i grew up thinking I was not very pretty. Smart, yes. Pretty,no. It was part of the roles my father carved out for us in my family. My sister was the pretty one but not too smart. I was the smart one but not pretty. my shoulders too broad, my breasts too small, my opinions too loud.
I look back at those photos of my childhood and adolescence (when the pretty thing became really important) and I see how wrong I was. That bright, alive, curious, adventurous girl was pretty…beautiful actually. But because she couldn’t see it in herself, she didn’t see it reflected back to her from others.
I still struggle with this–I do not look like a classical pretty woman. My body is shaped like an apple, the hair on my head thinning and growing instead in odd places on my face. I am the perfect specimen for the ads on Facebook that encourage one to reach for youth (re: unattainable beauty). I do not believe those products will work for me. It isn’t youth I need.
I do believe I am smart, not pretty. I also believe I am kind and curious and adventurous and compassionate. And that is really something beautiful about me.
And you know, sometimes, I look in the mirror and actually hear myself say “you are pretty today”.
You may have seen this wonderful speech by Lupita Nyong’o’s speech from the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon hosted by Essence. She talks about being dark skinned and hence not beautiful. ‘You cannot eat beauty’ her mother tells her. Lupita’s insights are for all of us.
watch. she is inspiring. Lupita’s thoughts about beauty
me on 3/3/14
My companion is a 14 month old German Shepherd named Shya (after the last named Shine and the one before named Shelby-you see the pattern).
She stands at my bedside at 6:00 a.m. and whines, first soft then with increasing strength and pitch. I trundle down the stairs to let her out. It is cold. 15 degrees below zero. She stands in the hallway looking. No she doesn’t want to go out. She wants me awake.
She doesn’t want food. She wants me awake. She wants me to be awake as she is, experiencing life consciously, immediately, fully. She is awake and wants to be awake with all the world that is important to her. The world doesn’t have to DO anything–just be awake.
Mary Oliver has a wonderful book of poetry called Dog Songs. This one reminds me of Shya’s desire for me to share the awakeness of the world.
LITTLE DOG’S RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.
of course there is the afternoon nap…when I am awake. But I find joy in watching her sleep too.
I have to admit, my tendency is to worry and get stuck in thinking about why things didn’t work. I know in my intellectual brain, it would be more effective to look at the things that go right. Retraining the grooves in my head to see and give weight to the things that go well. Sort of the light verses darkness thing.
Martin Seligman, is considered the Founding Father of Positive Psychology. This is a study of assets that lead to well-being (the lab word for happiness) in contrast to the study of conditions that cause suffering. I think we need both but he makes an interesting point that we are conditioned to dwell on what doesn’t work. It was his theories of Positive Psychology that we used to create our working process in TVbyGIRLS–finding and accenting assets each girl has that can lead her to successful adult life of subjective well-being and engagement. (yes, that is Happiness).
What Seligman says:
For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.
He suggests two exercises, one to write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life…a good difference…and then visit them and share the letter. The other is called the Three Blessings–every night write down 3 things that went well today and WHY. When I think about it, this raises my anxiety level. I am not sure why but that is a sure signal for me that it scares me and hence I need to try it.
You can see the article I saw and see what you think here: