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on beauty.

i have this really tenuous relationship with beauty.

in that, most of the time, i feel anything but.

put me next to a beautiful woman and immediately i feel dwarfed her. an impostor.

and yet, as a woman, what i look like is one of the ways in which i define myself.

we all do--it's cultural and biological and darwinian and the full implications so far surpass my understanding it's unnerving.

i was having a heart to heart with my brother recently and we were talking about a particular woman we both know and he said to me, yeah, the average guy is gonna find her more attractive.

oh. huh. hmmm. i responded, lips pursed.

usually my brother gets away with saying things like this because he's honest and direct and there's nothing calculated about what comes out of his mouth. but this one stung a bit. it hit the achilles heel that is beauty--the thing we all care about but pretend not too for fear of appearing vain.

i'm sure there are those out there who would say, no, no, not me, i don't care about my appearance or what i look like or being thought beautiful--and maybe that woman does exist. but my guess is there is a spectrum of caring and we all fall somewhere on it. and if you think you don't then i'd call your attention to the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep's character absolutely schools Anne Hathaway about her blue sweater. remember that one? oh, it's so good. well this issue is kind of like that one. i'd too would like to place no value on what i look like, but society tells me i should--i must.

my brother, sensing he had hit upon a tricky subject, attempted damage control: look, your hair is in a messy bun at the back of your neck, you have glasses on and no makeup. when a man sees a group of women his eyes gravitate toward the shiny object. and well, the other girl's hair had volume. and volume in the hair, that's a shiny object.

he had a point.

i had to admit, he had a point.

is it because she’s thinner than me? i pushed.

no. we [men] don’t usually notice that. (which is so true and why can't i remember that?).

this issue of not as attractive stuck with me. maybe it was the week or the summer heat or some sort of passing funk, but on that particular day the thought crawled under my skin and stuck.

and then there came a day came not long after that i survived simply by filling my pockets with australian red licorice and pulling out small pieces at necessary moments. and at some point, sitting on the floor, a red nub between my fingers, i thought, i bet that girl--that more-beautiful-girl—would never fill her pockets with licorice. and this is not to say this makes me better. or worse. but different. and my particular brand of different—my licorice-filled-pockets is something i quite like about myself.

in fact, i dare say it’s something that makes me beautiful. not upon first glance. and not physically. and maybe not to the average man.  but given enough time and enough perspective it provides a sort of depth to the image.

and then there’s the question of the average man--of what that means--and when have i ever been interested in what the average man thinks? when have i ever been most attracted to the most typically good-looking-guy? so why should i want that the guy i end up with to think me the most typically good-looking woman?

don’t get me wrong, i have been blessed to know and care about some damn fine looking men. but i doubt the average woman would pick them out of a lineup.

i guess that’s the real worry, right—that if the man i care about (or the men i’ve cared about) was to happen upon a table with me and this other woman, he (or they) might be more drawn to her?

ay, there’s the rub--that’s what got under my skin!

average man be damned, i was scared of a hypothetical that would probably, most likely, never happen and even if it did, might very well work in my favor! ah, the gymnastics of the mind!

but i was nonetheless intrigued by this idea of men and shiny objects and their propensity to reach for them. and so i did a little research—which means i asked tom (tom being the most level-headed man i know). and as he explained it, how we as women care for our appearance—the lipstick we apply, the volume we so generously add to our hair, the clothes we choose—this sends a signal to men: ready, willing, and available (for procreation--i told you it was evolutionary). these shiny objects are how we get a man’s attention. but not how we keep it.

we keep it with licorice in our pockets and funny jokes and our brand of wit. we keep it with the things that make us beautiful but have nothing to do with what we look like or how we dress or how poofy our hair is.

i did this play reading a few weeks ago that dealt with the idea of women and beauty and what a complicated issue it is--the expectations made of and on a beautiful woman and the danger of identifying too closely with what we look like.

a play reading is one of the ways in which a playwright is able to work on a new play--iron out kinks and identify holes and get it to a place where it's finished. and so some of the audience feedback was that the contemporary woman in the show--her obsession with what she looked like and her fear of losing her beauty was too small, too unimportant to be dramatized in a play.

but i said to jessica (the playwright): i don't think it is a small problem. it is a question of worth--of a woman's worth. and is there anything larger than that? of am i worthy of love? of courage? of motherhood?--those are big, big questions.

the thing is, beauty is the language in which we speak. we wonder if we are beautiful enough, which is really a question of are we worth enough? but we have been trained and conditioned to think of that in terms of what we look like. we insult other people by saying well she's a cow which while she may very well be fat, what has that to do with anything? what we mean is she's a bitch, but we say she's fat, as if fat explains the bitchiness--as if fat is the insult or even the real problem. when really, no, she's just a bitch (because let's be honest, some people are).

this is all to say, i as much as anyone enjoy dressing up and taking care of my skin and applying makeup--these things send signals about how much i value myself. and that's important. but how much i value myself isn't dependent on these things.

i like licorice and will keep it in my pockets if the mood strikes. i've got a really strong arm and can throw a baseball pretty damn far. i make a mean morning latte and can shimmy a night away with the best of them (maybe not as well, but i'll try nonetheless). these things give me worth. these things add meaning and value to my life. these are the things that when i step out of the shower and look at myself--no makeup in sight, no voluminous hair--i not only think i am beautiful, i feel beautiful.


Danielle Carroll said...

Such a great post. Thank you so much for sharing!

I have been struggling with feeling beautiful a lot lately..I think because of my job. More mature, beautiful women surround me. It's hard to remember at times the real things that define beauty. And that beauty truly is relative. And that I matter. At home, at work, in life. I matter.

Swishy said...

Meg, this is beautiful. I have imagined that very same hypothetical so many times, and I think ... WHY?? I want to print excerpts of this out and put it next to my mirror, so that every time I start to question my worth, I can snap out of it and remember that I am enough for the right person just the way that I am.

You have such a beautiful gift with words. You brighten up a lot of my days and put a voice to so many things that I am feeling. Thank you.

Brittan said...

I gotta say, standing next to you I felt wholly inadequate. Your features are striking yet delicate. Your poise, careful choice of words, and overall warmth add an irresistible quality to your appearance, which is already very pretty. I felt frumpy and awkward next to you. It's funny how we perceive ourselves.

courtneykearns said...

Profound, Meg. Your words are captivating.

Diana said...

So, this was perfect for me right now. I'm 25, but am going to college late, and so as it turns out, I'm surrounded by a bunch of 18-21 year olds who have particular ideas of what you should look like, etc. On an almost daily basis I feel like I'm not good enough in comparison to ___. I've tried to counter-balance issues with appearance and self-worth with maintaining good grades, etc. But at the end of the day, I don't feel any better about myself because I am still judged by the outer beauty. But more than that, it's because I mostly still judge MYSELF in those terms. And more often than not, I automatically label myself as not-good-enough, not-pretty-enough, etc. so that it makes it hard to even put myself out there.

Yet everything you had to say was so accurate and encouraging. I am grateful that I stumbled across your blog months ago because it really is an eye-opener. Thank you for also being so willing to share your wisdom.

~BB~ said...

it doesn't matter how beautiful you are, or aren't. It's all about confidence. And not the phony-I'm-pretending-that-I-find-myself-beautiful confidence, no, no. The real, glowing-from-inside confidence that comes from knowing you are beautiful and also knowing that whether you are, or aren't - you don't give one fuck either way.

Jeneric Generation said...

I love this a lot. Your friend Tom is wise. I had a guy friend in college who basically said the same thing about men being attracted to the "shiny" object. It’s just how men are wired. I have no reason to doubt that my husband thinks I am beautiful, but when those insecurities sneak in, and I ask for confirmation, he is quick to remind me what a silly notion it is that another woman could be more attractive to him. And he really is confused that I would even think that.

A lot of our insecurities--we place on ourselves, as you point out. When you are really truly in love, initial attraction included, yours is the only face they want to see after that. As you continue to love the person for who they are, every little flaw included, the face he wants to see the most will always be the face he was attracted to in the first place—but now it is tied to the deeper things. When I think about how I used to worry about Eric seeing me without makeup, I laugh. He thinks I always look the same—which is in my favor! :) Thank you for posting this. Beautiful, as always.

Kmarie said...

Loved this. Full of astounding truths:) Thanks.

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k8te said...

such a great post! that tom is a smart one. I think what makes us unique is definitely what keeps someone around, but I also like to think it's what attracts someone to us as well. I'm married, but recently was getting gas and when I was inside grabbing a coffee when a young (maybe a few years younger than me) guy hit on me, and said 'you have a really different look about you, i like that a lot'. though i wasn't interested in him at all, it was a super sweet compliment to hear from a total stranger. i'm not always the most confident in my looks, and i need to try to just be more confident in general!

Dancing Branflake said...

Holy crap. You said everything I wish I knew how to say about why I feel like I'm not pretty. Other people don't get it and just get annoyed with my less than stellar self-esteem, but you make it real and valid. I hope that play gets put on- I would love to see it.

christine said...

I love this! It's so true, the times I feel most beautiful are when I'm out running with no makeup, my hair flying every which way in the humidity and my face bright red from the exertion. I feel alive and beautiful then.

Thanks for writing from the heart.

L.R.L said...

First of all, it's always odd commenting on a strangers blog, but here we go...

Secondly, this is spot on.

Third, I have thought about this often. Do I really want the man who is attracted to the woman who "outshines" me? No, no, nope. I want to be plucked out of a crowd because of who I am, make-up or not. Don't get me wrong, make-up and a shining pair of earrings can do wonders for my daily confidence, but when it is all boiled down I want (and after a bit of waiting, received) the man who see's me sparkling brighter than all the rest and has to chase me down.

P.S. It's nice to read things that are thought through. Thank you.

Robby Spratt said...

I am going to have to read this one several times. There's a lot of profound stuff!
As a man, I can say that while our eyes usually do zone in on the "shiny objects" initially, those aren't necessarily the girls we pursue. For me, no matter how physically beautiful a girl is, if she is unapproachable, or has a bad personality, she immediately seems completely unattractive to me. I want a fun and vibrant personality, I want intelligence and poise. Sure physical attraction is important, but it is secondary to those more important things.

Keiko said...

One evening during the summer I baked cupcakes for some friends. I took them out of the oven, begun to ice them before they were cool simply because they looked so good. Before I was even conscience of what I was doing, I began stuffing them in my mouth, icing dripping down my writs and all. I looked over and my friend, James was staring at me in shock laughing..

You keep licorice in your pocket, I can eat an entire cupcake whole.
Any guy that gets us will have more than looks- he may quite possibly have it all! x

Alexis said...

So true.

Anonymous said...

In a way, it is good to hear you say this. Because I see you, and how beautiful you are and I feel less beautiful. What I hate about our society is how girls are supposed to be naturally beautiful without making it look like they tried. I can't stand that. So hard to be at college and seeing all these girls trying hard and looking good. Comparison is a horrible, horrible trap.

Laura Marie Meyers said...

what i wouldn't give to have a long, lingering coffee date with you to 1. tell you how much this meant to me 2. debate and discuss as we always do. xo

Amy said...

Also remember how many people would love to look like you! Like, say, me ;)

jimmylou said...

what a wonderful post! you have a way with words. i agree with every word.

PS: beautiful picture!

GG said...

I must add, since you didn't mention it, that your writing also makes you beautiful. In addition to the licorice. :)

I discovered your blog a couple weeks ago and have so thoroughly reading the archives. Yours is my absolute favoritest kind of blog.

I can see your physical beauty in your photo and it's very obvious, but it's also just the surface. We all see pretty faces and shiny things all the time, right? What currently has me entranced and makes me return to keep reading is your way with words and feelings. Just so you know :)

Austin said...

the image of you with the licorice in your pocket was the cherry on top of this post. so good.

hannah debbie said...

this post took my breath away, because really, it's true. At least for me. I can relate to every word, every insecurity. Everything.

Natalie said...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful, what does it really mean?... To me it's either so subjective or brainwashing. What is beauty, what makes a woman beautiful? And how easily a word, a thought, a comment, a phrase can sting. My step-sister has high cheek bones supposedly, and my brother thinks she's the typically beautiful, model type etc. She's a BITCH, no really, serious BEEE-OTCH?... but she's beautiful. Really, I effin' hate these type of discussions with my brother because they make me feel so inadequate, so small and invisible. It's not like I haven't been told I am beautiful (on many occasions actually), but it makes me uncomfortable, it makes me think that they must not be seeing all my flaws and imperfections and it frightens me that they might just revoke the compliment. How messed up is that?... Great post. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, Meg! You are beautiful!! Your words are sublime. You really have a way with painting a picture. Lucky us who stumble upon your lovely blog; full of enchantment!

I love your picture!

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Emily Lauren said...

it's a strange thing, isn't it... our desire for beauty above all else? i only wonder why.

Veronika said...

Your brother was right, even if he didn't realize what he was saying... An average guy would probably not be interested, because our personalities show through our skin and eyes. There's a vibe coming from each of us. And yours shine so much, that an average guy just wouldn't be able to take it and digest it. It'll take way above the average guy to be able to hold your hand and to look into your eyes and to find the right words. When he is with you, I think it'll feel natural, because you will be on the same level, you will be equals while wanting more, wanting to go higher and beyond, so you won't even have thoughts of comparing with others.

Michelle said...

This is absolutely incredible. I love it! You're so right, outer beauty attracts men but does not keep it. Love, love, love.

heatherhxo said...

These words of yours are exactly what I have been needing. I have been having a hard time finding the beauty that I crave so much, not the kind in the mirror but the kind where I feel like I'm radiating happiness and maybe, hopefully, glowing. Just a little bit. I'm glad to not be alone in this struggle. Thank you for your words, Meg.

Belen said...

I really enjoyed this post, Meg. I'm the fat girl, and have always been. Luckily I'm not as frumpy as I use to be. Still working on it though.

I hate that feeling of standing next to a girl who has better clothes, a better body, better makeup, better everything. But on the days when I step out of the shower, as you do similarly, I like myself. I'm feel lucky that I look good without the makeup. Because those pretty girls I stand next to probably aren't as pretty without it. And come to think of it, the girl who I pictured as I read your post (the one I feel inferior standing next to) wears way too much of it. It's almost pornstar-y.

Ps, I think you're gorgeous. If it wasn't for your blog and getting to know through it, I probably wouldn't want to stand next to you in person. <3

Heather said...

Adored this post! You said in such poetic language what I think a lot of us women think daily.

debsfreckles said...

This post brought up a lot of emotion from the past. Growing up I knew I was not shinny to guys - at all. I had a really good self esteem, but I was realistic to know what guys liked and what they didn't and they didn't like me (except for friendship). I also have some very shinny friends so I will admit that I was very nervous that I would always be overlooked. And then I met Russ (my husband) and he liked me! Right away! And it wasn't long before he knew he loved me. And being honest with me he told me he saw himself with a short, tan, blonde. That is far from the tallish, frizzy red haired, freckled girl with small eyes and a witches nose. Oh and don't forget the size A chest. No one was more surprised (and grateful) than me that he looked passed other shinny girls and saw ME and thought I was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I am a 55 year old woman and I am beautiful.. not traditionally or maybe as shiny as your brother says but yes I am beautiful. Of course with age you think of it less and less, beauty that is..in the sense that you realise how beautiful it is to be young. Ahhhhhh yes the skin is firm and plump and the body is smooth and pert or maybe that should be perk! But hey great to be here and as someone wrote earlier it is confidence, yes confidence is the embodiment of beauty and no it is not arrogance it is one's head held high and it is a smile, your smile, ones laughter.. teasing with ease the fellow human - whatever sex, whatever age - to fall into your smile, ones laughter, your joy.. there is nothing sexier, nothing more beautiful. Trust me I know... it makes one very very shiny... honest.

AshCall said...

My favorite thing about your blog is your honesty. Everyone has had these experiences, but most of us (including me) are afraid or unwilling to process them as openly and frankly as you do.

Thank you for doing what I sometimes cannot do for myself and helping me to know that there are other women fighting and winning the battle to understand self-worth.

You are incredible.

michal said...

at risk of going against the "beauty isn't everything, compliment a girl for her mind and not her face......"

you really are so, so beautiful.

i think the important thing is to recognize our beauty in a non-comparative way, you know? like if we try to say "who's prettier, she or i?" someone will lose. that's not a fair game! instead, we should look to ourselves, find our own beauty, unique to ourselves.

the man that also sees that beauty is a man who doesn't compare us to anyone else.

and that's the only man that's worth it, anyway.

Shan said...

I'm so glad I came upon your blog. I've been struggling with this of late, and what you wrote was inspired. Great post!

Jacqueline said...

this hit home so hard, it stung. not in a bad way, though. youre a great writer - thanks for sharing these honest, personal thoughts. you are not alone (and you truly are beautiful - in & out!) Xx

laura said...

at age 28, i recently started to lose my hair. now for no real reason at all (hormones stress) my beautiful locks became less so. i literally watched my beauty begin to fade. and mind you, i'm a very nice looking lady. (or was, perhaps) but what games vanity can play! if this loss has taught me anything it is that looks are fleeting. even as my hair is slowly growing back in, the bald patch is fading, i will never again worry about something as fleeting as beauty. when i look at the health of my family, at a neighbor mourning a daughters illness - these are the things i will worry about. not my beauty. certainly not that at all.

i do understand the question of worth, but to me now, there are so many more things i value.

besides, there's always wigs.

Chelsi said...

I wish every girl and woman could read this post, because we've all been there, or will be there at some point or another. You've got wisdom, honey. And you share it in a way that doesn't come off condescending, but identifiable.

alicia johnson said...

i'm writing a story about a woman who has lost her light. her spark.

i came upon your blog researching what we mean when we talk about beauty, or feeling beautiful. this was such a great post. so soulful. thank you.

one of the aching truths my character comes to is that she has run from her beauty all her life, but now that it is fading she longs to be seen as beautiful. to have the courage to see herself as beautiful.

i agree with your assessment on the message of the play, it is important for us to explore this foundational nature we have as women, we long to be beautiful -- to be seen as beautiful. and i agree with your readers, your insights on the subject are moving -- particularly beauty and worth.

if my search leads me to any other soulful musings on the subject i'll link them back, and i know 'licorice in my pockets' will be a reminder of what a woman's light, or spark, can be. thanks!

alicia johnson said...

research yesterday did reveal one other interesting bit, it's a ted talk by brené brown, the power of vulnerability.

jennyjones said...

if i could have my daughters know one thing and one thing only, it would be their great and irreplaceable worth. i think if we feel the great measure of our worth we in turn feel beautiful. it shouldn't be the other way around but so many times it is for us. i loved this post and it was much needed today, thanks meg.

Jennifer M. said...

I wonder about these things quite a bit - what makes one women more attractive to men than another. Thank you for asking some very honest men in your life about this! It gives me some food for thought. I didn't know that about men not really noticing/caring if a woman was thin (maybe that's just in our heads that that's important?). I am starting to think that confidence is the defining factor.

bebe bird beck said...

You are incredibly beautiful - inside and out. So happy I found your blog today. Feeling dreary and you've somehow poured a bit of sunshine into my life.

Happy Wednesday!