Thursday, February 21, 2013

Beauty of Women

Being a woman is more than a biological distinction, so much more than filling in the space beside the letter “F” on a form required. We are more than the sum of our unique parts, especially our maternal gifts.  We are so much more than beauty. We have fine minds, capable of discerning truths and imagining brilliant futures. We make the nests, weaving together the moral fiber of a nation, transforming selfish creatures into selfless ones, nudging them over the edge, teaching them to soar. We give comfort, nurture, entertain, inspire, and lead. And we may also be the noblest of the noble creatures. Yet we often do not love ourselves enough, sometimes not at all.

Some of us are artifacts from an earlier age when women were cultivated to be pretty and coy. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, women had little value if they were plain. Even a loving, intelligent grandmother, Lady Mary Montagu, recognizing how plain her own granddaughter, advised the child’s mother to cultivate a love for reading because a plain girl, especially one whose parents could not provide an attractive dowry, could not hope for marriage. Plain women needed to steel themselves for the life of a spinster, living at the mercy of a relative, with little more than books to comfort them through longs days and nights. Lady Montagu asserted that “No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.” A plain spinster “… will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author….”

I’d like to believe that our national psyche has evolved since the eighteenth century, but alas, women and girls in the twenty-first century still compensate. Plain girls with low self-esteem may put on weight, finding reassurance in food, guaranteeing what they believe to be their destinies. They may let their hair hang in order to mask break-outs and acne. They may bear stooped shoulders if they happen to be taller than the tallest boy. They may also resign themselves to their role as a plain girl, choosing modest, unflattering clothing that masks shapes and sometimes even gender. Others may choose outrageous outfits, defying convention and fashion in an effort to prove that being girly and pretty does not interest them. So pervasive are these phenomena that How Do I Look aired for nine seasons, proving show after show that some women’s style choices put off more people than it attracted.Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

Other women make war with self-doubt and the plain or unattractive label, relying upon gyms, trainers, diet fads, Spanx, hair dyes, highlights, Botox, collagen, make-up, lotions, tanning booths, and plastic surgery to transform themselves into something they like when they look in the mirror. These women sometimes become so gaunt that we can map veins under their skin or count ribs through thin, gauzy tees. Some of these women sport lips that enter a room before their noses—lips so enormous that they parody Marilyn Monroe’s pout. Others have eyebrows arched so high up their foreheads that we whip our own heads left and right, looking for the interloper who just frightened them, only to find there is no one else, just a woman who has become a cartoon of her former self.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I am not a woman familiar with gyms. I joined one for a time. I even reached the thirty-minute mark on a recumbent bike, but each of my muscle groups lacks definition. I have Crow’s feet although I prefer laugh lines, a much prettier term for what exists at the outer edges of my eyes. My neck is crepey, or as some younger folk might say, creepy; consequently, I love autumn and winter when turtle necks and scarves may be worn daily. Around my lips are wrinkles, the ones that I abhorred on older women when I was young, the ones I dreaded to see in a mirror. I am also overweight, a state I cannot recommend, and I have struggled to find clothes that are comfortable and fashionable, clothes in which I feel attractive. Thus, I often step into the demands of the universe feeling everything except pretty.

I have known others like me, and I have known women who are cute, adorable, pretty, and gorgeous. Without exception, these women are self-deprecating. One hates the shape of her nose. Another thinks her ankles too thick. Many despise their hair as too flat or curly, too dull or frizzy. We are like Goldilocks, it seems, forever looking for hair that’s just right, and we envy each other, too: the blond next door, the gal with big blue eyes, a colleague with long, graceful fingers, and a sister with Audrey Hepburn’s neck. Our envy rarely looks good on us either.

Lady Mary Montagu also observed, in one of her finer moments, that “A face is too slight a foundation for happiness.” Few of us would disagree. Happiness is what we build within ourselves through our good works, through love. Neither books for our lonely days nor looks for all our days, often bought at great cost, grant happiness. So please, love yourselves so much that you create happiness for yourself. Cultivate more than a pretty face and a lovely form. Let go of self-deprecation and envy. Embrace your nobility by loving yourselves, warts, weight, worries, and all.