In the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, beauty is described as "the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit." Mona Lisa was thought to be a beautiful woman in her time. When I looked up the definition of "beauty", I thought it would talk of the physical attractiveness of a person or thing, not the qualities in them and how the qualities give pleasure to the senses or how they please the mind or spirit! Boy...how misled have the world and I been all these years?!
This is going to be another very personal topic for me today, one that isn't going to be very easy to write about. One I need to address, tho, for myself. It's one that I don't care if anyone responds to or not...this one is for me!! I'm going to write it...I'm going to read it back to myself...and then I'm going to be brave enough to put it on screen.
When I was a girl growing up in a male-dominated home, beauty was not high on our priority list. Beauty wasn't even ON any list that I can think of. I was taught to be tough. I was taught I could do anything the boys could do. Strength, both physical and mental, was what was admired in our household. Each summer, as soon as school was out, I was taken to Sis's Beauty Shop and my mom would have my hair cut almost as short as my brothers', then it was left to grow until NEXT summer. No barettes or ponytails for my hair...I was such a tomboy I scoffed at them anyway. In the summers I ran around barefoot in shorts and t-shirts. During the school year I had to wear dresses...pants and jeans weren't allowed back in those days. I never had dainty Mary Jane shoes...I was so tough on my shoes I got a pair of ugly old Saddle Shoes for school every year. I never gave any consideration to what I looked like physically....I was a friendly, outgoing little girl with lots of friends and self-confidence and I never considered whether I was pretty or ugly or somewhere in between.
When I was around 10 or 11, I overheard part of a conversation my mom was having with a friend of hers. I didn't hear what my mom had said but I heard my mom's friend's response and it cut me to the core. She said, "Kristine is in her ugly duckling stage right now, but I really believe some day she'll grow into a swan." Well, I didn't focus on the "swan" part....I just heard the "ugly duckling". Oh, how it hurt my young heart. Oh, how it wreaked havoc on my tender psyche for years to come. I look at photos of myself at that age and I have to agree with Sharon...I WAS homely. I was tall for my age, developed early, and with my sawed-off hair and glasses I surely wasn't a very feminine little girl! I was also "solid as the Rock of Gibraltar", as my Dad liked to tell me when he'd give me a horse-bite on my knee. And as an adolescent, the nickname "Moose" that my dad and brothers gave me didn't help much either. I remember going down the stairs one night to my brother Ted's room...we were pretty close at the time and I was going to tell him about getting my first kiss. When I got to his room, he turned and looked at me and said, "G--, you are SO ugly!" Needless to say, I didn't tell him about that kiss. When I'd start at different middle schools when we moved to Vancouver, kids would tell me I was ugly, too. I thought, "If everyone thinks I'm ugly, I really MUST be."
Words. Words can be so cruel. One thing about those years, they taught me to be very careful about whatever comes out of my mouth. Even if I don't necessarily agree with someone's opinion of something, I still find a positive response of some sort. I will never, ever intentionally hurt anyone with words. Words are devastating. Experts talk about neglect and physical abuse being so destructive to children. Words do more damage than the worst beating in the world. Physical abuse can harm the body...words can kill the spirit.
My husband has told me he thinks I'm the most beautiful woman in the world to him. My children tell me I'm pretty. I get all flustered and embarrassed. I blush. I stammer. I don't know how to respond. I don't know how to believe what they say is true. I learned to blank out my image years ago every time I look in a mirror.
I had another one of those "epiphany" moments in my life recently. I went over to my brother Eric's house to sort through several photo albums full of family pictures that had been stored at my Dad's house . I probably hadn't seen most of those photos for 30 years. I wasn't sure I even wanted to see or keep any of those taken of me when I was a young girl. Something very strange happened as we sat together and leafed thru the pages of the albums, tho. I saw a pretty young woman of around 17 looking out at the camera. A girl with wavy long hair, beautiful high cheekbones courtesy of her Swedish heritage. Bright hazel eyes. She wasn't fat....she was even easy on the eyes! She was ME! I sat and stared at that young woman and thought "All of these wasted years, thinking I didn't measure up to the world around me because I never believed I was beautiful!" Stunning...no. Glamorous...definitely not. But when I look at those photos, I see the qualities of that person shining from within. I see a young woman with hope in her eyes, an uncertain smile that tells the world she's somewhere in there just bursting to get out and taste life. I see beauty. Sharon's prediction came true, after all.