I was raised with an artist mother who could easily live her entire life fulfilled and amused without a television set, and a father who had a run-in with the cable company which ended in a Hatfield and McCoy feud/boycott that lasts until this day. I think it was because they replaced his favorite sports station with a 24 hour gospel music ad station. I’ve never asked. I knew all I needed to know the day he donned his lineman climbing spikes, crawled up the pole in the backyard and removed the cable connection himself.
And since there was no cable, we rented movies. Mom’s favorites; classic movies. The African Queen, My Fair Lady, It Happened One Night, Mr & Mrs. Smith. I fell in love with Mryna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck. But Carole was my favorite.
Carole was tall, slim, tan, blond, funny. I wanted to be just like her. But gradually, in every stage of my life, it became obvious it was not meant to be.
In middle school the hips came. One day I was slim as a rail. The next day, thigh city. In high school I glared into the mirror, willing myself to grow at least six inches taller. Didn’t happen. In fact, I may have shrunk. In college I bleached my hair platinum blond, only to realize in horror that my dark roots started to show precisely twelve hours later. Becoming Carole wasn’t turning out as planned.
My quest to be like Carole (which to be honest waned considerably after my horrific platinum fried hair episode) made me dissatisfied. And while I do often fall down in public at least once a year(which elicits giggles from strangers), I’m no comedian.
The quest for beauty can be a frustrating thing. A bitter thing. Because it isn’t really about beauty. It isn’t really about our weight, or the shape of our faces, or the color of our eyes. It’s a matter of acceptance. A matter of liking, really and truly appreciating, who we are and what God gave us. It’s a matter of being happy in our shoes.
I started thinking about this yesterday when I read Stephenie Nielson’s blog. For those of you that read The Nie Nie Dialogues, this story needs no introduction. For those of you that don’t, Stephenie and her husband survived a horrible plane crash. They were burned badly. Their children spent months being raised by family members as her sister kept us all posted on Stephenie’s fight for life.
And Stephanie survived. But until this point none of us knew what she looked like after the accident and her numerous reconstructive surgeries.
I pride myself on the fact that I’m not a crier. Usually, if I’m crying, it’s because I’m miffed at someone. But yesterday, reading this post and seeing Stephanie’s picture, I cried. Do you know what my first thought was? Beautiful.
If you're like me, you're feeling a little ashamed right now. Stephanie Nielson is beautiful. She is beautiful because of her bravery, because of her vast love for her children, her devotion to her husband. She's beautiful because of her words and her life.
How much time have I wasted focusing on my hair, my weight, who I do and don't look like? To be happy in my shoes, I’ve come to realize how fruitless personal dissatisfaction is. What stands in your way? Do you spend hours obsessing about your weight? The shape of your nose? The threat of cankles? Oh wait, that's me.
They say that women in their 30's feel less pressure to conform. Maybe that's what I'm going through at 29, standing on the verge of a new era. I'm OK with the way I look. I don't mourn my lack of blond hair. In fact, this month I dyed my hair dark again. No more highlights. And my pale skin hasn't seen a tan in years. It feels good. It feels good to let go of the pressure. It feels good to look at Stephanie's picture and think, "THAT is beauty."
If I could go back in time and talk to myself, talk to the little girl in this picture, I would give myself some advice. I'd say, "Don't worry so much. You're beautiful the way you are. Besides, I read somewhere that Carole Lombard had a terrible potty mouth."