About five years ago, I found myself looking in the mirror and not loving what I saw. I saw a tired, stressed out woman in her fifties. I’d just been through an unexpected divorce and my self-confidence, never high, was at an all-time low.
My appearance wasn’t helping. I’d lost weight (the divorce diet-I don’t recommend it), and my face hadn’t benefited. Dark circles, dull skin, and some new sagging around my jaw.
“Not pretty,” I thought. “Definitely not beautiful.”
The Dove Choose Beautiful Study
Also, about five years ago, Dove conducted a study to learn about how women think about beauty. You may have heard about it. They went to shopping centers all over the world. They chose stores that had two entrance doors and labeled one door “beautiful” and the other “average”.
Guess what happened?
96% of the women chose to go through the average door. Only 4% of the women chose to identify themselves as beautiful.
I find this a bit disturbing but not surprising.
While I was licking my own wounds and getting back on my feet, I cooked up skin care products in my kitchen. I thought a lot about beauty. Especially beauty as it relates to the aging process.
From as far back as I can remember, we’ve been bombarded by images of media constructed ideals of beauty. As a young teen, I read magazines, watched TV and movies. They all portrayed beautiful, very young women as the best, sexiest, and most beautiful. No one over the age of 22 could be considered beautiful.
Take away lesson for most of us as teens - Aging was to be avoided at all costs (how? I wondered). And even then, you needed a certain look to be considered beautiful. As this look changed every few seasons, it was hard to pin down what beautiful even looked like. Even as a 20 year old, beauty was an elusive goal.
Yes, this desire for beauty and its ever-changing definition drives multi-billion dollar industries.
But the huge downside is that it works to destroy the self esteem and joy for many (96%???) of us. How did we get the idea that someone else’s definition of beauty is pinned to our own self worth in the first place?
Almost no one I knew felt they measured up to the air brushed images that we were told were beautiful. For many of us, the lifelong quest for “beauty” and "perfection"as narrowly defined by advertisers and fashion houses began.
Who gets to decide what beauty is?
Certainly, the role of beauty in all things (think nature, compassion, ideals, and of course, people) has been part of the human experience since recorded history. Philosophers might argue that the pursuit of beauty might even be part of the definition of what it is to be human. It certainly enhances our lives.
There's no universal standard of beauty. What’s considered beautiful has always varied considerably from culture to culture, especially as it applies to people.
The ancient Egyptians used makeup (both men and women), Japanese women blackened their teeth (before 1900), and the ancient Greeks loved a good unibrow (drawing it in if necessary).
Speaking of ancient Greeks, I love the Greek proverb “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.
What if you were the beholder of your own beauty?
What would that look like (besides which door you would have picked in the Dove study)? What if you just decided you were beautiful? Would that change anything in your life?
Before you answer, consider this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for the sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile, even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful, deep down to her soul. She is beautiful.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
As I cooked up face creams and body lotions in my kitchen, I decided that Fitzgerald was right. Beauty was more than a pretty face. Although a pretty face can be beautiful too. Beauty is deeper and it’s enduring.
Beauty is so much more than a pretty face
There's physical beauty and there's the beauty that radiates outward from our laughter, our kindness, our ability to listen to others. A pretty face with no substance ceases to be appealing after a while.
It’s completely possible to have both types of beauty. I think everybody can.
I would add that good health is another key to lasting beauty. By this I mean health on all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. Health that shows in the sparkle in your eyes, the radiance of your happy face.
We talk a lot about health, and there is a ton of advice (sometimes conflicting) out there. What it really comes down to is taking really good care of yourself.
And here’s where the logic gets a bit circular. Because whatever you believe about yourself, you’re right.
A person who has good self-esteem takes care of themselves because they know that they are worthy just as they are. Their health, compassion, and zest for life reflects as the light in their eyes and the smiles on their faces. They’re beautiful in so many ways.
The person that feels poorly about themselves is probably not going to take care of themselves. They may exercise too much or not at all. They may overdo beauty treatments or do nothing at all to enhance their appearance. They may spend all of their energy on others and have none for themselves, or vice versa.
None of these behaviors reflects health. Even if they have a pretty face or great figure (by current societal standards), these people are usually their harshest critics. They rarely feel good about themselves.
Believe me, I know this. I was this person for close to fifty years.
It took a series of semi-catastrophic events to shake me out of this low self-esteem driven self-abuse and begin to write a different story for my life. The story where I’m a beautiful, healthy, capable woman just starting her next adventure.
And it started with a choice.
Beauty is a choice
I learned being beautiful is a choice you can make today. And it’s a great choice because choosing to see yourself as beautiful can boost your self-confidence and esteem.
The key to true beauty is to accept and embrace who you are, right now. Because you are beautiful, unique, and worthy.
It’s not about fitting a cultural ideal or expectation. It’s certainly not about what “the world” or “everyone” thinks.
It’s about what you think.
It’s about honoring the unique things that make you, you. If you’re in the habit of comparing yourself to impossible images or putting yourself down, this will take some work, and practice.
Lots of good things will come of it.
I know that you are beautiful and that you are getting more beautiful with time. Take good care of yourself. And your skin.
“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mole, but true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she knows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.” Audrey Hepburn