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!!


  1. Thanks, I really needed that. It is hard being an overweight, 62 year old in this day and age. But I am lucky, my husband still sees me as gorgeous and never hesitates to tell me. God was wise having us loose our eyesight as we age, we can't see all those little physical flaws in our beloved spouses. Just discovered your blog yesterday, read it all, and can't quit thinking or talking about it today. Thank you so much. Another new friend,

  2. Thanks friend Judy for your thoughtful comments. You made my day.


  3. As the mom of two little girls, (the older would like me to say she is the pretty one) this hit home with me. I am always telling them how beautiful they are. How smart they are, how special they are... but it seems beautiful is what they would most like to be.

    It also reminds me of one day when my [now five year old] then two year old announced to my husband, within ear shot of his co-workers, her highest praise, "Daddy, you are so pretty!" Oh, how dismayed and puzzled she was at the laughter that followed. I shared this story with my mother in law over the phone. She said, "Well, I have always thought so! Tell her I'm with her."

    Thank you so much.

  4. Antoinette, I laughed when I read this. Congrats on your pretty daughter and husband - sounds like a lovely family.

    P.S. You have a beautiful name, did it take a long time to learn to spell it in kindergarten? I watch my son work hard at KIRK!!

  5. Eileen,

    My mom wrote my name in big block letters on a card affixed to our closet doors, well before school started. We would spell my name together at night and in the morning. (I think we did the alphabet the same way). She also made me letter cards on a ring. By the time school started I was set. WRITING my name was a whole different story. It took me so long to write it out. I was one of the last kids done with this almost every day.
    For my kids I taught them their names in song. BINGO is a good template for this method. Just give it one clap beat, if that makes sense. Longer names require a different song. I break the song into two beats rhythms with two letters, for example EI LE EN. Hope that helps.


  6. Antoinette,

    Your mom had some great ideas - sounds like a born teacher. And the Bingo idea is especially good. In addition to being curious how you learned to spell your name, I had meant to say I had watched Kirk struggle with writing his as well (did you notice you cannot go back and edit comments?). And I'd meant you congratulate you on pretty daughters not kids use the computer now and I think a tiny piece of popcorn is under the S key - you may see a lot of S mistakes;-). I was curious about your screen name - are you very green?? The reason I ask is I'm meeting someone tomorrow who is starting a "Green" company and while I try to be environmental as much as I can, I know I have a LONG way to go to be as green as I can. Take care. Thanks for your comments! Eileen

  7. Oh, I do know that about not being able to edit! Oh well. Perhaps one of your other readers can use that tip! On a side note: I would feel so proud of my then 4 year old when she would spell her name for people, each time hoping it wouldn't end in "is her name O!" and dime me out.
    As far as the name, yes, I am a committed recycler, but also re-user and repurposer.
    Actually, that comes from... Well, I have been known to troll to curb on large trash pick up day for usable items- and I joked that I am a committed recycler (-and then just cheap). But I do try to be fairly green. I got a kick out of your reuse blog, because, unfortunately, it's very difficult to reuse all those disposable containers, but it does help you to realize all the items that go into one bin or another in our households. I try to make a lot of things that normally might be purchased, such as play clay (not the copyrighted, but close to it), and shop at thrift stores, yard sales, etc, and repurpose all our worn clothing as new clothing for smaller people (my littlest kids, and their dolls) rags, etc.
    I laughed because I too have tried to come up with further used for used straws. A few of my favorites: cut into inch wide or smaller pieces, straws can be strung into necklaces, they can be used as bubble wands, multiple straws can teach weaving, also can be used in rather avant garde (and really messy) painting techniques I recall using as a child when my mom needed a craft that demonstrated wind.
    I am becoming addicted to checking for a response, I don't usually comment on blogs other than my sisters'. Thanks,

  8. Antoinette,
    First thanks for your comments. It feels odd sometimes to write and hear the echo of the obvious step is talking to the walls;-)

    I too am a big fan of big trash day! And I went to a wonderful sale this summer by a group of women called the treasure to trash group who collect all year, paint and fix up things, then have a huge sale. It was so much fun - the only tough part, a wrought iron, glass topped white porch table with a $5 price tag snagged just as I was walking in....hope the new buyer found the perfect spot for it. Kudos on your help to the environment. I was honestly relieved when my re-use week was over, but it did at least open my eyes. What are your sisters' blogs? E I L E E N O!;-)

  9. I refer to the lack of replies to my posts or emails as the feeling of tossing messages in glass bottles into the big blue ocean.

    Treasure to Trash Group? That sounds wonderful. I try to tell myself, when something successfully eludes my grasp, that clearly it was not meant to be. At times, this leaves me puzzling to figure out what is meant to be, or impatiently waiting for it to be "my turn".
    Watching Ants & king of the kingdom of me are my little sisters blogs. There is quite an age gap between us, and I live very far away. However, we have done well keeping in touch and staying close. The internet certainly helps. They are, in addition to being my friends and sisters, also wonderful Aunties.

    I am very impressed that you went an entire week. How did your family cope with that? Were they all encouraging?