Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Beauty

I didn't want to be unhappy with my body when I was a teenager. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be positive, and not care about what other people thought of me. I wanted to think I was beautiful.

But.

I was short. Short legs. Short torso. Short everything.

And my thighs always seemed too thick.

And even though I was a size zero, my stomach wasn't perfectly flat. And my arms weren't as slender as I thought they should be.

AND MY THIGHS. MY STUPID THIGHS. The way they spread out when I sat down!

Then there was my face. My nose was just a little bit bigger than my ideal image of what a girl's nose should be. My lips a little bit smaller. My eyes a little bit too close together. My ears too low. (My ears too low?? Yes. My ears too low. I decided my ears were too low.) My neck not long enough.

My hands and my eye color I was happy with. Those could remain as is.

So in my head I developed this elaborate fantasy. I didn't want to want to change the way I looked, but in this fantasy some sort of magic person (misguided! maybe a bit evil!) decided they were in love with me and, without my permission, magically changed my looks to perfect every little flaw. I was horrified! How terrible!

But...I was perfect. So when I got away from the crazed and misguided magical plastic surgeon, darnit, I had to take all that perfection with me.

Fast forward several years. Hot Stuff and I, fairly newly married, are watching a reality TV program called The Swan. The premise was that "ugly" women were taken, given extensive plastic surgery and intense personal training, and were then revealed to their families and loved ones as New and Improved! Which, from the get-go, is kind of a twisted concept.

But I remember one woman, the oldest contestant (in her mid-forties), getting ready to go under the knife. She had a distinctive nose with a rather large bump in the middle that they were going to shave off to give her idealized, "perfected" features.

She said no. The reason she said no? Because her two teenage daughters had her same nose. And when she looked at them, she saw beauty and perfection, and she could see the same in herself using them as her mirrors. So she kept her nose, and she lost the competition aspect of the program.

But she kept herself, both for herself and for her daughters.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman. Elegant--always wearing jewel-toned suits, her hair well-set, her makeup in place as she played the piano better than anyone I knew. I loved her and she held an important part in my life. She died when I was seventeen, and for months afterward I'd dream of her and wake up crying. My mother got some of my grandmother's things, including a picture.


I still can't walk by it without doing a double-take, thinking it's a photo of me.

That's the face--the history--the me I would have wished away. The me my parents loved and raised. The me my future husband would fall in love with. The me that would cradle my own children and feel their tiny hands on my face.

I don't wish it away anymore. I'm happy with the quirks and details of my face, with the way I can see my grandmothers and my parents in me, the way that I can see tiny details of myself in my children (who, as it happens, look exactly like my husband's side of the family, except maybe in the set of their eyes--the same set of their eyes I wanted to change in myself but now find utterly and completely lovely).

Being generically perfect isn't beautiful. Thighs and necks and skin and (heaven forbid) ears have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is in the stories of our faces, the people who have loved us, the people we have loved and do love and will love. Beauty is what we have survived and what we will create. Beauty is stamped into the way our eyes shift when we smile, the things our hands do, the kindness that comes out of our mouths. Beauty is not how the world sees us, but what we take of ourselves and give to the world.

Today when you look in the mirror, don't wish yourself away. Trace the lines of your face, the you that you are. Because you are beautiful.

61 comments:

Chelsey said...

this is an amazing post. thank you. It's sad how often we need to be reminded of this.

Or at least I do.

YA Bibliophile said...

Thank you Kiersten. That was lovely and something I want all my students and the women I love to read. You are beautiful.

Angela Felsted said...

I love this post! And I remember having the same feelings of insecurity when I was a teenager. Thinking I was fat before I even knew what fat was.

It doesn't help that society hoists a set standard of beauty on us all. Though I've grown to embrace my flaws, I fear for my daughters sometimes. My seven-year-old girl who thinks her face is too fat because she has the most adorable round cheeks ever.

Laura said...

i saw that episode of The Swan and it stuck with me too.

what an amazing message.
x

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Wow! You do look like your grandmother. That's amazing--and beautiful!

This is a terrific post. Thanks for sharing.

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Beautifully written. And WOW do you look like your grandmother! I look at my Grandmothers and see nothing of myself in them. My Dad hung pictures of our family 'tree' on the wall. Great big ones. So, I can see which of my features came from where. That used to bug me. I didn't want to look like my relatives, but now I don't worry about that any more. It's funny what bugs you when you're young.

Ashley said...

What a wonderful post! And so right. Every girl should read this post.

Julia said...

Excellent post, Kiersten! I think you and your grandmother are beautiful - inside & out!

Tiffany Garner said...

Thanks so much for this. I can't even begin to tell you how great this post was to me personally.

Becky Mahoney said...

This is gorgeous. Thank you.

Julie@My5monkeys said...

Thanks so much and beauty is in the eye of the beholder :)

Liz said...

Well said. :)

Though I will probably still wish away those extra baby pounds when I look in the mirror today.

Kristen said...

You are absolutely the spitting image of your grandmother. I did a double take, too. That is so, so special.

Amy Plum said...

What a beautiful post, Kiersten. It brought tears. And you are the spitting image of your grandmother - both of you beautiful.

J said...

I recently got to see some baby pictures of my mom, and it's startling how much we look alike. Everyone tells me I look like my dad, so it was a shock to see such a resemblance. Thank you for a beautiful post on beauty! :)

Jared B. Peterson said...

Are you absolutely POSITIVE that's not you dressed in a vintage dress and photo-shopped to look like an old picture? 'Cause that's kinda freaky --- in a really good way. =)

Kate said...

Wow, amazing post. Thank you Kiersten.
Your grandmother looks exactly like you! Exactly! I seriously thought it was you when I first say the picture, "thinking so what's the story, why did she take that photo?" then I read the post, and wow! That is so cool!
It's funny your post reminded me of two stories, The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld (amazing, amazing books by the way!) And the story of the two girls one receives the jewels falling out of her mouth, because she is truly beautiful, and the other receives snakes and spiders, because her heart is painted black. . .
I want to save this post and have it forever! Read it to all the girls who are unsatisfied with themselves, because they really are perfect, exactly how God made them to be, just the way they are.

Robin said...

Thank you for this post. Well written and so true. And wow-you do look like your grandmother.

Emily said...

I had long skinny legs that were always too long for jeans, unless I got a size bigger that didn't fit around my waist.

I always wished for "normal" legs. And for beautiful skin.

Now, I'm grateful for the legs. Still wish for the beautiful skin just a little bit though.

Lovely post, thanks for sharing!

Cortney said...

I love this post! Thank you so much for sharing it, and I can't believe how much you look like your grandmother! My dad always told me I looked like his mother, but that was when I was a lot younger and I think wrinkles look deeper to a child than an adult, so I was always like, "What?" I never understood what he was saying lol. But you are so right! Thanks again for posting this.

Sarah said...

Aw. Love this! It takes so long to learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are and not who we wish we were.

heidikins said...

A) I love this post. All of it.

B) I had to to a triple take on that photo to determine if you weren't just dressed up in old-timey clothes/hair and then changed it to black and white. What an incredible piece of your history! (Aaaaand, I just got goosebumps. All over.)

xox

February Grace said...

This post has me in tears. Just beautiful, and so important.

Thank you-- it's a gift.

I look at my own teenage daughter and see beauty that she can't. Other people say they see things in me I still can't see at 40.

I hope I can someday see them too, and I hope she learns to long before I do.

thank you again for this.

~bru

Tina Moss said...

This is by far and away my favorite post. It's a wonderful story of your journey, and I couldn't be happier that you've found the destination. Beauty isn't about some idealistic image of perfection. It is about except yourself, flaws and all.

folksinmt said...

Beautiful post (sorry, I couldn't think of better word!) You look SO much like her. Incredible!I'm going to tape that 2nd to last paragraph on my mirror.

phyllis sweetwater said...

excellent post. heart warming and inspiring. and she does look like you!

Jen said...

Beautiful post! As the mother of an 11 yr old girl (going on 16), this post hits home. She's just beginning to go through all this and she's the most beautiful creature in the world to everyone but herself. I'm going to make her read this now....

Bahnree said...

I always feel like such a mindless sycophant when I comment because I always just want to say things like "AGH KIERSTEN YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT AND THIS POST IS BRILLIANT AND YOU MAKE ME LAUGH AND CRY AND AGH" but it is all so true! Thank you for this post (I needed it today). And, er, don't get egotistical from all the love! Maybe I'll think of something negative to say to you, to balance it out. Tomorrow. Maybe.

Lexie said...

This is a gorgeous post, and so very true. Physical perfection isn't beauty. If everyone was flawless physically, everyone would be bland, boring. It's the things we may consider flaws, like our ears sitting too low, that define us, set us apart.
And as you grow to know a person, they become more attractive. I think all of my good friends are beautiful. I think my sister is stunning. I don't know if other people perceive them this way, but that's how they appear to me.

pinksuedeshoe said...

I love this post. And yeah... spitting (but the nice kind of spitting) image of your grandmother. Triple take over here! This is a beautiful post. I got all teary thinking about how much my daughter looks like me. And how I think she is perfect.

I also remember that episode of the Swan... I was so proud of that mother.

liz said...

I LOVE that picture of Grandma! And I thought it was you at first too! You are lucky to look like her so much :)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thank you for lifting my pregnant spirits stretch marks and all :-)

Jen J. Danna said...

Thank you for a beautiful post. I just sent the link to both of my teenaged daughters. Teenaged girls especially need to be reminded that they are beautiful.

And wow! Do you ever look like your grandmother! Both so very beautiful... :)

Hannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephanie Perkins said...

I gasped loudly when I saw that picture. WHOA. A clone! And a beautiful one, at that. :-)

This post is fantastic and so, so important. Off to RT.

Carrie said...

Wonderful post. I love looking at pics of my grandma, my mom, my sister and cousins and nieces and seeing how we look alike.

Debbie Barr said...

Thank you, Kiersten. I scrolled down and thought your grandmother's picture was of you at first, too! Beautiful post and thoughts on, well, beauty!

We Heart YA said...

Tweeted, FB-ed, +1-ed, etc. Wonderful post, Kiersten.

Kereesa said...

Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU. For the honesty and for the lovely post.

Kelley said...

Oh, geez. Even looking at your profile pic and the one in this post, you two look so much alike!

I agree with all of this! Very well said. <3

Rebecca said...

This was so lovely it almost made me cry! Makes me think of the song Beautiful You by Jonny Diaz. And the book Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine.

alastaircookie said...

Thank you. This post is so beautiful it made me cry a little bit. You have no idea how much I needed this.

Glorious Books said...

This made me cry a little in college! Thank you for thinking to post it, it's beautiful.

Kelly said...

Thank you for postg this, Kiersten. I've struggled with my image so much and this really helped and made me cry a little too. Thank you. :)

Kristi said...

Easily one of my favorite posts you've ever written (and that's saying something because you entertain me and make me laugh on a regular basis).

This was beautiful. Thank you. And thanks for sharing that gorgeous photo of your grandmother. You're both VERY lovely ladies. :P

Lydia Sharp said...

I am one of four children, and three of us are girls. I look the most like our mother (nearly identical), and I've always loved that. This is a beautiful post. Thank you. :)

Paranormal Opinion said...

Amazing post. I, too, have always had insecurities about the way I look. Your post sends such a wonderful message! Thank you.

Lindsey said...

You are awesome. Thank you for this.

Lauren said...

What a terrific post, Kiersten. Thank you!

Becka-la said...

Oh my god i almost cried!

I feel the same way you did at the moment... all of my "imperfections" i would rather not have.

However, one thing i don't like about myself, that is my double chin, will and ALWAYS will be there even if i was a size zero (which i do not intend to be) as i was given steroids as a baby to keep me alive. Even though this isn't a historical thing or a genetic thing for me that i will see in my children, it is a reminder of how, even with the miniscule chance of my survival (and that's WITH all of the possible disabilities) i lived, and am a 'little miricle baby' in my mothers eyes.

I know in the future, when i find my soulmate (and i WILL find my soulmate), and he loves me for all that i am, i will finally feel comfortable in who i am.

Thank you for this post. And i really mean it.

Ciara Glynn said...

I'm tearing up, here!
You won't believe how hard this hits - I have freckles and red hair (soulless, so, if recent speculation is to be believed, even though I'm pretty sure my soul is more intact than the person who started that story), weird teeth that don't sit right, a smile I call a 'happy grimance' and eyes that are only pretty when you cancel out the rest of my face...or that's how I usually feel. Today I felt that way...but this post sort of made it better. At the risk of sounding corny and sucky-uppy...THIS is one of the most inspirational things I have ever read. It easy for someone to say "Beauty is on the inside", but when it's such an easy thing, you can't take it seriously. But the way you spent time to point out the difference between 'perfect' beauty and emotional beauty was uplifting. So before I unwittingly write the cript for a Brady Bunch reboot, I'll just thank you very much Kiersten White.
(PS: your grandmother was a beautiful woman...but I honestly thought, from your blog photo, that the picture was one of you taken by a professional photographer, made to look like something from the olden days. SUCH a resemblence!)

Page (One Book At A Time) said...

What an amazing post Kiersten. It's something I think so many of us need to stop and remember!

Kylie1403 said...

WELL SAID! I think when we are in High school (Hell I am mid-twenties right now and I still have crap days) its so easy to see the imperfections.. but what we might see as bad or ugly others might see as beautiful and vice versa... It is so hard to just see yourself as beautiful... especially when the media like to point out our flaws.
Thanks for this post! reminding us how unique and beautiful we each are

Fiona Li said...

It's a good reminder everyone needs.
Thank you.

And you do have an amazing resemblance!

Stray said...

brava! A wonderful post. And I always thought you were pretty (I really mean it, and when I saw a picture of you for the first time I kinda wished I had your eyes)

Mocha ღ Latte said...

Your post really moved me, Kiersten!

Traxy said...

Beautifully written. Great reminder for everyone, young and old! And both you and your grandmother are beautiful. You do look a lot like her, judging from the photo on the blog. :)

Lady Gwen said...

This was an awesome post, Kiersten. Exactly the reminder we all need. I got my grandma's ankles - why couldn't I get her boobs? (JK!)

Jessie Oliveros said...

This is an amazing post, Kiersten. You are your grandmother's twin. What a great heritage. I was thin as a teenager but worried all the time that I was too fat. It was all so silly. You are right. I'd hate to change anything about the way I look because it's ME...and my ancestors...and my posterity. (Basically echoing your thoughts because I like being original.)

Jordanne said...

1. Ohmygod, you look EXACTLY like her....whoaness...I have a picture of my older sis and mom and they look like identical twins :)

2. Thank you for this. I just turned 17 and struggle everyday with my looks. There are so many other girls who are prettier, funnier, smarter. My sister is drop-dead gorgeous, 5 inches taller and 10 pounds thinner, but she loves me for who I am. I force myself to look in the mirror and say, "You. Are. Pretty. STOP SULKING."

3. I love you. Truly.

Cathy of Eyelash Growth Products said...

It was such a great post! You inspire me so much girl and i love you for that. Your amazingly beautiful for me.