Friday, January 7, 2011
“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”
Little girls and then grown women are raised to measure themselves against the beauty standard. Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus defines beautiful people as the “aristocracy, beau mode, café society, jet set, privileged class, the upper crust” to name just a few. It smacks of exclusion. If you are not aristocratic, famous or jet set, then you cannot be beautiful. Then, you must be un-beautiful, ordinary, and not highly valued?
Yet it is equally true that psychologists and anthropologists have supported the notion that as babies, children and grown adults, we will spend more time gazing at both members of the opposite sex whose facial features are symmetrically aligned, that over time, human beings have labeled beautiful. Those characteristics include widely spaced large eyes, high cheek bones, full lips and perfectly matched sides of the face. For women, additional standards of an hour-glass figure, larger breasts, and feminine, baby-like faces have been judged to be visually preferred by men. We know that it is within our nature to prefer stand-out beauty whether it appears in the male or the female. However, it is also both commonly known that girls and grown women are held to a beauty standard that is unyielding as stone as they grow and age.
Life tends not to be fair in that some women are more physically beautiful through genetic inheritance than others. What emerges as the core principal of beauty is that inner beauty lasts and physical beauty diminishes as we age. Although to be truthful, beautiful women I know who are in the seventies and eighties and who have retained their spark still maintain an edge over their peer group. Beauty that lasts does not live on the outside. Acquiring and keeping a spark is what the life force is essentially about, and then of course, passing it on.
A beautiful woman acknowledges how those who came before her have changed her life.
One of the phrases I find myself saying to girls of all ages is that we came into this world alone and that is how we are going to leave. By that, I try to remind myself and others that we have been given our own gift of life and it is not attached to someone else’s life force. The more I live in that understanding the more I am grateful to those women who came before me whose lives were filled with limitations, hardships and early and enduring losses. In spite of those challenges, there were women in my family that dedicated their lives to intellectual development and to the care of their minds, bodies and spirits. They were healers, teachers, nurses, physicians and philosophers in their own right. They inspired, suffered, and provided those of us women behind them with a model of what the female life can bring to others long after they have gone. We must be compelled to keep their stories alive within our family circles.
When my granddaughters were age six and nine, one asked me in front of the other if I was ever going to die. I could see by hearing their concern and looking into their eyes that they wanted me to tell them that I would live forever. I knew this was an important moment for us and I was being called upon to tell the truth. Perhaps it is because I lost my own mother at a tender age when I needed her very much that I recognized the importance of their question. Thus, I told my granddaughters that someday I would die. I went on to explain that everything that has life eventually will die while quickly affirming that I intended to live for a very long time. I stressed to them that when I am gone, I know they will miss me. But I wanted them to remember all of the good times we have had together, the songs we sang and the music we danced to. I want them to remember me and smile and be happy that we shared so much love together. They listen intently and I noticed a tear or two slip down their cheeks which still burns inside of me. The youngest will still ask, as if fact checking, if it is true that someday I will die and she blurts out that she does not want that to ever happen. Growing up happens in infinitely tiny steps over a long journey and I cannot deprive her of opportunities to grow strong by comforting her with falsehoods.
Just as it is important to acknowledge those women in our families that have impacted our lives, it is essential that we credit the Susan B. Anthony’s whether they were scientists, politicians, or social workers. The legal and civil rights won by them and the barriers they helped to rip down has resulted in improving the quality of a woman’s life that is unequaled in no other country in the world. Their work laid the road for all of us as we continue to press those issues important to us both as individuals and to women as a whole. Continued dedication and hard work is a must as nothing remains static: all reform improves or unravels.
A beautiful woman knows her gifts and limitations and accepts them with grace.
Why is it that when you give a grown woman a compliment, she will argue with you, or worse yet, tell you of her faults or weaknesses? Try saying to a woman you know well that she really looks wonderful. Is it because as women we are raised with the expectation that we need to do many things at the same time and to do them without error? We all have read that boys are given more constructive feedback and rewards than girls which may be why girls seek out feedback that they are accepted and loved.
Bury forever the lie that girls and women must be good at everything. It is not required of any woman to be perfect or perfectly good. That is what saying no and taking calculated risks is all about. Life is a limited resource and eventually that resource will run out. If we determine what are interests are, what our innate gifts are, we can be more efficient about creating our life work that is fulfilling, interesting and that sustains growth overtime. We will all need to work harder in areas we find less interesting. We must stay the course and discipline ourselves to grow skills in areas we find less appealing but nevertheless, are essential (financial skills). The point is that we do not have to do everything, nor do we have to do everything with the same zeal and energy. We certainly do not have to most things perfectly.
A beautiful woman’s life echoes a liberating simplicity.
Simplicity used to describe a woman’s life may seem counter intuitive. Yet, the happiest women I know simplify by focusing on those activities that are at the center of their hearts. To do that requires us to name our values and to say the names of those who are in our center of caring or influence. Once we can do that, we can limit our goals in order to build a life that is rich, centered, and thus simple. When we engage deeply in those activities and work that define who we are, we are more likely to produce positive energy and joy and less likely to be bogged down with anxiety, stress and resentment.
A beautiful woman can portray strength, leadership, and maternal caring.
Whether you are a man or a woman, life has a way of sending you as many trials and tribulations as it does joys and celebrations. Too many of us were raised in a culture that expects girls and women to be one dimensional, that is, soft, deferential and passive. While it is true that we expect men to be direct, assertive and in-charge, expecting a person to lead and be assertive generally produces a person that is receptive to assuming more responsibility and that behavior in turn, results in more opportunities. The lioness and female bear are instructive to girls and women in that they are tender and maternal yet they are also powerful hunters and protectors.
A beautiful woman is authentic.
We are our passion. Without passion driving us, we are driven by others’ passions. If we are not careful, we use up all of our own energy while reserving little for our own dreams. It is no wonder we see so many women exhausted, anxious and depressed with all they are required to do. They continue a cycle which reserves little time for their own rest, relaxation, meditation and work. It is easy to become resentful of our partner’s or co-workers’ successes when we feel as though it comes at our own expense. Years ago I visited my physician complaining of stomach pains and exhaustion. As he was examining me, he asked me a simply question that made me cry. He asked, “When was the last time you experienced joy?” I realized I could not remember. I had made my life unnecessarily complicated by trying to meet too many other people’s preferences and expectations combined with my own need to mother in the same way as mothers who did not have a full-time professional job! As women, we must become more focused on what is at the center of our value system, our net worth as a human being, as a mother, a partner and as an individual. The more we center on that which is our passion, the more positive energy will drive our bodies and our souls.
Authenticity requires reflection, timing and perseverance. That which is our passion can be resurrected from our girlhood. What we loved then is likely to inspire and bring us joy as adults. I have learned from many people that we do not change the core of our beings that much from childhood. We have a lifetime to grow and nurture our dreams and depending upon the choices we make, the timeline is different for each of us. Some women will have children early on, others later in life and still others will choose to have no children at all. Comparing our life with others and imitating it as the only right path will surely lead to anxiety, frustration and a sense of inadequacy.
The most important trait may be perseverance, the willingness to continue working on your dream, your work, and your art even if for only your own enjoyment and comfort. Perseverance also entails not giving into despair, losing hope and relinquishing your life force to darkness. We have learned so much from those who have been unjustly imprisoned, tortured and left for dead and from those that have been enslaved by depression. Life matters. Thus, at all cost, women must see the importance of keeping hope and, like the lioness, guarding their strength.
A beautiful woman is a mystery that is housed in the interior.
Many mornings, I light a candle in my kitchen or burn incense that reminds me of the Chequamegon woods of my birth. In winter, my favorite days are cold, sunny and snow covered. I am pulled north if I can leave and if not, I turn toward the out of doors and imagine that I am in the woods of Lake Superior. In the winter woods, you can hear yourself breathe. There are few if any human voices. Within minutes, my mind is cleared and restored and I begin to hear the songs of birds that have stayed the winter. I can trace the path of the rabbits, moles and squirrels in the snow. I can clearly see where the deer have bedded down in late afternoon or evening.
When I was a young child of eight, I loved to go out on the coldest of winter days for as many hours as my face and hands would tolerate. I could not go far from home so I trudged toward the outer boundaries of the forest and played under the arms of the towering pines. They offered protection from the wind and the cold, and if you went far enough under them, there was no snow at all. It was a perfect place to play, to imagine, to just “be” as a young girl. I claimed it as my secret winter domain. It was mystical and magical but as a child, I would have had no words to explain its power. I could only feel it.
The following year I moved to an urban city to live with my aunt. There were no trees, no hills, and no Chequamegon lands. I walked down newly paved sidewalks, lined with trees smaller than I was in a newborn suburb. I desperately looked for green seclusion in the form of wooded trees, but found none. I was soul sick, depressed and sensory deprived. I coped and adapted for the following nine years I remained but the concrete city would never be home. I now have words for what I experienced as a child: I had been removed from my interior life and it would be thirty years before I would reclaim it.
The interior life is attained by communing with our senses and our intuitive spirit. It is a place that triggers our senses and where our emotions flow with ease. The inner core of a girl and woman’s being will speak the truth to her if she learns how to tune out the world and hear its message. She has been given a life that is like no other. She is obligated to challenge herself, to lead, and finally, to leave her story for smaller feet to follow. By tapping into the Life Force, she will find her own path and live in splendor and grace.