I am the kind of person that is easily overwhelmed. By the kindness of a waitress on an ordinary day or the breeze that blows through the summer air. And on a daily basis, I am overwhelmed by the indifference of the world in light of all the suffering that takes place. I get anxious about small things like passing a licensure exam or an interaction that didn’t go as I had hoped. and I’ve always been the kind of person that can be overwhelmed by how much I have left to do and how little I have done.
So it’s no surprise that I was standing in the hair and make-up aisle when I was suddenly overcome by the number of products I was surrounded by. Hair extensions, highlights, blush, foundation, and mascara. Eye shadow, lip liner, and eyelash extensions. Aage-defying cream and wrinkle prevention lotions. There are lotions and sprays and tanning beds. Straighteners, curling irons, and hair sprays. The magazines that tell us what we are supposed to look like, the headlines that call on us to be thin, tan, and flawless. The implications that our outward appearance is a determinant of our individual worth. And all I could think about was how many products tell us that the way we look — the way we are — is not enough.
I don’t watch television and I generally don’t skim through magazines, but I hear the messages all the same. We tell them to ourselves. We’ve been trained to become insecure about a blemish on our face, a haircut that’s a little too short, stretch marks on our stomachs, or weight gain in all of the wrong places. To be clear, I wear make-up on a daily basis and I work out as often as I can, I reward myself with new clothes and even bought eyelash extension cream once. In no way am I suggesting that there is anything wrong with wanting to feel beautiful and confident; I just don’t believe that a flawless outward appearance is the only way to get there.
In high school, someone once told me that it didn’t matter whether or not I understood advanced placement calculus because ‘at least I was pretty.’ While I understand that they were trying to be comforting, encouraging, and nice, I can remember my exact feeling of outrage. The anger that arose because I was supposed to feel relieved by someone’s perception of my outward appearance; of the implication that the way I looked would somehow be enough to help me get a scholarship so that I could go to college. That somehow the way I looked would help to determine whether I would develop enough self-discipline to finish what I started, that somehow my appearance would help me to further my career. And I remember wondering when ‘being pretty’ began to outweigh our intelligence, capabilities, attitude, and our individual contributions to the world.
I find that sometimes we place so much emphasis on what our body looks like that we forget about the amazing things it does for us. Your legs — regardless of their length and width — have carried your body for all of these years. They have held you up on your weakest days and were there with you to jump for joy in moments of celebration. They’ve ran through the grass during summer nights of hide and seek and they’ve rooted you to this earth. And your arms, they work. They can bend and they can write. They can pick up a child and hold another’s hand. They’ve helped you to feel objects and to build things, they are your ability to reach out to the world. Your mind, it is a wonderful, magical, and complex tool that continues to guide your perception and understanding of the world. I could go on, but you get the point — each and every one of your body parts has served you in some way. Each and every part continues to do something for your life. Let’s not forget that every minute detail of your being is made with extraordinary and intricate capabilities.
I have always believed in not being attached to something as impermanent as our physical appearance. Of being attached to short hair, long hair, thick hair, or thin. Of what color it is or what color it’s not. Of not being attached to the number on a scale or the amount of space between your thighs. The way you look can change. It will change. And it is always changing. I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who taught me that what I looked like was not who I was. It has never been my job, responsibility, nor my dream to be beautiful. I am not alive for that purpose. We all have so much more to offer the world than our physical appearance.
Who you are as a person, that’s what matters. That is what is constant.
Are you beautiful on the inside?
I believe in intelligence. I believe in the ever-expansion of your mind through books, travel, and new experiences. I believe in having conversations with people who have a different point of view than yours and in staying current on world events. Of challenging yourself to set higher expectations and to dream bigger dreams. And I believe in health. In eating healthy, nourishing your body, and being good to your soul. I believe in exercising to add longevity to your life, to add strength to your mental and physical abilities, and to foster self-discipline. I believe in pull-ups, cardio, and strength-training. I believe in getting adequate amounts of sleep so that you are energized throughout the day. I believe in confidence and beauty in the form of a smile to a stranger, of a hand that reaches out to help without question or reservation. Kindness towards others, determination to succeed, and the courage to forgive; that is beauty. Our internal integrity, our ability to respond with grace, the gifting of our time, and the mark we leave on the world — that is the beauty that should define us.
I believe in beauty that is real.
In the naturalness that can be observed when you become unapologetically who you are.
I believe in our bodies serving as road maps to remind us each where we have been. That scar on my left leg from the bike crash I had as a second grader, the indentation above my left eyebrow where I ran into a door, and the deep stretch marks on my thighs and around my knees when I went through my first big growth spurt in seventh grade. I believe in growing old and your body having all the proof to show it. I believe in wrinkles. I believe in flaws, blemishes, and stretch marks. Laugh lines for a life well lived. Greying hair for all of the challenges you have overcome. Extra weight around your midsection from the babies you’ve birthed, from the celebrations you’ve had the opportunity to experience, from those delicious desserts you were able to indulge in. Worry lines on your forehead for the uncertainty you felt during troubling days. I believe that your body is a treasure chest holding within it all of the goodness you’ve received, the love you’ve given, and the pain you’ve endured.
You are more than beautiful. and you are more than something to be looked at.
You are strong. You are brave. You are intelligent.
You are kind. You are funny.
You are a giver, receiver, a dreamer, and a doer.
You are an athlete, a thinker, an encourager, a creator.
You are as bright as the sun and you are so much more than the simplicity of your outward appearance.
You are so much more.