It is, actually. The East Bay is usually pretty temperate, and I know very few people who have air conditioning, but it’s been hot as Hades lately. So, so totally hot. In a round about way, connected only by the vagaries of language, this brings me to some thoughts on beauty brought on by Julie Frick‘s freaking amazing post about self image and hawtness, which I’ve been meaning to talk about since I read that post.
Where do we learn to think we’re somehow not OK? I used to think it was inherent in teenage angst and insecurity, but that was before I met my husband. Once, I said something to him about, “You know that age when you think you look just godawful and you feel terrible about your looks?” and he said, “No.” Further exploration revealed that he’d never actually experienced this. As he put it, he didn’t expect anyone else to find him attractive, but he was always very happy with his looks.
Now, I’ve been married to the guy long enough to know that he does have insecurities and issues, but his approach on looks struck me as remarkably healthy, and one that I’d like to emulate in raising my own kids. The idea of being happy in yourself without expecting praise or outside confirmation is amazing to me – something of a Holy Grail of self image. I would have considered it mythical had I not met my husband. Perhaps it is cultural. As one of my favorite Salon articles indicates, my husband is not the only Venezuelan with great self image. Perhaps it has to do with upbringing. Perhaps it has to do with gender. I’ve known more men than women who are happy with how they look.
Whatever the reason, I’d like to find it and solidify it into a talisman to protect my kids. And I’m starting by looking at myself. (Navel gazing for the benefit of others! Yowza!) How often do I think, say, or indicate that I’m not good enough? Pretty darn often, actually.
I’m an occasional reader of Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose. I have read about, and I believe I understand, thin privilege. But something that comes up again and again, for women of any weight, is this feeling of inadequacy. For some, thin is never thin enough. For some, it’s not about weight at all. I’ve talked about my personal issues with weight on here before, and with my recent weight gain, I think I’m the healthiest and happiest with my body that I’ve been in ages. Which is why it’s weird that the way getting on clothes has gotten harder feels a little upsetting to me some of the time. And it’s probably also why, instead of sitting around being down on my body, I’ve started in on my face.
Silly stuff. My face hasn’t changed, but without my body to focus on as the problem, it seems like I have some sort of sick need to pick at myself, to deconstruct my looks and find what’s wrong. It’s a form of vanity, I think, because it seems like, rather than accepting myself and just moving on, it’s a way to focus on my own looks and spend more time on them than is really necessary.
Reading about the beauty of other women, I realized that it’s one of the things I absolutely love about reading knitting blogs. I love looking at pictures of other people’s beautiful knits and I love it even more when I can see pictures of the knitters as well. There are so many beautiful people whose blogs I read on a regular basis, and it’s real beauty, more than skin deep, that’s on display. I see beauty from models in magazines and catalogs, but it’s not the same as these personal pictures in which you can see the pride of a creator, beauty without design or ostentation, and the little flaws that are so much more lovely than all the perfect features in the world. It seems like all the beautiful women in magazines and movies begin to blend together after a while. There’s only so much Photoshop airbrushing one can take before all skin looks too smooth, all eyes too sparkly, all breasts too perky. Freckles disappear, and one never sees an interestingly crooked smile or a gentle curve of a belly anymore. It’s all the same, it’s all bland, and while there’s some beauty there, it’s less real than the beauty of interest.
I can see all this in other people. I’m grateful for it. Maybe you’re like me in this: it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of others without extending much of that courtesy to ourselves. We’re trained up to think it vain to even appreciate our own physical assets silently. We begin searching out all our flaws far too young, and not in an appreciative, interested way, but as a means of telling ourselves how little we are, how disgusting, how ugly. I’ve met very few young women who felt comfortable in their own bodies.
Age is a gift here. I, and many of my friends, have found that we like our bodies and selves better as we get older. At nearly thirty, I’m a lot happier with how I look than I was at twenty. But there’s still a long way to go before I’m comfortable with what I’m showing my daughter about beauty. I think, some days, we need to look in the mirror and actually say, “I look good today.”