Saturday, March 6, 2010

Eve and the Eye of the Beholder

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.

Though the journal entry was written some years ago, it poses questions to which I haven't yet an answer, and questions which, surprisingly, I still find relevant. Humor me. Give me some answers, thoughts, anything! And, guys, though the topic may lend itself more readily to a female audience, please don't shy away from commenting. Your input would be much appreciated. Oh, and by the way, don't mind the overly "poetic" title, never fully realized or explained. As I say, I had great intentions.

Eve and The Eye of the Beholder
Discussions with Beautiful Women

Forward: My Story

In high-school I was never one of the "pretty" girls. I didn't think I was ugly, or anything, and I certainly didn't wish I looked any different. There were simply those girls whose hair was all done up, whose make-up was precise and whose clothes distinctly advertised the latest in teen fashion. They were those whom every guy was obsessed with, and whom general opinion had declared were beautiful. And, more importantly, they were those who cared. I wasn't one of them.

There were plenty of things I did care about, and chose to measure my self-worth by: music, academics, being in the spotlight ... I had plenty of self-imposed expectations. Being "beautiful" just wasn't one of them. I was one of those kids who had to be taught about personal hygiene. I can still remember running out of the house with my mother and the hair brush in hot pursuit. You'd think the onset of puberty would change my out-look somewhat, but no. Throughout my teens, I chose to dress in clothes I liked, not necessarily those that looked good on me. On the few occasions that I put on some make-up, I did so more as an artistic exploration than in efforts to "look good." Having lost the hair-brush battle to a pair of scissors, my mom offered some advice in response to me painting my eyes with thick black liquid eyeliner that extended past my eyelids to form intricate swirls on either side of my face.

"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?


Today I can identify all too well with that high school friend whom I can remember having confessed,
"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 whither 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 loose 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 loose 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?

1 comment:

  1. Wow Bronny, good stuff. Especially like the image of the father, children and the flower .. appropriate for so many of the gifts that are given to us. Brings Galatians 6:4-5 to mind "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life." (from the Message)