Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beauty Inside and Out

“It would be good if we could make efforts to free ourselves — to sometimes try to see beauty in people, to give them a chance, or let it be an acquired taste,” she says. “Our society often talks about inner beauty; that that’s what counts. But we fail.” - Amanda Filipacchi

Today's post is inspired by a PRI interview with Amanda Filipacchi from late last week;  Is it Possible to be too Beautiful?  Amanda discusses growing up with a super model mother and how our standards of what is beautiful changes over time.  The interview also touches on the high importance we place on physical beauty.  Her own love-hate relationship with beauty, wishing did not matter and yet being drawn to it, loving it at the same time.

In the four years of writing this blog I have written often about my own struggle with how I feel about my appearance. There are days that I feel hideous and there are days I feel beautiful, most days I feel a tenuous sense of moderate physical self acceptance.  My perception of my own beauty and my relationship with my body has been an ongoing struggle since my teenage years.

Physically I always felt awkward and ungraceful due to my height.  It was a feeling of always taking up too much space.  I actively tried to make myself seem smaller; an impossible task.  My long fingered hands and size 11 feet extended inches beyond sleeves and pants cuffs that were always a few inches too short.  And no matter where I stood or sat, my arms and legs always seemed spill out of the chair, couch or corner I was trying to contain them in.  My discomfort made me clumsy. I was forever bumping into things and people, which of course only drew more attention to me and my giantness.

As a performer I've learned to appreciate the advantages of my size; bigness provides instant stage presence and few can loom over an audience as I can. Still, even now I  have an inner dialog that bounces between "appearances don't matter, I will learn to accept myself as I am" and "don't fool yourself, appearance is everything you must to find a way to be beautiful."  The former tends to win out but the latter voice still makes itself heard more often than I would like. 

For the past several months I've tried to set this dialog aside and focus instead on improving myself on the inside, working on my "inner beauty" by making myself a better person. I've encountered my share of ugliness there too but that is far more fixable than trying to fit into a physical mold that is not possible without massive amounts of plastic surgery. 

It is not easy.  This sort of personal work is that it is work no one sees.  We are complimented when we lose weight, get a new hair style or show up to a party wearing a flattering new dress...

"You look amazing!  Have you lost weight?  Love the hair.  That dress looks fantastic on you."

No one comes up to you and says, "You really handled that anxiety attack well yesterday."  or "It's so great that you've taken the time to identify what your fears are." or  "Facing and accepting your flaws.  Wow, that's really awesome work you are doing."

In culture that places such a high value on externalities like physical beauty, there is perhaps little incentive to focus on one's inner beauty.  It is not something that is directly rewarded in the way being beautiful is.   The rewards of self acceptance, a chance at some inner peace, a sense of purpose, are not something that come from outside; they are 100% internal.  And it is not instant.  The changes can be frustratingly incremental.

I don't think that society's views on beauty will change anytime soon; the change will be incremental there too.  And I don't have any control over whether others may perceive me as beautiful or not.  What I do have control over is myself.  I have chosen to turn inward in an attempt to find some happiness and self acceptance.  I'm starting to realize that as I do this work on the inside and learning bit by bit to accept myself, that my acceptance of my physical self is growing too.  It is an unintentional, but welcome, side effect.

Maybe that is what makes this sort of work so personally powerful.

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