There was a time when, like many teens and young adults, I felt self-conscious about my appearance. One of my cousins had noted that many of us shared a family trait of having a weak chin. Another had pointed out my very fine hair hair that seemed never to hold a style. I was also likened to Popeye’s girlfriend, Olive Oil, for being starkly thin. I viewed physical defects as a mess and felt uncomfortable in public because of my hangups about my appearance. .
My mother encouraged me to forget about myself, noting that people rarely think about how someone looks, but always consider how one behaves. She insisted that I should be more concerned about treating people with interest and kindness than worrying incessantly about a few flaws that nobody would even notice. While I did my best to follow her advice I did not really understand how profoundly correct she had been until I was in my mid-twenties. That is when I finally began to develop confidence and to feel good about myself.
Looking back at photos of teenage me, I see a quite pretty but very shy young girl. My features went together quite nicely and all I really needed was a bigger smile to light up my eyes and be a more inviting person. My thinness made it possible to wear virtually any style and look quite lovely. In fact, I would welcome a lithe frame like that now that I have added the pounds that come from living an enjoyable life.
I still fret over my hair, but only because it is so difficult to maintain. I admit to envying anyone who can just pull their luxurious hair into a ponytail or a bun. Mine flies away like corn silk and refuses to do as I try to instruct it to do. Nonetheless, I have learned to work with it just as it is and move on to more important issues like caring for the people around me.
My chin is indeed almost nonexistent. I’ve learned that full faced photos flatter me the most and I have one side that is definitely better that others. At this point I would probably look very strange if I were to suddenly purchase a better chin from a plastic surgeon. I find that very few people actually look better after going under a knife in the hopes of improving things. I mostly never even think about that tiny familial trait that one of my brothers hides nicely behind a lovely beard. It has become a matter of very little consequence to me.
I’m one of those slow learners who realizes more clearly with each passing year just how wise my mother always was. She maintained that attractiveness had little or nothing to do with actual physical aspects. She noted that some of the most beautiful women in the world were acutely aware of flaws that nobody else ever noticed. She insisted that the rarest beauties were the ones who had the most loving hearts.
We had a neighbor whom my mother almost revered. Her name was Rose Marie and she was the mother of five children. Her home was often chaotic and messy but the love inside was palpable. Rose Marie was a bit chubby after birthing five babies but somehow she did not come across as being overweight. It was her cherubic face that drew all of the attention. She had stunningly beautiful features, most especially because of her warm smile and her eyes that literally seemed to twinkle. She sported a think mane of dark black hair that she usually just wound into a knot at the back of her head. When she spoke it was as though her countenance was lit by an ethereal light. Her generosity was well known and admired by everyone who knew her. Her beauty was indeed enhanced by her personality.
I suppose that we have all also known someone who might have been thought to be homely but for the loveliness of his/her generous spirit. I have met many women who had enough confidence to laugh off their flaws and approach the world stage with not just confidence but love and concern for the people around them. Few would instantly think of Mother Teresa as a beauty and yet hers is one of the loveliest faces I can imagine. Likewise, Eleanor Roosevelt was taunted as a child for her lack of feminine pulchritude, but her courageous spirit in pursuit of justice for all people radiated from her face hiding any flaws that may have been there. She was beloved by the American people because she had proven that she really cared for them, not because she was a gorgeous First Lady.
As a young child I watched a television program called Father Knows Best. In my own case it was my mother who possessed the wisdom that I needed. She taught me to put myself together and then go out into the world without thinking about how I might look. Instead I followed her lead and worried more about how people were feeling. Most of the time it felt good to be that way.
We live in an often superficial world that has a tendency to make young people feel self-conscious about themselves. We see individuals becoming successful with little more to offer than good looks. We learn soon enough that they often suffer because they never learned the importance of spending time just living and laughing rather than chasing after physical attractiveness. When the bloom of their beauty fades they feel as though they have nothing to offer. My mother showed me that real beauty is way more than skin deep.
Princess Diana was beloved not as much because she was a beautiful woman, but because she exuded warmth for every person she met regardless of their social class or circumstances. Audrey Hepburn was gorgeous until the day she died, but it was her work as a benefactor that made even her wrinkles and greying hair disappear from our gaze. We all have flaws but the worst of these is a closed and selfish heart. Anyone can be beautiful simply by forgetting about themselves and concentrating on all of the people they encounter. It is a wonderful way of being beautiful.