Did you know that there are mountains in Texas? Seriously, mountains. It’s flat for days (literally) and then right before you hit the Mexicos (the country and the New) the Franklin Mountains pop up like forgotten geographical zits. My reference to acne aside-I actually think they’re beautiful. They aren’t as grand and imposing as the Rockies, nor as graceful and undulating as the densely forested Appalachian, but they have their own rugged beauty sculpted from the bare, jagged rocks that ripple with a variety of hues in the desert sun. My first sight of them brought joy and excitement-I knew vaguely that there was a mountain range supposedly dividing this new city we were moving to, but in the chaos of orchestrating the three day cross country move I hadn’t given them much thought. Mountains! Our last two duty stations had been flat (Ft. Bragg) and flatter (Ft. Rucker) so the presence of actual elevation more than made up for the lack of trees. Mountains! I can currently look out the window above my sink and MOUNTAINS! Right there. I love to watch the weather roll in over top and I get spectacular sunsets nightly (when the wind isn’t blowing enough dust to impact visibility, ha).
So, naturally, this being the world of social media-I tried to take a picture with my phone to share my excitement. ….womp womp. Every picture I took I felt like the mountains looked dull and tiny and uninspiring. The pictures just didn’t do the mountains justice! It was frustrating. So I stopped taking pictures and just soaked up the view in the moment.
Now we’ve all seen or done this. How many times have we tried to take a picture of something and the picture just didn’t really capture what was going on? Conversely, how many times have we seen photographs that take our breath away? This. This is exactly what we do with our bodies and our selves.
I don’t like all the marketing campaigns aimed at women and beauty, even some of the “self love” ones irritate me-because they focus so much on appearance. Appearance is only a snapshot of life. It’s only one lens. It’s not even smart phone camera quality, it’s an outdated flip phone camera picture. When I mention loving my body, I mean NOW and ALL OF IT. I don’t mean “loving how far it’s come” or “loving the pretty parts” or “loving the strength it has” I mean in this moment, wherever you are in the journey of life, loving the intricate complexities of your physical-ness. Our bodies are incredible, each and every one is a work of art-even those who are, by the world’s standards, disabled or diseased. How extraordinary that our organs work in concert to fight disease, to find ways to adapt to disability, to struggle through this life still pumping, still going, still doing. We have amazing capabilities of healing, of strengthening, of endurance and stamina, of sensation and interaction, of delicate manipulation, of shaping and creating. We should nurture them, care for them, rejoice in them, stand in awe of them, and ultimately- love them. And yet the biggest pressure society puts on all of us is how this deeply complex organism appears on the surface.
By whose standard of beauty are we measuring ourselves? I’ll tell you flat out-there isn’t one. Artists have struggled with the concept of beauty for decades-is it symmetry, a certain pattern, a specific asymmetry? Is it a hind-brain driven grab at fertility, or a survival mechanism? What makes things beautiful? What makes certain people beautiful and others, not? How come the standards of beauty change so dramatically across the decades? A better question-why are we all still so obsessed with just one measure of a person?
I am thirty years old (yesterday!), and I can just now assert with confidence that I am more than my appearance. I have dreams, goals, emotions, ideas, quirks, idiosyncrasies, talents, gifts, a soul…-all swirling together inside this body to make a complex person. My body is a part of my person, make no mistake, it is the part through which I am able to realize those same goals, dreams, interests, etc. But it is only a part of a greater whole, and my appearance is even a smaller aspect of that part. When I look at my boys, I have to take a huge mental step back to evaluate their appearance objectively. To try and see them through the eyes of a stranger-it’s almost impossible. When I see them, I don’t just see the formation of their limbs, or the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the stance of their skeletal system-I see the energy leaking out the pores of my three year old as he runs down the sidewalk, the pleasure in the eyes of my toddler as he successfully recaps a marker, I see their spunk, their quirks, even their thoughts seem to be etched clearly in their movements. And all I feel is love for who they are. The lens through which I view the boys is super high quality and focused, and I’m sure rose tinted. But when I take a picture and put it on Instagram-you don’t see all that. I look at that picture and see THEM, a stranger looks at that picture and sees two boys.
Why are we believing the picture a stranger has of us? Why are we focused on making that shallow, one level representation of who we are (our appearance) matter SO MUCH? Why are we so reluctant to believe that those who love us don’t view us the same? They can’t view us the same, because they see more of us than just a snapshot. So let’s stop placing more importance on how we are seen compared to the always shifting standard of beauty, than on cultivating all of our selves. Because when strangers become less than strangers, what we look like is rapidly buried under how we connect, and that connection is not based on the shape of our cheekbones. Y’all, we can’t escape our society from judging us, that will happen-we are not responsible or in control over the actions of others. But we absolutely can, and should, remove ourselves from the equation. Because the lens by which someone is judging you may be from the camera of a flip phone. It doesn’t even come close to capturing who you really are.