A fairly recent, awkward, and all too brief conversation in a dimly lit theater, brought this piece to mind.  I hope it is of some interest... and perhaps a tad of an 'unawkwarding' clarification in the wake of that conversation.

I will preface this just by saying, that where you may think this is going...what seems to be the cliched discussion at the start.... is not it at all...

Beauty and the Eye of the Beholder

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty. – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats, Ode to a Grecian Urn


Beauty is perhaps one of the most prominent obsessions in society.

Across the ages, spanning nations and cultures, beauty has taken on different faces as the years have rolled on. No matter what the current ‘look’ or vibe de jour, it permeates every facet of life, as beauty is used as the most eye catching and influential marketing tool at our disposal. What we are shown as pleasing and desirable, is used as the lure for sales in food, cars, fashion and personal care of course, and even billboards advertising rather unsexy things like, health insurance. It seems if adverts bear a beautiful and desirable face, it makes what is being advertised, equally as desirable by association.

Far more impactful is the level of obsession and definition that each individual absorbs and embraces, personally, on soul and psyche.

What is beauty? Is it only physical appearance and attributes, or is it what radiates from within? No matter which of those it is, or if it is indeed a combination thereof, are there actual standards, or measures for level and quality, or is it all simply subjective? Basically, is beauty, indeed, as we are often told, ‘in the eye of the beholder’?

Individuals, of all ages, sadly even as young children, and certainly both male and female, find fault with themselves as compared to a rare, if not also digitally enhanced, visual ideal as presented by the media. People come to hate themselves, and/or go to great lengths to distort themselves, as all they can see is the vast disparity between what is in their mirror, and in fashion magazines and on their TV screens. They loathe themselves, feel self-conscious, only seeing beauty as defined by others, only feeling value as measured by appearance.

As if by some counter measure, to try and heal such self and society inflicted wounds, comes the nearly clichéd reminder that it is who we are on the inside that makes us beautiful. Our inner essence as it radiates forth, is our beauty, is our value. Our apprehensions about acceptance, appearance are often dismissed by others’ mantralike support, ‘You ARE beautiful; People will be drawn to your inner beauty.’  Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the virtue of the one looking, I’d wager.

Above is one of my favorite quotes. A favorite beyond its expression of looking below the surface, for substance.

Truth is beauty.

So what is your truth?

Some of us do not come from an idyllic childhood, full of warm memories and quality roots. Some of us had to decide, long ago, sink in the sewage that seems to be our birthright, or swim – even upstream, even if aquaphobic, even if through toxic waste and polluted flow. While perhaps no one is ever fully content with themselves, internally or externally, those of us who have done our damnedest to create who we desire to be, and sourced from what feels like sheer will alone… well we for certain always wonder how well we are doing. With our truth. With who we are.

On a typical day, I feel adequate to the task of my life, or at least hopeful that if I properly apply myself, I will be.

On a challenging day, I want to curl up and escape into a book with wine or whiskey holding my hand on the journey to a better and fictional place.

On great days, I forget. I forget the ‘from where’, the speed bumps, the stumbles, the betrayals, and even the full blown disasters. I just feel great. An exuberance for my life, filled with potential, courage, energy….somehow a peacefulness in the ‘ I can do this and it’s going to be great’ vibe of it all. I dance my way through my day, accomplishing and achieving, and feeling like what I would hope, ‘myself’ would feel like.

And then it happens.

I pass a mirror…and I see.

I see the image of someone who is appalling to me, who makes my skin crawl, who I cannot bear to look at.

Myself? Not really.

You see, it is not just about beauty, be it features or soulful radiance. It is not attractiveness, or perceived lack thereof, which can make someone wither and withdraw from their own reflection, or from the lens of a camera. Someone may believe they are homely but be accepting of their appearance, just as someone can know they are considered beautiful, and yet…either, both…can simply see something, someone, in their appearance that is horrifying to them personally.

They can see their beauty, accept who they are, and then catch a glimpse of someone whose appearance they share. Someone who they never want to be. Cannot bear to be.

For me it is someone a branch or so up my genetic tree. Someone who was incredibly unjust and harmful to my children, and to me. The very last person I would want to see when I look at myself – on any level.

Ironically I did not see any resemblance as I grew up, not even as age made its adjustments to my appearance. It has been since a misdiagnosis set me on to incorrect medications. The wear and tear on my body chemistry changed so much – how I age, the pallor of my skin, even the shape of my face. Amazing what stress can do to even a structured framework. Suddenly, I could see her face when I looked at myself. Disgust is a great motivator. I have always run and danced, for exercise, for stress relief and sanity. Let’s face it, even the most dedicated do not always feel up to their morning run, or a green juice, and extra motivation is required. Regaining control over your body chemistry, metabolism and the like is hard work, and when all else failed or wanted a day off, my desire to look like ME again, has pushed me out the door and running.

My children don’t see it at all. They say they only see me, but do admit that who they see is my personality, who I am, and so their visual reception of me, is just their mother. They don’t see anyone else. My features are not the same, my demeanor is nothing like that of this person, my soul, my heart, my mind…nothing similar. Am I seeing through fear and not my eyes? Does this only spring up right as I am feeling my best, as some inner enemy that spews ‘oh no, that cool chick that you work so hard to be, isn’t you…this, this ugly soul content is you’ ? Maybe it is some inner warfare against peace of mind, let alone peace of body.

I have spent so much time looking inward to make sure that it, my true internal self, is at least striving towards what I desire it to be, and in no way matches the outward glimpse I get, of a ghost from the past.

Sometimes I just cannot logic myself away from what I see, and my, oh my, what an ugly head-trip that is to travel. Suddenly nothing sounds right, looks right, feels right. It is as if I am wearing a skin that I simply do not fit in.

I love photography. I was rarely without a camera in hand since my preteen years, but being in front of the camera was something I have tried my best to avoid since as early as childhood. Repeatedly being told that the extra ten pounds that a camera adds always finds you, can affect you like that. Even as a toddler, even as an under 100 pound senior in high school, even as a new mom already back in her size 4 wardrobe. I loved taking photos, and have never been happy with any taken of me. I firmly believe that even a certain extremely gifted photographer who seems to make art from anything they point their lens at, could not get a good shot of me.

For a while I had photos up on social media, on my website… I was supposed to, expected to. Then I just couldn’t. I could not look at what I saw; not the unflattering effect, and not the glimpses that shook me to my core. So I took them all down.

Vanity? Maybe a bit. I never really thought anyone looked at, let alone remembered my photos, to have that be a real issue. It cost me though. A potential publisher for this book, approved cover design and yet would not go forward with me unless I had my photo on the back cover. I said no. They said no.

My point here… that teeter tottering balancing act on the edge of narcissism, on the brink of allowing our deepest fears about ourselves to steer us away from anything, even if only mirrors and photos, is that…it is not always about what is or is not ‘beauty’, it sometimes is about what is ugly in its essence. Do I have some great life lesson here to share, some pithy empowering mantra like ‘always see your beauty’? No. What I do have is this suggestion, a cautionary advisory: Don’t let what you think you see, misguide you to who you don’t want to be. Fight it. Avoid the mirror if you have to some days and just FEEL. BE you even when you don’t SEE you.

To fully commandeer and mutilate the true meaning of another poetry quote I love, ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ (Dylan Thomas) – do not let anything, nor anyone, least of all yourself, kill off the light that is you.

Life may not always be pretty, but truth is.

At its core, in its essence… and so are you.

What is your truth? What do you...'behold'?

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