What Beauty Means To Me

What exactly is beauty? As a writer, usually I’d go straight to the dictionary to see what it says, but its top definition is “the quality of being physically attractive.” To me, that feels extremely limited, especially since I feel like physical beauty is the last thing on a list that makes someone beautiful.

The world and media would make you believe this as well. Everywhere you look, you’re exposed to what they would call an “ideal” beauty: the perfect hair, gorgeous features, goddess-like body. But how many people actually have that supposed perfection? If that was truly the definition of beauty, a very small percentage of people would actually be beautiful. Plus, I’ve known gorgeous people who were extremely rude that I no longer found beautiful, and less attractive people with the best personalities that made them the most beautiful people on the planet. That’s why I don’t agree with that definition. So now, I’m going to redefine it to include the rest of us mere mortals.

I grew up in the wilderness. Back then, I didn’t care one bit what I looked like. I was a wild child, with scraggly hair and layers of dirt. When my mom forced me to chop all my hair off since I refused to brush it, I didn’t care at all. It was just hair. What was the point of caring if it was cute, or the most hideous haircut in the world? All I cared about was making people laugh. And when they would always talk about how cute and adorable I was, I realized that my sense of humor was part of my package. In fact, they never said anything about my physical attributes that I can remember, so I guess I saw that being funny equaled being cute.

Don't let it fool you, this hair is full of snarls from not being brushed

Don’t let it fool you, this hair is full of snarls from not being brushed

As I hit my teen years, that all changed. I went from never once having thought of my looks to being so obsessed with them that I compared myself to every other girl I came across…and failed miserably. I didn’t think I was ugly, exactly, but all my friends seemed to be so beautiful, as did the popular girls. I remember sitting behind this one girl in science class and just watching as she’d run a hand through her perfect hair. It would fall just a bit, but not too much, creating a pattern of lacing hair. I spent hours in front of the mirror trying to get my hair to do that, frustrated tears taking over when my stupid hair just wouldn’t do it.

Then, when I was sixteen, I all of a sudden gained weight. I was still skinny, but to me, all I saw was these curves that I just wanted gone. I’d been a scrawny thing before, and I wanted that back. I felt fat and undesirable. My looks, on top of just other things in my life, ended up taking over until I was in a deep depression that lasted for years. During this time, I just wanted to feel loved, but my looks and those other things made me feel like that was impossible; like I was unlovable. All I ever did was criticize myself during those years. I was never pretty enough, never good enough, never important enough. I don’t think I thought one positive thing about myself during that time.

What I felt like I always looked like as a teen (even though it's just an awful picture)

What I felt like I always looked like as a teen (even though it’s just an awful picture)

What I actually looked like most of the time as a teen (minus the colored hair mascara)

What I actually looked like most of the time as a teen (minus the colored hair mascara)

 

Fast forward about a decade, to when a friend of mine forced me to try to find my beauty. I just scoffed at first. How could I find my beauty when I had none? I wasn’t Jessica Alba. I wasn’t anything. Sure, I still had my sense of humor, but people no longer called me cute or adorable for it, because they looked at looks, and I didn’t think I was someone people found attractive. But this friend wouldn’t have it. He made me think of the physical things I hated about myself, starting with the one I hated the most. That was easy. I hated my stomach, I told him. It was soft and doughy. So he asked me to somehow make that into a positive. It took a while, and when I came up with an answer, it was more a joke than anything. What was my answer? That if I ever got lost in a frozen wilderness with no sustenance, my body could eat itself. Like I said, a total joke. But for some reason, it made me feel better.

The next thing I told him I hated was my extremely muscular calves. I have a friend who was a running back for the New York Giants, and he was always so jealous of my calves and the natural V I had in them. It made me think I had man calves. It got so bad that I’d wear only pants, even in 114 degree weather. What was my positive for them? Sure, they were ginormous, but man, were my legs strong. I could kick a soccer ball from one soccer goal to the other by 7 years old.

Interspersed with the bad, he’d have me tell him the features I liked, and why. That was harder, but I like my eyes and lips, so those two were easy to list out. What I liked best about his approach with this is that even if he made me compliment myself, he never once complimented anything physical back because he believed strongly that self-esteem from within was better than getting it from others. What he did compliment was my sense of humor, my empathy, the different way I looked at the world. He brought it back to being less about the physical, and more about the attitude and person one was deep inside. It helped me remember what I’d believed as a child.

Likewise, on days where I felt fat, he’d make me look at pictures of Queen Latifah and ask me if I thought she was fat or if I thought she was beautiful. I thought she was beautiful. It helped me realize that maybe others don’t see my few extra pounds. Or, if they did, they didn’t care about them. Then he’d explain to me that she was so beautiful because you could see her confidence and good character in every bit of her. In the way she stood, in the look in her eyes, in the way her smile was real and natural. She might not be sample size, but that didn’t matter because she was seriously so beautiful. More beautiful than a lot of models who you could tell had no self-esteem at all. Supposed perfection doesn’t equal self-love.

Over time, working with him, I noticed that I was no longer comparing myself to other women. Instead of looking at them and wishing I looked like them, I could look at them for their own beauty without diminishing my own. Likewise, I saw beauty in every woman of every shape and size, and with all kinds of facial features. I didn’t see flaws like I had before.

As I gained confidence and a positive outlook, I felt happier; I felt free. In that happiness, I realized that I didn’t need to have makeup on to feel pretty. Sure, it didn’t hurt, but I had an internal confidence that had me forgetting that maybe I wasn’t conventionally pretty, and maybe I don’t have the best body. See, that positive outlook seeped deep into my bones, until I was carefree like I had been as a child. I no longer cared what others thought of my outer beauty, because my inner happiness made it no longer matter.

Me now, no makeup needed to feel beautiful! Though it doesn't hurt. ;)

Me now, no makeup needed to feel beautiful! Though it doesn’t hurt. 😉

Right now Almay has a campaign out starring Carrie Underwood that’s all about strengthening women, and helping them find their beauty, a message that I really respect, especially coming from one of the top makeup brands in the world. In one of the videos for said campaign, the first thing Carrie Underwood says is how beauty is about how you feel (to see the rest of the uplifting and inspiring video, see below). I remember stopping it right there to think about it because I completely agree with her. Why? Because I have those days where I might feel gross, and that makes me no longer feel attractive. I also have those days where I look in the mirror and think I’m seriously unattractive. But those days, I notice I have an icky feeling in my chest. They’re negative days where everything is trying to bring me down. On my happiest days, I look at myself in the mirror and realize that I’m cuter than I thought I was. Especially on good hair days, and days where I might try a little with makeup. Whatever you need to feel more positive will help you find your own beauty.

No matter where you are emotionally in the scheme of things, I want you to know that you have beauty. Even if you can’t find it, it’s there. Try to get past all the negativity of the world and you’ll find it. I hope you do. Because if there’s one thing on this planet we all deserve, it’s to feel beautiful and to love ourselves.

*Disclaimer: Where this is a sponsored post by Almay, all opinions are 100% my own

©2014 A.D. Seeley