A while back I wrote about how sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, and I startle myself by the thought that there’s some beauty about me. I wrote even then that I was writing about it because it was noteworthy, not because the Lady in the Mirror is always so gracious. Well, tonight I’m writing about the more common occurrence–those days that seem to stretch on, end-to-end-to-end, where you catch a glance of yourself, and all you can really do is wonder if there is even one redeemable shred of prettiness anywhere at all on the other side of the mirror.
Talk is cheap, and we all know that. We are inherently suspicious of peoples’ comments about our appearance, because they’re only being nice. Polite. It’s not that we expect people to literally turn away from us in revulsion, but we secretly suspect that, in their own minds where no one can hear them, their evaluation of our beauty is really, “Meh.”
“Meh,” is a terrible and and wonderful word. It’s wonderful, because it captures so many emotions in just three letters, and yet horrible in it’s terrible devastation. It’s the complete dismissal of being unworthy of comment. How was your lunch? “Meh.” Not even worth talking about, people. How’s that boyfriend working out? “Meh.” You don’t even care enough to get upset. There is utterly no hope. How’s the job? “Meh.” You go into work disengaged everyday, and you come home disengaged everyday. It’s a void of existence in your day.
We would almost just rather our specific crimes be listed, so we could weigh things out. You have pretty eyes, but your nose is a little odd. We could chose to hold on to the pretty eyes; but the “meh” takes it all in and swallows it. Polite people say you have pretty eyes (and don’t mention your nose), and the etiquette of the saying hangs in the air, and you leave it all behind. It means about as much as “meh.”
So we find ourselves in front of the mirror, giving ourselves side-long glances, or perhaps frank head-on appraisals. What’s there, on the other side of the mirror? Anything worth while? Anything to be valued?
And we all know those phrases. . .”It’s who you are, not what you look like!” Blah blah blah. You’re comparing apples to oranges. I’m not comparing who I’m like to who other people are like. These are two totally different things, and right now I’m considering what I look like! So stop changing the subject.
A lot of people start immediately blaming the media, and I don’t mean it doesn’t play a role. Of course it does. So does society. But I do believe that if we were all alone, and always had been, we would still have an idea of beauty and we would still be trying to measure ourselves against it. I think it’s part and parcel of being made in the image of God, and yet falling short of it.
And what I really don’t think is that this topic should be avoided or taboo. As soon as we get started talking about beauty, everyone jumps on “but that doesn’t really matter!” Well, maybe it does matter–not as much as some other things, sure. But when the conversation is shut down, it means we keep our private fears just that–private. We struggle with it alone, instead of talking about it.
Do we have to be beautiful? No, we don’t. We can live without being beautiful. But why is it such a universal experience to desire to be beautiful, and what are we to do with that desire? Squash it? Cater to it? Veneer it with religiosity? I’m not saying that I have all the answers; I’m saying that these are valid questions that deserve to be considered.
The Lady in the Mirror does not look pretty tonight. Does this just mean that I’m looking for affirmation and affection? Or does it really mean just what I said–she doesn’t look pretty, and this is about nothing more than a yearning for beauty, aside from any other thing. Don’t you think there is a yearning inside of every person for beauty, in one form or another? A yearning to be a part of that beauty?
Beauty is hard to define, though. We might want “it” but what is “it”? Sometimes we go looking for “it” in pictures and people and ideas, trying to wrap some words around it. It never does quite satisfy, though, does it? And even when we see it, and say, “Oh, beauty!” –we’re still left with that hole inside of us, because we can’t change the Lady in the Mirror. Not really.
I sometimes wonder why we’re allowed to yearn for things that we can’t have. If we can’t have them, why can’t we have our desire for them removed? Why can’t we “squash out” our insatiable longings? And if we have to live with them, how are we supposed to do that? How do we walk, side by side, with wanting the things we can never have or be?
I don’t really think the answer is to be satisfied with what you have. And I don’t think it’s to give up on your longings, or pretend they aren’t there. There is something that runs deeper and wider and richer than all of those longings put together that is very important and worthwhile. . .but we tend to only hear the harmony notes, not the fundamental one. But getting rid of the harmony notes is just a way of destroying the notes that help us find the fundamental one.
What is beauty and why do you want it? Those are good questions. And the longing you feel when you look in the mirror is valuable, too. It’s just not very obvious what it really means–an echo of something even more true.