People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.”
– SALMA HAYEK
I find this quote to be so relevant in my life right now. I am 53 and have come to conclusion that I’m on the back 9 – I’m officially in the second half of my life.
So I’m on vacation with a few couples around our age, and my son (who is 32 years old) says these words… words I have never heard about myself and never expected to… “This happens to women of a certain age.” AGH! My friend and I burst out laughing at first and then realized – he actually meant us!
I’m no longer young and pretty, no longer thin, no longer interested in having a hot body, or pleasing others for the sake of getting along. I no longer worry about what I eat; I enjoy my bacon, pizza, bread, steak and my red wine! I would rather have a few extra pounds and be happy than be a cranky, skinny gal…
After my visit to the clinic in Germany last month, I came back a little different… healthier, yes, but also more at peace with who I have become and how things have changed for me. The treatment was difficult but it gave me a chance to realize how lucky I really am and, how grateful I am to have the resources and the support from my family and friends.
I usually stress about getting into shape weeks before our summer vacation, dieting, exercising and even applying cellulite cream to look good in a bathing suit, but that did not matter to me this year. My husband often tells me how beautiful I am and always tells me that I am not fat when I say I am. I want to believe him but it’s not that easy. I look in the mirror and try to find something to love in my reflection, but what I see is a woman who put on 30 pounds (after 25 years of marriage and 5 kids), does not work out as much as she should, wears very little make-up, if any, and opts for comfortable clothes and shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I clean up well and can be presentable when needed, but I just don’t feel the need to do it on a regular basis to impress anyone. But yet, I still see my age, imperfections, and wrinkles and my less than thin… well, everything.
I love watching those videos on Facebook about couples who talk about what keeps their love alive after 70+ years of marriage, so many of the husbands comment on how beautiful their wives are to them still, even after all those years together. I wonder if my husband will find me as beautiful when I am 60, 70, 80 and beyond. Maybe he looks beyond the physical and sees the real me, maybe he loves how much I love him or how I care for him and our family. Maybe it’s the way I make him laugh, or how I always laugh at his jokes. Maybe it’s the love I put into every meal I prepare for him, or how he can trust me implicitly. I don’t know the exact reason but I know that he makes me feel beautiful, safe and loved.
After people hit 50, things start to happen to our mind, our hormones, and our bodies that no one talks about. Fifty is not the new 30, 50 IS 50. Still, we need to learn to accept ourselves, warts and all, and not beat ourselves up about who we are, who we are not or who we think we “should” be. I once asked my 90 year old grandmother why she had so many wrinkles, she told me her whole body was a map of her life and each line represented a different experience and emotion. When I am 90, I want to be able to look at my map and love every line on my body.
Which brings me to the main question of this post: is beauty only what we can see?
I had a friend growing up who struggled with her weight, but she had the best personality and was always happy. Others made fun of her and whispered behind her back, but I loved her company and nothing else mattered. She would wear her bikini in the summer and let it all hang out. She walked with such pride that after a while she became even more attractive than the other thin girls on the beach. Men would come around to hang with us and after spending time with our group, they would gravitate to her because she was, well, honestly happy. She ended up meeting the man of her dreams (a very handsome man at that) and married him, now has two grown children and lives an amazing life. We eventually lost touch but I will never forget how she inspired me.
I was attracted to her love of self and her courage to be who she felt most comfortable being – not an easy place to be, but one we should all try to reach. Our happiness and love for ourselves lives in only one place, within us. No one can give us that self-love or acceptance; we all need to muster the courage to let it all hang out sometimes. The risk is that you lose people that are worth losing, but you gain an unimaginable freedom.
What about our judgment of others because of their skin color, their social standing, their shape, their sexual preferences, their religion, etc… We need to look beyond what we can see, hear and touch. We need to dig a little deeper and find the truth about who that person really is, instead of judging only by what is visible.
How do you really feel seeing a handsome thin actor with a heavy or less-attractive wife in the tabloids? Do you judge him for not being with someone who is as beautiful and as in shape as he is, or do you praise him for loving every inch of his wife no matter what she looks like on the outside? Did you ever consider that a person can fall in love with someone less than perfect on the outside because they are more than perfect to them on the inside?
I remember when I lived in the city and would take the subway to work and watch people come in and out of the subway cars, including the less fortunate and homeless who would ask for money.
One day, I sat next to a man in a suit reading his newspaper and I saw him glance up at an older woman who appeared homeless, but clean, asking for money. As she passed him he called out her name, “Mrs…” something or another (I can’t remember), “is that you?” he asked. She turned to face him almost as if she had seen a ghost and nodded yes, and she had terribly sad eyes. I was all ears as they chatted and it turns out she was his English teacher in high school, she explained how her husband had left her, and they had no children or extended family left. She lost her home and then her job because she was living in her car, and no one would hire her because she had no place of residence. She tried a shelter for women but never felt safe there and it wasn’t until her car was repossessed that she started to sleep on the streets, subways and tunnels. One night turned into a week, then years and now it was just her way of life.
She asked him how he was doing and he proceeded to tell her what an inspirational teacher she was to him and how he owed his success in the business world to her because she never gave up on him, as some of the other teachers had. He gave his business card to her and said “If you ever need anything, please don’t ever hesitate to call me.” I will never know if she reached out to him but what I do know is that, in that moment, her eyes suddenly changed from sadness and emptiness to overwhelming pride, as she realized that she had made a difference in his life.
What do you think of when you see a homeless person begging on the street? Do you see a person who doesn’t want to work, a mentally ill person, a drug addict, a drunk? What if you had the courage to find out who they really were and how they came to live on the streets? You may be surprised.
Or how about when you see a model or a beautiful family or a person in amazing shape on the streets, in a restaurant or at a park? Do you think they have a perfect life with no problems, no issues? Do you see rich people in stores buying expensive things and wonder if they have any cares in the world? We see what we want to see and create this story in our own head to either compare ourselves to or to fantasize about, either way, the old adage holds true “Never judge a book by its cover.” We have no idea who these people really are beyond their cover; good or bad, pretty or ugly, black or white, gay or straight, thin or fat (you get the idea). But, one thing is certain – everyone has a mother, a father, and a story. What is yours?