Sunday, March 12, 2006

Is She Pretty on the Inside?

sacred mirror, originally uploaded by dubphreek.

I'll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you're home
I was reading an entry on the absolutely stunning Hiromi_X’s blog a few days ago where she mentions, “I only very recently realized that I'm not ugly.” It struck me how common a refrain this seems to be in the blogs I read regularly. Just off the top of my head, I can think people like Hiromi, Figleaf, AlwaysArousedGirl, and Chelsea Girl who have all expressed either shock at the realization that they were actually seen as beautiful or arousing to others, or their fears about other’s criticism of their appearance.

Meanwhile, in both brain and body, these people are scintillating. Do they look like models? No. They’re beautiful in an entirely different way. A better way, as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to come up short in explaining this. But for lack of a better way of expressing it, it’s “inside/out” beauty. The blog lets you see some of their inner selves, the wondrous combination of confidence, intelligence, insecurity, self-protectiveness, talent, silliness, arrogance, sadness, happiness, and wonder about the world. And that, once expressed, then glows through their photographs for us, making them luminous; at times almost painfully lovely to look at.

In a just world, everyone would be able to see everyone else in this way.

That it’s not a just world in this way has been a painful reality for me all my life.

I mean, I get it. I get why they’re all surprised. They thought people couldn’t see them. Or still can’t.

Probably they’ve never had the opportunity to have many people be able to see both parts of them at once. I mean, you really can’t win either way, the way things are in the world in relation to beauty. You’re either physically hot, or you have a nice personality. You don’t get both. It’s like people have this filter--they simply can’t see both at once. Or, when on the rare occasion both seem to manage to come through, you hear stupid things like, “The best thing about her is that she’s gorgeous, but she's so nice/smart/etc.—she has no idea how hot she is.”

As if, because you’re physically beautiful, you have to be empty of positive personality traits. And, of course, conversely, if you have positive personality traits, you can’t be beautiful. They don’t go together.

And no one, no one wants to admit that someone outside the norm of beauty, say someone fat, or scarred, or etc. could actually be beautiful. Even though, if that filter wasn’t there, you’d be able to see it.

I seem to be able to lift that filter for others. But not for myself.

I’ve recognized a weird phenomenon in myself of late. Throughout my life, a good number of people have often told me I’m pretty. Some even called me beautiful. I never believed any of them. I tended (well, still tend) to think of myself as “cute” at best (a word/concept which I hate), but really the kind of darker, more ethnic looking girl who gets completely ignored when the tall, willowy blonde walks in the room. The sidekick. The smart girl who makes the insightful comments while her friend ends up with the romantic lead. You know, the kind of girl who, when you’re setting a friend up on a date with, you mention she has a “nice personality” by way of an apology for her not being hotter.

Meanwhile, I have these weird epiphany moments of looking back at old pictures. In my 20s, I found a photo of myself at about 14 or 15 and was shocked. I mean, I couldn’t believe it. In the photo I looked…well, stunning, really. (As an aside, I’m cringing here. I still feel completely ashamed to say this. I feel like readers will think I think I’m something special, but trust me, I don’t.)

I didn’t recognize myself as that at all when I was 15. And as a 20-something looking at that photo, I remember thinking, “If only I’d realized then how beautiful I was…too bad it’s too late now.” And then I went along in my 20s the same way I did in my teens. I never exactly told myself I was ugly, but I just wouldn’t allow myself to believe I was anything too special or alluring to anyone. Now I’m in my 30s. And I look back at photos of myself when I was in my 20s and have the same shock of recognition. And again, I think, “If only I’d realized...” I think of the power I would have had, feeling confident in both my body and soul. In knowing it wasn’t arrogant to be both beautiful inside and out—of knowing each fed the other—and that it was okay to be proud of it.

My body keeps changing with each decade. And with each change, I continue to think it’s making me less of what I was, and it’s too late to catch up to how I should have felt about myself. And it seems I can only ever appreciate how beautiful I am from a past perspective, not in the present.

Why could I never believe anyone? I found anyone who expressed the opinion that my body or face was beautiful to be highly suspect. Maybe I thought they could only see that, and wouldn’t be interested in the rest. Maybe I worried that if I allowed myself to admit I was physically pretty, it meant no one would believe I had any substance behind it. But then, ironically, when I got myself into relationships with people who could only appreciate the substance part, they ultimately got around to showing me in one way or another that they thought I wasn’t beautiful enough.

Obviously the missing piece is I have to think of myself as inside/out beautiful without reference to anyone else’s opinion, if I want anyone else to see me that way.

So why can’t I catch up? I really don’t want to be 40-something and thinking I wasted my 30s not allowing myself to feel I’m everything I really am. That I’m inside/out beautiful, like everyone else.

I don’t think a lot of people have ever seen me inside/out. I’m not sure even I’ve ever been able to see myself that way, except for in rare split milliseconds of moments, before something or someone makes it disappear again.

But I'm really glad those other bloggers have finally been able to see it in themselves.

Do you see it in yourself? I hope so. Because it's there.

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind
Please put down your hands
'Cause I see you


Blogger AlwaysArousedGirl said...

You got it, babe.

It's only been with my HNT photos that I've seen myself a bit differently. It's hard (but not an excuse) when your life partner does not find you attractive.


3/12/2006 10:07 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

AAG: I've been there. Well, anyway with someone *telling* me he was attracted to me, but not showing it in any physical way. It's extremely difficult, and certainly doesn't help build self-confidence.

Well, *I* think you're gorgeous. And hopefully your partner will wake up out of his stupor soon and really SEE you. You deserve it.

I don't think I could do HNT. Too worried about recognition and stuff. But part of me thinks about it a lot.

When I was in my 20s, a few of my female friends did portraits for the artist Spencer Tunick (now famous for photographing naked people in public places, but back then he was just getting started). They posed stark naked and alone in the middle of NYC streets. I was amazed they could do it, but I also imagined it must have been so liberating. I wish I felt proud enough then to say, "Here's who I am, I'm fucking hot, love it," like they could. I suspect HNT gives people the same sort of release. It must feel great. Lucky, pretty girl, you.

3/12/2006 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

I spent a big chunk of this evening being bowled over by how gorgeous my lover is. And telling him so. Because he hides it away so much and so well, and then all of a sudden it's there in bottomless blue eyes.

I think a lot of people hide their beauty, because that way it's safe, it's not exposed to the world. It's hard to have the guts to be beautiful, out in the open, where someone might see ....

(Okay. I need to go blog about this now, I think.)

3/13/2006 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Hiromi said...

"And with each change, I continue to think it’s making me less of what I was, and it’s too late to catch up to how I should have felt about myself."

It's soooo funny how we share some of the same neuroses. See, now that I think I'm attractive, I have to worry about getting old!

People have told me I won't get old and ugly, it will just be a different kind of hot.

I need a brain transplant.

3/13/2006 1:30 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Yes, go blog about it! Then I'll come there and read it. I love when idea generates idea. You're right, I think for me it's always been a safety issue. Definitely, in fact.

Hiromi: I know, isn't it weird? Sometimes I just feel like linking to your entry for the day and just writing "what she said."

And I like your brain just fine the way it is, thank you very much. Of course, seeing as our brains are kind of alike, maybe I'm not the best person to judge who needs a transplant and who doesn't.

Strangely, I'm not that afraid of getting old. But I am afraid I still won't be able to catch up to myself by then. I want to be the Helen Hayes of oldness. I thought she was the most gorgeous old lady. Or, after her, the Ruth Gordon of oldness. Or, the Jeanne Moreau of oldness.

3/13/2006 3:04 AM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

"And when the peacock looked into the curved mirror of space and saw himself, he shouted out, 'Look at me! Look how beautiful I am!' And he danced and shook his tail, and filled the heavens with thunder."

It's a myth snippet I find really potent, that sense of beauty and power in the same package, in some ways as the same thing: to beauty is to thunder.

Gotta make some noise. :)

(I'm glad you appreciated my post.)

3/13/2006 3:31 AM  
Blogger Aine said...

Most of the day long, I think in much the same way as you described. That I was hot as hell before I had my son, slim and feisty. But I didn't think so at the time, I thought I was ugly - too tall, stomach not flat enough - and that I somehow 'wasted' it by not realising.

Now, I take into account my stretch marks and extra weight and I think how plain I am, how could anyone possibily fancy me? When people tell me I'm sexy I simply dismiss it as them trying to be nice.

Most of the day long.

But can I tell you a secret? Everytime I look in a mirror, I admire my reflection. Just for a minute or two I pause and think, yeah, I look good. This is a recent development. I think it's a good one.

3/13/2006 9:35 AM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! You all have me so excited! I don't know where to start!

So I'll start with what is most recent in the brain: Hiromi said "See, now that I think I'm attractive, I have to worry about getting old!"

Me too! Me too! Me too!

I never thought I was gorgeous. I was nerdy-smart girl. I sometimes admired parts of myself in the mirror. But never the whole of me (because, let's face it, I have a fat ass, which is very hard to love! - and I was sexually abused which causes a whole ream of issues in and of itself... not wanting to be be attractive because of what being attractive gets you) Over the past two years I have come to think I'm pretty friggin' gorgeous. And I feel like I CAN say it. I'm sexy and pretty and funny!

Ms SYL mentioned 'feeling arrogant' there is something to that ... a few years ago if I had had a brief moment of self-adoration I would have never allowed myself to admit it because it is unseemly for women to love themselves such...

I attribute my new found confidence with finally listening to my husband and to moving to Europe where the dirty dogs are so often hitting on me (and I love it!)

And now I'm thinking that the wrinkles are fast approaching and this fleeting moment will pass!

Ah! It's good to know I'm not alone!

3/13/2006 12:27 PM  
Blogger Karl Elvis said...

I seem to be surrounded by women who don't know they're beautiful.

It's a funny thing; I've stared into a face and been absolutely floored by it's beauty only to have the simple observation "You're beautiful" greeted with denial or sarcastic humor.

Why do we never trust such praise?

One of my few (failed) attempts at poetry was called "you don't know you're beautiful". I wish I'd been able to do it justice.

3/13/2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger Vieva said...

I'm gonna join the "me toos" ... I've seen that problem in my own mirror. And again, now that I've had a kid .. I poke at my tummy and my stretch marks and sigh.

Our culture WANTS women to be incomplete, I think .. it sells more product that way. Makeup, hair color, line remover, fat-day clothing, thin-day clothing ....

Sometimes I dream of all of us saying the hell with it and being as we are. It's a beautiful thought .. to be ourselves regardless of whether or not we are "perfect". Some days I even live up to it. :)

3/13/2006 6:25 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: Thanks for making me smile. And for making me think.

Woman: It sure sounds like a good development to me. I'd like to hear you're feeling happier. And if people are telling you you're sexy, you should believe it!

Ellie: "Nerdy smart girl." Yep, that's the label I went with, too. And I have had similar experience to yours and I'm only now beginning to discover what a deep-rooted effect it can have on your self-image. It's really hearting to me to hear you've gotten past it and are "living in the light" as it were when you think about yourself. I'd like to get there someday.

3/13/2006 11:25 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Karl Elvis: Even if you didn't feel the poem was good enough, I'm certain you really affected whomever you wrote it for. If only more men would tell their women this often enough! The attempt is what affects us, not the execution.

Why don't we believe it? I think many people here have all touched on many different reasons why. But I do think Ellie has a point in that men are not taught to be ashamed for being proud of themselves, whereas women seem to be given that message a lot. There's a clearly defined standard of beauty to attain and if you're not at that "level," then you have no right to make a spectacle of yourself or flaunt yourself proudly. Instead, you ought to be apologizing for what you're not.

It stinks. I wonder if now that there is suddenly so much more focus on what a "good" men's body is supposed to look like if men will start developing similar inferiority complexes.

3/13/2006 11:34 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Heartshadow: Yeah, the woman as consumer cash cow thing really pisses me off. What're those Hole lyrics:

And they royalty rate all the girls like you
And they sell it out to the girls like you
To incorporate little girls

I remember how excited my mom was when she bought me my first "Seventeen" magazine when I was 13 or 14 or whatever. She acted like it was a right of passage. Some right of passage--learn about all the clothes you can't afford, or even find in your town, and about all the ways your boyfriend might be cheating on you, and if you've got the "right" makeup and hair. I made a decision when I hit college never to buy another women's magazine ever again, and I've stuck to it. All they do is make people feel poor, ugly, underpriveledged, and desperate for things they don't need.

On the other hand, there are some more positive publications out there lately. "Bust" for instance. Love that magazine.

3/13/2006 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Kochanie said...

What is that saying...when rational explanations no longer work, it's time to look at the irrational? Maybe there is a new species of evil spirit that lives in mirrors and feasts on self-confidence. Even a quick glance into the silver lake on the wall will make you lose another inch in the war against self-doubt. That's why you hear people say, "I just avoid looking into mirrors -- I feel lousy whenever I do."

Maybe we need a new improved glass cleaner, not with ammonia d but with Evil Spirit Remover. Until that product hits the grocery store shelves, thank you, Mis Syl, for gently reassuring your confidence-impaired readers.


3/15/2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Kochanie: What a nice, lyrical comment.

I actually work the opposite way. I see who I really am in the mirror. I don't see who I really am in the reflection of other people's eyes.

3/16/2006 3:19 AM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/16/2006 8:22 AM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

This subject reminds me of one of my favorite songs, TLC’s ‘Unpretty’:

“You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up that Mac can make
But if you can’t look inside you
Find out who am I, too
Be in a position to make me feel so damn unpretty”

The song was released a few years ago, but it highlights the everyday where people are confronted with celebrities, advice on what they ought to buy, who they should emulate (I laughed today when I leafed through New Weekly and they had Kate Moss as a ‘fashion plate’ example for women to follow. No thanks!). It’s a type of bombardment, continual flashes of imagery. I can tell you, I’m through with people always remarking about certain celebrities and how ‘great they look for their age’ (the Madonna’s, Tina Turner’s and so on) simply because if the average person (man or women) sat on the equivalent wealth of a small developing nation, they too would have time for nips, tucks, five hour workouts per day and so on. But is it beauty? After I had a child, I had a beef with the way women’s magazines were focusing on the celeb yummy mummy phenomenon where female celebrities tone up within two or three months (thanks to chefs, personal trainers, nannies, entourages). It can all be enough, depending on one’s mood on a particular moment, to make one feel ‘unpretty’ and yet, these are things that some people hunger to see and in the process of that they downplay themselves.

I still wrestle with a multitude of emotions because for me, the streamlined artificially enhanced beauty means absolutely nothing, beauty for me is linked to a person’s deeds, kindness, self respect, respect for others and so on.

3/16/2006 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Cherrie said...

This post covers so much ground, but here are a few of my reactions:

Think about how you react to other people, strangers you see on the street, at the mall, in a bar. How many of them are you attracted to initially? Two percent? One? Less? That's true for me. The proportion of the general population that I would consider a relationship with is very small.

Now think about how others see you. If they, too, see just a few strangers as attractive, how likely is it that interests will match? Not very.

So, the average person is both physically attractive (to some) and not attractive (to many others). Don't let that ruin your life. You just have to look harder and not be discouraged by rejection. Once a matchup is made, the positive force of your personality should take over and begin building a relationship of trust, confidence and (dare I say) physical loving.

As for aging, I'm over 50, my children are grown, and my love life has never been better. I have a loving (male) life partner and a variety of long-term male and female friends/lovers to enjoy. You can achieve this too.

3/16/2006 8:28 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Ana and Cherry: such great comments--I want to fully process each one. Unfortunately, my laptop is in the shop and I'm working on a borrowed one and can't stay on. I'll be able to respond later tonight. In the meantime, thanks.

And Ana, speaking of beautiful: Your new banner photo is SMOULDERING. Whew! Fan me off...

3/16/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Ana: Thanks for the lyrics and the thoughts. I must find that song now. I'm also much more of a "words, thoughts, and deeds makes the person attractive" kind of person. I just wish I found more people like that out there in my immediate vicinity;

Cherrie: That is so heartening to hear. Please, please, fill us in on how you managed to acheive this! Sounds quite ideal.

3/16/2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

now you got me blushing woman!

I remember hearing that song years ago and thinking, 'thats the way I feel, the way I've felt' etc, and I don't usually listen to r n b, but at that time, TLC were hitting it big (before one of the girls in the group died) and compared to the songs produced today by similar r n b outfits that wax on about lollie pop love.

3/17/2006 8:44 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Ana: It's always cool when someone rises above genre and gets it right. Salt-N-Pepa were always like that for me, since the moment they created "Push It" all those years ago. Such a positive attitude about overt female sexuality. Oooh, bay-bee, bay-bee.

3/18/2006 2:55 PM  
Blogger figleaf said...

Thank you so much for the kind words. If I hadn't posted my own photos (oh how I was digesting myself in my own stomach juices when I pressed "post") I'd never know that I was anything other than extremely plain.

As for arrogance... I don't think I'll ever manage the "lookie me" kind, but there's another kind that we really need to watch out for.

A last year I ran into an old co-worker, another one of those late-night worriers like myself. When we worked together she confronted me one day after we'd traded apologies for something that neither of us had had any control over and she said "you know, there are people out there who don't assume everything is their fault." And we made a little pact to catch each other on it when we slipped into unwarranted apology.

Anyway, when I saw her again I brought that up and she twisted the dial again with "I realized that assuming everything is your fault is the ultimate arrogance, the quintessencial egotism."

So I'd like to propose the arrogance of "I'm not that attractive." I'm not yet sure how we benefit from that. I know it doesn't make us happy to imagine it. But we cling so hard to it, argue so forcefully with our friends who would gainsay us, that there must be some satisfaction, some surity-of-self we're deriving from it, that I think arrogance isn't too strong a word.

Thanks for the wonderful post, Syl.


3/19/2006 8:33 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Hi figleaf, you sexy thang,

I know what you mean, although for me it feels less like arrogance and more like insecurity based on what "others" have told me "should" be beautiful. And maybe fear that being beautiful would result in objectification. I remember your post a while back about speaking to a classically beautiful woman and how hard it was at first for you to see past that. I think a lot of beautiful people suffer this.

Although, also, part of it is, I suppose, an assumption that I'm *supposed* to be perfect, for some reason. And that is probably a little arrogant, as well as a sure recipe for failure and disillusionment with myself.

But at least I'm aware of the problems. Good place to start. :-)

3/19/2006 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Cherrie said...

I'm finally getting around to responding to your March 16 comment. Hope you're still interested in the reply!

My original comment was intended more as encouragement than as an entree into advice on living life, which I do not feel particularly qualified to give. But your request has caused me to think about some of the factors that have helped me reach my current level of sexual satisfaction:

Be free: I don't spend much energy worrying about status or possessions. Conversely, I don't carry debt. As a result, I'm economically free to pursue my hopes and dreams. It's a wonderful feeling!

Be open: Don't close off opportunities due to shyness or embarrassment. You are attractive enough to love and be loved. Of course, not everything is going to work out. Don't let that discourage you. Investigate, think it through and decide what you really want to do, then make the first move. Don't let what (you think) other people think deter you. And if something doesn't work out, hey, you tried.

Be true: I know that my man has other friends/lovers. He knows that I do. We talk about our relationships. Sometimes we share our partners (with their consent). No lies, no jealousy; our love of sex is our greatest common bond.

The same goes for the other people in my life. I am always looking for people who are friendly, funny, honest, sexually attractive (to me) and striving to reach that state of suspension between disengagement and smothering monogamy which we try to occupy. It's not easy to achieve--like tossing a coin and having it land on its edge--but when you get there, it's the only place to be.

3/21/2006 12:40 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Cherrie: Excellent advice. Thanks. I really need to work on the "be open" one.

3/21/2006 1:02 AM  

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