Dear Beholder, Behold!

Earlier this week I caught an interesting article in an old issue of O magazine (the reading material at the Y isn’t always all one might hope).  The first half of the article was written by a mother who admittedly was over-obsessed about her daughter’s weight when she was a child, to the point of restricting food and (inadvertently) only showing praise for her daughter’s efforts and accomplishments in physical appearance.  The second half of the article was written by the daughter, who is now a 27 year-old young woman who admits that for many years she thought her mother’s love was conditional on her being thin and beautiful.  At 27, after battling diets, excessive exercise, disordered eating, and struggles maintaining her mental health, she is overweight and part of a growing movement of “fat acceptance,” which challenges people to accept that bodies have various shapes and that overweight does not always equate to someone who is lazy and unhealthy*.

I don’t know that you could find many young women who could honestly admit that they have never had some sort of hang up about their body.  We seem to love getting together and poking at our own bellies, bemoaning over “how fat we’ve gotten.” We say ridiculous things like “I wish I had…” or “I hate my…”  We look in closets bursting at the seams with sweaters and bright tees and fret over having “nothing to wear.” 
Anyway, after reading the article I had like, 23 minutes left to go on my bike workout and I got to thinking about what does beautiful mean?  It’s clearly subjective, and there is the pop-culture waif of beauty that we seem to torment ourselves with (because seeing your ribs pop out of your chest is so in).  While being the independent, fiercely outspoken, slightly confrontational young woman I have been for some time now, at points in my life I definitely struggled with my own ideas of whether or not I was someone that other people considered beautiful.  So I made myself a little list.  And it’s kind of a vain list, I will be honest.  But sometimes, you just have to do that.  And I don’t struggle with the idea of my own beauty much anymore.  This is not to say that I always love the shape my body takes, but I don’t question ‘beautiful’ like I used to.  Anyhow, getting on with the list.

To a young, thoroughly Modern Mugwump, beauty is:
1.  The confidence to rock a pretty eclectic pair of stockings and purple shoes at an event.
2.  Deciding that decisions to engage in adventures would no longer be made on the size or shape of my body (read: signing up for my second triathlon and countless 5Ks).
3.  Choosing outfits based on what they highlight and showcase about me (like some wicked blue eyes or totally buff calves) rather than what they hide or mask (like a squishy winter belly or linebacker shoulders).
4.  Bearing striking resemblance to great-grandparents on both sides of the family.
5.  Reaching in to my admittedly shallow wallet so the woman in front of me who realized, at the register, that she couldn’t afford her groceries wouldn’t put back the produce to save a few bucks.** 

6.  Making original art accessible (although if you want a Mugwump Masterpiece, act quickly as prices are likely to rise as my time becomes more and more limited/precious).

So I reject the idea that beauty is completely what’s inside.  After all, even you are thinking the most delightful and generous things, are you really being beautiful if you don’t act, at least once in a while?  Realistically, our actions aren’t always above and beyond.  I don’t buy everyone’s groceries, or make art for any price.  Sometimes we all go home and sit on the couch and watch Oprah.  And we have to– that’s how she shares her beauty.***

I looked and looked for good quotes about beauty to start this post off with, but found nothing that did it real service.  And in the theory that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I realized that you must behold it first before you can give your beautiful self and beautiful talents to others.  You are always the first beholder of your own beauty, even if you don’t first recognize it.

*While I respect that bodies come in different sizes, trust me I respect it, it is important to remember that the idea that just because an overweight person is not currently experiencing known symptoms of disease or illness, it is a risk factor for serious diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, and cancers.  And a lot of people just don’t know they are ill.  So there is a balance between being plush, chubby, round, padded, or whatever else those of us who carry a few bonus pounds, and being unhealthy.  
** In studying social inequalities of health, I have decided that it is heartbreaking that apples and broccoli are much more expensive than Cheetos and Oreos.  
*** I get it, this is probably a judgment call.  You may not like Oprah, but let’s admit it, she has done some beautiful things during her career and she relies on viewers and followers for that.  

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