Figuring on jotting down some notes about a children’s story I’ve been inventing for my somewhat insomniac daughter, I pulled an old scrapbook off the back bookshelf. I assumed it was empty. Instead, I found one lone journal entry, written obviously with great expectation of having successors, but alas, followed by condemning white pages (albeit, with pretty dried flowers pressed into the recycled paper). So apparently I am about as good at consistency when writing in journals as when writing in blogs. A-hem.
Discussions with Beautiful Women
“Oh, Bronny,” she said, “I wish you wouldn’t. Your eyes are your best feature, and that really doesn’t flatter you.”
“Mom,” I replied, “That’s really not the point.”
Nor was it ever the point in any of my quasi-Gothic explorations, my multi-coloured hair, my rainbow eyelashes, nor my huge orange “raver” pants (that never actually made it to a rave).
In small town suburbia, “beauty” was very tightly confined, defined by an ideal with very little margin for error.
“You could have soooo been one of the popular girls, Bronwyn,” a friend/acquaintance once told me while marveling at (or perhaps attempting to de-tangle) my then long, thick blond hair. I believe my response came in the form of a horrified look suggesting, “How dare you suppose that I would ever wish to be?!”
“But, I like you just the way you are,” she concluded, which was good, because that’s just the way I liked me too.
I often long for the days when I didn’t care how “beautiful” I was, but was simply what I was: fully content. I remember listening to another high school friend lament over having not done fitness for the past three days, and about how concerned she was that she looked fat. “Really, honestly, I thought, “this is ridiculous.”
“Don’t you ever feel self-conscious about that sort of thing, Bronwyn?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, despite having been one of those girls who had gained over 25 pounds between the start and finish of high school. “If any guy is going to be interested in me, I want it to be someone who doesn’t care about stuff like that, but who will like me for who I am, ” I declared, and really honestly, I believed it.
“Must be nice,” my friend muttered sadly.
“Yeah, it was nice,” I recall; what happened?
“I am aware of every pound gained, every pound lost. I know exactly what my body looks like, and everyone else’s around. If anyone gains or looses weight, I notice. Every day, every moment, I am comparing my body to others and am discerning how each activity I do, each thing I eat affects what I look like.”At the time, I felt genuine sympathy. I imagined that what my friend described must be like struggling with some awful disease. Now, I don’t imagine. I know it’s true. Some days I feel great, others, I don’t. At times I can forget about it and live “freely;” at other times, I am obsessed.I often look back on my high school attitude with fondness, and yet, there are aspects of my former attitude that I no longer condone. I had little respect for the beauty of my body and took little, if any time to celebrate my femininity. It is admirable that I did not worry about my appearances, but perhaps not so admirable that I didn’t care (period). I didn’t care much about strength, health, or simply appreciating my physical qualities.
Imagine a father who has many children. He gives them each a beautiful, unique potted flower and entrusts them to care for it all on their own. I imagine he would be quite sad to see some of his children silently fretting over each petal, leaf and stem while looking at each other’s flowers and wishing that theirs was different. I imagine the father would feel as if his gifts were received ungratefully if his children were constantly wishing that their flowers looked more like someone else’s. On the other hand, it may also seem ungrateful were one to take the flower, say “thank you,” and promptly place it in a dark room with little light, often forgetting to water it. To allow the gift to wither and wilt rather than to place it on display and make it look as beautiful as possible would surely disappoint the giver as well.
It appears to me that the path from neglecting to celebrating to obsessing over one’s body and self-appearance is a slippery slope that many (perhaps most) women have struggled upon at some time in their lives. What are the triggers that cause us to lose our footing? Can we reach out to others for support? Who or what will help us, and is the problem only considered a problem when extreme ends of neglect or obsession are reached, thus risking our lives? What will cause us to fall? Do we know when we are pushing others down, or dragging them with us?
I cannot answer these questions, but I can only reflect on things past that may have caused me to lose my footing and give in, in some way or another to vanity’s forces.
In my first year away at University, I decided, with the purest intentions only, to start running. I knew it would improve my health and mental clarity. I also began to eat better, no longer in a state of teenage-rebellion against my mother’s oh-so-organically-wholesome cooking, but in a place whereby I longed to be responsible and as true to my upbringing as possible. I went from a casual runner who enjoyed the “social drinking” of slurpees to a stir-fry and granola nut who trained daily for triathlons. Needless to say, I lost weight. I may not have even noticed, myself, but others did. I heard no end of, “Bronwyn, you look great!”. People who grew up with me, family members, old friends: all seemed impressed by my new figure. Personally, I was just impressed that I could do a triathlon and enjoy it, but with some persuasion from the compliments of well-meaning “others”, that eventually changed.
Rather suddenly it came to my awareness that I could be “one of the pretty girls” and soon that sense of attainability had me obsessed to the point that I no longer even appreciated who I was, but wanted to look just like an image – an image that I had so recently despised. Curious. It’s like a poor but content man being given some money, and suddenly having a little makes him unsatisfied by the desire of always wanting more. But that’s money. Everyone knows that money is the root of all evil. But beauty? Innocent, enchanting, angelic beauty? Could such a delicacy really cause such harm?