demonstration of the moonwalk, and his body flowed in a way to which even Martha Graham or Isadora Duncan would have paid homage, you couldn't help but see his beauty.
A few years ago I went with my husband on a work trip. I was in my bathing suit and feeling self-conscious. Any woman who has large breasts, has gone through a few decades of life and a couple pregnancies, knows the issues of "sag". And until I track down the maker of a swimsuit that has the support of my steel lined industrial strength bras, I wiggle along hoping my breasts are at least topping my belly button.
Meanwhile at the pool was a woman about 50, short - cropped gray hair, cellulite and a, shall we say, "lumpy" sort of body. This woman was in a bikini and exuded sheer sexuality and confidence. We started talking and she was from Germany, here in the U.S. with her boyfriend. I never forgot her.
We are indeed sold a bill of goods in airbrushed, computer altered beauty magazines. Cindy Crawford once said in an interview, "Even I don't get up looking like Cindy Crawford." So our very standards are being set by what??
Anyone who has seen a painting by Peter Paul Rubens knows skinny girls were once shunned and even today in Mauritania girls are force fed to achieve a "beautiful fat body." Then there's the issue of wanting what you don't have, straight hair, curly hair, thinner, more curves, and so on. Personally I stare with envy at any woman's hands with a French Manicure. My own hours playing in the dirt of my garden has made this too time consuming for me, but what beauty on other women.
My four decades of life have also begun to show up more on my face. The cute crinkles when I smiled no longer smooth down when I don't and I even went for a consultation for Botox for the lines along my forehead. I know, NOT frugal, but I just wanted to see what the deal was.
The plastic surgeon showed me a computer model of my face and patiently explained why Botox wouldn't work for me. My lines were on the sides of my forehead rather than the center. And if he relaxed these muscles, it would likely just lower my brows and lids, already getting that every so slight Elvis look as it was. As I stood to leave, he added, "Sometimes it's good to just accept that age is a natural part of life." I thought that was a lovely sentiment but did wonder with advice like that how the payments on that Lexus in the parking lot were going....
There are so many people that never come to terms with how they look. My own mom has struggled with her weight almost all her life. Yet inevitably, when she looks back at pictures from any prior decade, she'll say, "You know I really didn't look too bad." But she just cannot seem to carry that thought with her to the present moment, the now.
And I have no doubt at 77, she'll look back at her 60's and think the same thing. I wish I could give her my own perspective, which sees her gorgeous green eyes, petite hands that wear a ring size far smaller than mine, a body that her grandchildren think is just perfect as they snuggle on her lap, and face that's been looking out for my happiness for so many years.
So here I am at 41, determined to enjoy every bit of my own beauty all the way to 100 if I'm so blessed. Wouldn't it be neat if every man, woman and child looked in the mirror this morning, really looked NOW and saw their own beauty?
We may all just find ourselves grinning, giving a wink to that familiar image, and belting out, "Helloooooo Gorgeous!"
Maybe blast a little Christina Aguilera, check out that left profile, right profile... maybe one small dance step? Lookin' GOOD today!!