Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beautiful

I came across a beautiful quote in a magazine while waiting in the doctor’s office today. It was a fashion magazine, and I didn’t really expect to find anything in but new cute clothes. I stumbled across an article by one of my favorite authors, Julia Alvarez, and suddenly I did not want my name to be called. The quote was: “…beauty really is the gift of ourselves we give to another.”

Alvarez’s basic point was that if a person is happy with who she truly is, she will be beautiful no matter what she looks like. She wrote that in her sixties, she was as beautiful as she was in her thirties and forties, simply because she was happy to be herself. This is a message we women hear often, but for some reason today, it really struck me. I think it is because as an early twenty-something woman, I have not had to face the aging process, but I sometimes worry about the day when I will. The truth is, it is silly for me to worry, because in my family I am surrounded by women who have aged with beauty and grace.

One such beautiful woman is my Nana, and although she is beautiful every day, I have a particular memory from when I was 13 that still stays with me today. For my Grandaddy’s 70th birthday, the family took a cruise down to Mexico. There was a formal dinner on the ship one night, and everyone had brought special outfits for the dinner. All the ladies dressed up in their carefully chosen dresses or skirts, and did their makeup perfectly. All of us donned exquisite matching jewelry, and many of us had new shoes for the occasion. We took a family picture, all of us together in our glamour, and to this day, I think the standout in the picture is my Nana. She was in her late sixties in the picture, and she is absolutely radiant. This picture is a moment in time that reminds me that my Nana knows what true beauty is. Her smile, both in the picture and in person today, always strikes people. It makes them feel welcomed and loved. It shows that she is happy with who she is, and invites others to feel the same.

True beauty usually is not found in the young. Their bodies may be well toned and they may be fashionable, but that is not true beauty. We are told that true beauty comes from being ourselves, but it’s hard to really understand this concept when we compare ourselves to the glamorous people in movies and in magazines. We worry so much about our appearance that we forget about being happy with who we are. Yet even this concept of beauty is too inward focused.

I can only say that I am beginning to grasp the source of true beauty. I still have my self conscious days, when my bangs flip out on the side of my head and make me look like I have hairy wings, when I have a zit on my chin that stays for days, or when I compare myself to someone who seems to have it all together in the fashion sense. Yet I am beginning to understand that beauty comes from the heart behind a smile. That’s why Julia Alvarez’s quote meant so much. Too often we make beauty about ourselves. Am I beautiful? Did I mess up my mascara? Are my toenails starting to chip? However, beauty really isn’t about us. It’s about how we give ourselves to others. If we apologize for ourselves, or fret about our appearance, we are not really giving. Giving comes when we forget about ourselves, and consider the other before ourselves. And in that giving, we become beautiful. That’s why the notion of true beauty is so hard to understand. The advice we are given to be more beautiful is usually focused on ourselves. Really, if we forgot about ourselves, we would become truly beautiful.

I doubt my Nana was thinking, “What a great necklace I have on,” or “My makeup is perfect today” in that picture. She was surrounded by her family, and I’ll bet that she was thinking about how wonderful it was to have all of us together, and to be with us. She was thinking about the rest of us, not herself, and it showed in her smile.

From now on, when I look in the mirror, I want to remind myself to turn away and go give a smile to my husband, to my preschoolers, or to my friends. The mirror does not need the smile, but someone else might.

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