Like most of America, there’s a portion of every day spent getting ready in front of a mirror. Before going out into the world we like to check that we’re presentable. And like much of America, after I’ve checked that everything I’ve done is acceptable, I spend a moment looking at my flaws. I have cellulite because who doesn’t, and stretch marks because I used to be 150 lbs heavier. Sometimes I can’t believe it, then I get a Timehop picture notification from 5 years ago and think, “Oh.”
Anyway…I have freckles, frizz, and fur-on-my-lip (I needed alliteration, people!). I have a hereditary double chin and random, un-suspicious moles. I have a snubby nose and a unibrow, a moderately high forehead that looks terrible with bangs, but I feel it gives me a permanently “I’m interested in what you’re saying” look. I’m not, though. Permanently interested. Sometimes I’m bored as hell.
For some random reason, one day this week my self-criticism ritual lingered on my mind after I moved from the mirror. It stayed with me the rest of the day. I’ve heard people say that you’re your own worst critic, and I’m certain it’s true, but I was curious. So I went about my day actively trying to see all the physical flaws of everyone else.
I looked for the random birthmark, the unshaven legs, the blotchy skin. I looked for figure flaws, too much fat, too many bones, bad hairstyles. But I didn’t find what I thought I would find. I saw the flaws, because I searched for them. But what I found weren’t flaws at all. I found people more beautiful. People I wouldn’t have noticed had I not looked for what was wrong with them.
I saw a slightly overweight woman with overly bleached hair, looking like straw. But her hair drew me to her face, to her eyes, to the set of her jaw. I saw a woman who looked perfectly content standing in a slow-moving line at the grocery store. She might have just popped a Xanax, but maybe not. Maybe she was just content. All I know for sure is that if it weren’t for her weight, and then her hair, I might never have noticed that a person like her was out there. That SHE was out there. Shopping for groceries. Contemplating a Crock-Pot purchase. Buying a last minute pack of gum.
There was a man at the bank. I first saw him from behind while I was in line and he was at the teller’s window. He was too short, but not short enough to be considered “little”. He was wearing an oversized and ratty coat, worn out sneakers, and camouflage pants. I assumed he was recently un-homeless or living in a shelter…or a van down by the river. The teller counted out his money to him and the man turned my direction to leave the bank. His face was very dark brown and looked like leather. His race could have been African American, Hispanic, Palestinian, Canadian. His skin was wrinkly, his eyes kind of bugged out due to his coke-bottle glasses. And when I looked at him he saw me, and shared the most beautiful smile. It wasn’t even beautiful on its own; when he spread out his mouth with that smile I saw how it further wrinkled his face and bugged out his eyes, and he was missing teeth. But there was a happiness, or a peace, that emanated from him. His physical oddity only made his joy that much more outstanding.
I saw these and many others, and each time all their differentness managed to do was draw my attention to them, and once drawn there all I saw was beauty. Not merely because they let their inside selves outside, but because their outsides themselves were unique and beautiful.
So I decided to look for my own uniqueness, my own outer beauty. I noticed how the skin of my upper arms is slightly tan and very freckly on the outside and fades to Irish white at my flabby, cellulitey triceps. I saw my poochy tummy, my skinny ankles, the moles on my left cheek and right hand, All the things that appear to make me less than.
And I realized I love them. My triceps are flabby because losing weight sometimes makes skin looser. My tummy is only poochy now, while it used to be just a roll of fat leading from just below my breasts to my pelvis. My ankles have been the consistent skinny part of my body and I’ve always loved them so maybe this example doesn’t count.
The mole on my right hand appeared the day, 11 years ago, that I decided to divorce my first husband; while I’ve kept my fingers crossed all these years that it’s not cancer (not likely, since it appeared and has remained the exact same since then), I also love it. I love it because it reminds me of a good decision I made for myself. It reminds me that I’m worth something, and, more importantly, that I KNOW I’m worth something. Worth being happy. Worth not being hurt.
I don’t know what other people notice. They look at me and create their own story of my life in the brief moment they pass me on the sidewalk, when I go out to eat, when I go to the mall or the bank. They either notice me or not, evaluate me or not, smile at me or not. They don’t know that my hair is frizzy sometimes because I’m too lazy to put product in my curly hair. But if they notice and evaluate me, they’ll have their own understanding of why my hair sometimes looks like I have an affinity for playing with knives and electrical outlets. They create a person out of my flaws, out of my perfections. I hope that person they see shows them a little bit of beauty.
The good, the bad, and the ugly. It all adds up to beauty, if we only allow ourselves to see it.