Beauty is in the Eye of the Self

Two years ago, I had a slight moment of fame. I was driving to work (yeah, I used to work!) and on my 45-minute commute, I heard the morning DJ ask a question.

“If you could either be America’s Next Top Model or a Nobel Prize winner, which would you pick?”

I was astounded at how many women called to say they’d rather be a model.  Really? Then I turned it in on myself, musing as I waited at one of the many red lights, listening to a bad local commercial since the station had gone to break.

Actually, I had wished many many times to be America’s Next Top Model. In the “before time, in the long long ago,” by which I mean before the girls came along, I had gone so far as to look up sign-up information. I really wanted to do it.

Then I saw that at 5’9″ I was supposed to weigh 110-115 pounds. I shrugged my shoulders and ate a piece of cheese, to be honest. Screw that. I couldn’t weigh 115 pounds if I never ate again. My bones weigh more than 115 pounds.

Anyway, thinking about this on my drive, I realized that all my life, I’d never once wished to win the Nobel Prize. So, really, I was no different from the women calling in. Except for one thing. The reason I’d never wanted to win the Prize is that it had never crossed my mind as a possibility.

So I called in and said that I’d rather win the Prize, and I thanked the host for posing the question because before the two were juxtaposed I had never realized how silly my goals could be, how low I was reaching.

Last week, I cam across this article about photoshopping and magazine covers.

Now, I’ve known forever, as most people do, that the images seen on magazines aren’t real. That hasn’t stopped me from wanting to look like those images without the aid of photoshop. Especially in my younger days. If I could eat healthily, work out, and wear the right clothing, surely I would soon look like that air-brushed image…naturally. I don’t know why my brain worked like that, but it did. This coming from a woman who can’t even put on makeup without looking like a clown. Who doesn’t know how to match clothes to shoes. Yeah, right. Dream on, self.

And yet, that’s the problem. These dreams aren’t healthy. They aren’t possible. And the images are so much more pervasive than we allow ourselves to realize. Yes, you assume that the high-fashion magazines smooth blemishes and erase a line here and there, but magazines like Shape reducing the size of women by a third? Check out the pic of Kelly Clarkson in there. Shape completely ruined her for their cover. Then they defended it, saying Kelly’s inner beauty is what they showcased and you can’t photoshop that. Well, no, you can’t photoshop radiance, but by completely changing her shape, magically erasing 50 pounds, you are not touting a message of self-acceptance and inner beauty, no matter how you try to spin it. It’s really sad.

Most of the time, image is about the other people. That’s backwards. Image needs to be about the self.

About six months ago, I took a before / after shot on a rare occasion when my husband and I were going out. It’s all about manipulation, even without photoshop.

Before:

The pulled back hair is my normal, resting state. I hardly wear it down due to the kids. Notice the arm, the waist area, the chest in proportion to it. Just a normal person taking a normal picture.

Now, let’s add in some “MySpace-esque” angles and lighting. This photo was taken about 20 minutes later.

Bright light in the forground giving a tinted look to the picture? Check.
Head tilt and half-smirk? Check.
Knee bent in the front to give myself some semblance of a backside? Check.
Sucking it in? You betcha.

Turned slightly away from the camera so that it sees less of my body to trick the eye? Absolutely.
So what I actually look like is not what I want you to think I look like. Why is that? Why aren’t I enough as is? Why aren’t any of us? It’s so important for us to love ourselves. Not just for the self-confidence and energy we need to make it through the day, but also so that we can move on with our lives. So we don’t find ourselves glued to the mirror, or thinking about our looks / weight / skin / whatever. Those things, those thoughts, inhibit the real work we are here to do.

And if you ever need a refresher…look at your kids. Look at the love, respect and admiration in their eyes. To them, you are a beauty queen and a genius and the entire universe all rolled into one. Those are some big shoes. They don’t belong stomping all over your self-esteem.

Beauty redefined. They’re right.

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About parentwin

Parent of twins, blogger, writer and journalist. I write things. Sometimes people even read them.
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