“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” – Steve Maraboli
I stumble across this quote on the internet pretty frequently. It’s impossible not to be taken with this definition of beautiful. While it sounds so empowering, I think it is an unhealthy standard to strive for.
Yesterday, I read the post “Are you beautiful? I asked 100 men what ‘physical beauty’ is and the results shocked me” on Rozanne Leigh’s blog Life is Rozie. What she discovered through her conversations and surveys is that women are far more critical of our physical appearance than men are. My favorite quote was, “Most [men] could hardly tell the difference between girls who were a size 10 and a size 4 – except to say whether they looked healthy or not.” That same statement cannot be made of most women. I can’t say that I was as surprised by her results as she was. I’ve noticed this in my conversations with the men in my life. It is easy for me to look around and see men who are deeply in love with women who don’t fit into our culture’s narrow definition of beauty. While I enjoyed her post, I was unsatisfied by her conclusion that what makes us beautiful is our confidence in our own unique desirability. And especially her conviction that we can love ourselves without the validation of others. As nice as it all sounds, it is still an idealistic notion of beauty.
Objectively speaking, I believe I am beautiful. Even while my confidence in myself in other areas has wavered, I’ve grown rather sure that I am desirability. But does that mean I feel beautiful every day? Of course not. No one does. There are days when I feel unstoppably seductive and there are days when I feel like I need a serious makeover to be even slightly presentable. Though I’ve grown to see the beauty in my body at many sizes, I would be lying if I said that I don’t still regret that I can’t offer a lover a more perfect body without the war wounds from my battle with obesity.
Ugly days (okay, sometimes even ugly seasons) are a part of life. We all have to learn to love our bodies through sweat and tears (quite literally in many cases). This is a process that can take a life time. Do you know what is incredible? People love us anyway. They desire us even when we can’t possibly see any reason why they would. And on our ugly days, their kind words are what can help us get out of our heads and see ourselves more clearly and kindly.
The biggest lie we believe in our culture is not that we have to meet impossible physical standards of beauty to be lovable; it is that we have to achieve any standard of perfection at all to be loved. Even “perfect imperfection.” Just as men fall in love with women of all shapes and sizes, men fall in love with women who are deeply insecure as frequently as they fall in love with women who project perfect confidence. Men fall in love with women who don’t have their lives even close to “together” just as they fall in love with women at the height of their success. While confidence and health are undeniably sexy, there is also something attractive about the need to see ourselves graciously reflected in the eyes of others. It is this very need that drives us toward each other.
No matter how unpopular it is to say, we need the honest feedback of others to gain confidence in our attractiveness. Of course, feel free to ignore the haters but that doesn’t mean you should ignore everyone else. Even Leigh’s blog post illustrates that we can all benefit from viewing ourselves through the eyes of men who are looking for connection and love not perfection. Letting ourselves believe the compliments that we are given and trusting in the evidence that we are desirable is the surest way to gain greater confidence in our own unique beauty. We have to realize that even then it will never be an unfailing confidence and that’s okay.
A couple of years ago I shared a quote from Emanuel Ungaro, “I like women who are not sure of themselves. I like the moment when a woman thinks she is not good enough, pretty enough. It’s wonderful. It’s like I’ve scratched the surface and discovered something…” I wish we could see the beauty in our own moments of self-doubt and, instead of turning against ourselves, unashamedly let it drive us to reach out for the comfort of those who see our beauty when we can’t.