Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Evening Freebie... Are You Beautiful?

Note: I penned this several years ago...  but I think it remains one of my favorite things I've ever written.


I recently watched my daughters play dress-up. They got out all of their dancing clothes. Pink flowy dresses that spread way out when they spun in circles. Purple sparkly dress-up high heels. Strands of beads. White gloves. The whole package. They grabbed their "princes" (their favorite stuffed animals), put on a Barbie soundtrack and spun in circles, dancing for half an hour. I watched delight spread over their faces as they practiced being beautiful.

I can remember doing that as a child. I can remember the tutus and the spinning dresses. I remember putting on my mom's records while my sisters and I made up dance routines to Olivia Newton-John and Chariots of Fire. We made my mom sit through them as they were performed. Over and over and over and over again. I remember bowing and watching my mom's face for a look. The one that said "You are beautiful and I adore you." I usually got it and my mom made me believe that, at 6 years old, I was beautiful.

I sit here today and wonder when I did something like that last? When did I do something beautiful for the sheer act of being beautiful? When did I truly FEEL that I, Joanne, was beautiful? FOR REAL. Not just pretty. Not just cute. Not just nice-looking. Not just "not-bad"... but really and truly beautiful. Where does that go?

I KNOW the desire is there. DEEPLY THERE. Last week, I exchanged "Friday pictures" with a bunch of my girlfriends. We all snapped pictures of each other with our digital cameras and emailed them to each other, accompanied by excuses for why we didn't look perfect. What followed was wave after wave of "You are so beautiful," "You look like you've lost a lot of weight," "I love your hhyuyuyiair!" "I would kill for your lips!" I can't speak for the rest of the women, but for me? I was beaming. To be told that I was beautiful?? That someone envied something about the way I looked? It made my whole MONTH.

We desperately want to know that we're beautiful. And I don't think it's just a shallow thing. I watch my daughters... I watch their delight when their daddy pays attention to them, tells them he loves them, tells them that they are his beautiful angels. I see the ecstasy that passes over them, and THAT'S REAL. AND GOOD. I don't believe the desire to be loved and cherished by their dad is a culture thing. It's a God thing. God created us to be beautiful. Unashamedly beautiful.  Not the ONLY reason He created us, certainly. But, He created us in beauty.

So where did it all go wrong? Why are there SO MANY women who don't believe they are beautiful?? Why are there so many women who believe that they are not enough? Don't believe me? Go look at any weight loss forum. Go look at the HUGE number of women's magazines that are out there teaching us how to be more beautiful. We do not have faith in our own beauty. And we are looking for anything to tell us how to get there.

Do you wanna know a secret, girls? You won't find the answer in Cosmopolitan. Or Vogue. Or In Style. Or in Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or Atkins. Because it doesn't have anything to do with what you physically look like. It has to do with being comfortable with the WOMAN you were made you to be. It means wearing the skin of a woman like you were born to it. AND YOU WERE. We've bought into the world's idea of beauty. Supermodel. Miss America. The right figure. The right makeup. The right hair. But beauty isn't about that.

This may not be a perfect example... but you know who I think is REALLY beautiful? I mean, REALLY beautiful. Queen Latifah. You know why? Because she's not Cyndi Crawford. She is not the typical traditional idea of beauty. She's not petite! She's not thin. But, I think she's totally sexy because she seems to be comfortable with herself.  She isn't shy about being fully herself. 

When I was 16, I started dating a boy. Poor guy, he didn't know what he was in for. He liked me. He really really liked me. And I had a very hard time believing him. He thought I was pretty. No, he thought I was BEAUTIFUL. He told me so every day that we were together. After a year, I started to believe I was pretty. After two years, I started to believe I was beautiful. After three years, I truly believed I was beautiful. AND IT SHOWED. My looks didn't really change that much. Oh, the acne settled down a little. And I learned a little more about makeup. But what really changed my looks was my belief about myself. I BELIEVED I WAS BEAUTIFUL. I BELIEVED I WAS SEXY AND ATTRACTIVE. And what do you know... AFTER I started truly believing it, I noticed turned heads. They may have started turning before, but I don't really believe they did. I believe that they started turning because I exuded a confidence and a belief in myself that I never had before.

That's half the puzzle, I think. Believing in yourself. Not to steal from a current popular book.. but I'm reading it right now, and I thought it was brilliant.  In Captivating, John and Stasi Elderidge write that as we grow from girls, and we get told (in one form or another) that we are not enough, that we are not important, that we are not beautiful, we hide our beauty.  We hide what God created.  Some women become controlling and overbearing... some women become meek and adamant that they will not be a hindrance, will not be a bother, and retreat into themselves.  BOTH extremes (and the spectrum between the two that many of us will find ourselves on) are our defense mechanisms.  They keep us from being hurt.  It's what we use to shield ourselves and keep our souls from being trampled.
But, girls...  they hide us.  They hide our beauty.  They hide who we were created to be.  Let go of your inhibitions.  Let go of the masks.  Let go of the hurt. Let go of the defenses.  YOU DON'T NEED THEM.  Embrace who you are.  Embrace God's love for you.  Embrace the blessings He's placed in your life.
Go get a mirror.  Or run back and forth between the computer and the bathroom.  Look at yourself in the mirror.  Don't look at your parts.  Too often, I look in the mirror and I see eyes that crinkle up way too much when I smile.  Or a nose with too many zits.  Or eyebrows that are in desperate need of plucking. But I never see the whole package.  Look past your facial FEATURES and see YOU.  See who those who love you see when they look at you.  Now repeat after me.
Now go strut your stuff.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't watch.

I was 16 years old with a new boyfriend.  With a tournament coming, he wanted to go to the driving range and practice his golf swing.  I wanted to spend time with him, so I bravely decided that I could learn to play golf, too.  I'd never DONE so before, unless you count the miniature golf course at Putt n Video.  But, I was intent on being impressive! He showed me a few tips on how to stand, how to hold the club, how to shift my weight at the right point in the swing.  And then he let me have my way with that bucket of balls. (Shush.)

Did I mention I'd never done this before?  I took a couple swings, missed them both, and realized that... I was probably not going to be terribly successful.  As I pretended to ready myself for the next swing, I watched the other golfers.  I watched what they were doing, how they were standing, how they were holding the club.  I squared myself off... and still watched.  I swung the club back, and still watched.  I swung, and still watched.  And missed.  Because I was still watching.

I wasn't watching what I was doing.  I was watching what they were doing.  And you can't be successful if all you're doing is watching everyone else.

I was thinking about that today... it applies to more than just golf.  There is this, perhaps human nature, tendency to focus on what others are doing.  Who they're talking to, what they're saying, what they're doing.  It feeds our need for gossip.  It feeds our need to make ourselves feel superior to those around us.

But it's not good.  And it's not healthy.  And it's not kind.  Not to us, and to them.  We can't be successful or good if all we're interested in is what others are doing.  Learning to let go, learning to not care, learning to not watch... When I am successful at THESE things, I am the most successful.  I am the most happy.  I am the most healthy.

I freely confess that not watching is a struggle for me.  The gossip is tempting.  But, when I can make myself be strong and when I can make myself not worry so much about what others are doing or thinking, my life is so much better, calmer, and happier.

It just doesn't matter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who are you?

Finding ourselves...  it seems to be the popular thing for women in their 30s and 40s to do, doesn't it?  Men buy sportscars and date women they could have conceived.  We "find ourselves."  We all go on these quests to figure out who we are.  And before you think I'm criticizing this, I'm not.  Mere observation, here.

I think about how we identify ourselves.  You ask a man who they are, and in general, they will define themselves by their job.  You ask a woman, and they will define themselves by their relationships.  "I'm Joel's wife.  I'm Cathy's daughter.  I'm Casey,McKenzie, and Alicia's mom.  I'm Lisa's friend." Etc, etc.  I don't know that there is anything wrong in this either.  I just think that we go so long defining ourselves by the people in our lives and what we do for them that we lose a sense of who we would be without them.

I don't think the journey of figuring out who we are is a bad one.  But, it is a journey, isn't it?  For a long time, I've defined myself by what I am not enough of.  Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. Not sympathetic enough. Not kind enough.  Not strong enough. Not talented enough. Not compassionate enough.  Not positive enough. Not realistic enough.  Not ungullible enough.

I don't necessarily think that taking an honest inventory of your faults is a terribly awful thing.  I don't suppose you'd want to wallow there forever, but knowing the areas that you could do some work on can be beneficial.  But it seems to be a terrible way to define yourself too, doesn't it?  Not by what you are, but what you are not.

So you move on, and you start to take an honest inventory of who you actually ARE.  I find this hard to talk about, maybe not so hard to DO, but hard to talk about here.  Talking about your strengths, admitting that you're proud to be ________...  There's a public perception that this comes with a lack of humility.  And who wants to be known as that?

I don't know... just thinking...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fall Down

Sometimes falling is the best thing you can do.

That goes against everything I've ever felt, really.  As I grew up, I took on this inbred belief that I couldn't fall.  Not that I wasn't ABLE to fall, but that I couldn't fall.  Falling meant failure. And failure meant I wasn't good enough.  I wasn't smart enough.  My independence was idiotically intense about this.  I could do it.  I could do it by myself. And I could do it with flying colors, or it wasn't worth anything.

I never really understood then that falling and failure are important.  I never comprehended that failure was only failure if I refused to learn from it, or that failure was an important component of ultimate success.

We have to fall down.  None of us are perfect... and if we get to thinking that we are? That's the time that we need to fall down the most.  Sometimes, it's in this time of ego and confidence that we forget that we are NOT perfect and we cannot do it by ourselves.  We start to believe that we can do all things because we are freaking awesome.  And we forget, oh do we forget, that we are not everything we think we are.

It's here that we need to fall down.  We need to crash and burn.  We need the world and everything we think about ourselves to come crashing down around us.  It is here, in the ashes and the rubble, that we can look around and see things as they are.  If we are wise, if we haven't run off everyone who loved us, and if we can find the strength, we can stand up out of the rubble, surrounded by those who care.  We can learn from the fall, see what brought us to the edge.  And start again...  this time, a little wiser.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Keep Shelf

My mom is a repeat reader.  She has had the same books on her shelf for years, and she reads them over and over.  That's just the sort of reader that she is, and that's great.  But it would make me crazy.  I rarely repeat-read.  It has to be really special to me to get to "The Keep Shelf."  I mean, I've already read it... I know what happens... So you have to have created something that touches me in a unique way for me to want to read your book again.

But there are a few that make it there and I DO re-read them from time to time...

  • Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  I have loved this book/series forever.  I first read it when I was in middle school and I have re-read many times since then.  It just makes me LAUGH.  Every time.  I remember times that Joel and I have been on roadtrips and I've been reading it.  I'd suddenly bust out laughing at something and he'd want to know what was so funny.  But it was hard to explain when the "something" that made it so funny was written 20 pages earlier.
  • Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series.  This is a fantasy series which I've loved... but funnily enough, I've never finished it.  The books are gigantic, huge sweeping story arcs, nicely written.  But I got about halfway through Book 7 (after reading roughly 10,000 pages of the series) and got burnt out...  I desperately want to go back and finish the series, only it's been so long that I really think I'm going to have to start over at Book 1 so I remember what everything is!
  • Yann Martel's Life of Pi. I read this one for a bookclub several years ago, and there was just something about that I REALLY loved.  It was interesting and suspenseful and made me really not want to spend much time with any hungry tigers in the foreseeable future.
  • LM Montgomery's Anne/Emily books.  I love both of these series, and I think that, based on popularity, I'm suppose to love Anne more.  But I've always had a very tender spot in my heart for Emily.  She's a more somber, sad character than Anne could ever be, but there's a certain tenderness and vulnerability in her that has always called to me.
  • Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series. I find this one to be HUGELY intriguing to read.  The research that goes into these books is extensive.  Save for the fact that, after the first book, the characters are having sex every other minute, they're really good.  I don't really have much against characters getting it on, but for goodness sake... prostitutes get less action than Ayla does.  But if you've ever had the slightest interest in the life of the caveman (cause really, who DOESN'T stay up all night wondering about that??), I definitely recommend it!
  • Narnia and LOTR--  I'm starting to get bored here, so I'm just going to let this one be self-explanatory.  Beautiful stories, characters I love, sweeping epics.  Nothing to not like here.  I might marry Pippin when I grow up.
  • Oh, the Dark Tower!  I have bought more copies of this series than any other ever because I keep giving them away to people.  "Please love the books I love!!!"  You should love this series.  If you do not love this series, you should have your license to read taken away from you.
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