I watched this video of a photographer taking pictures of high school students and telling them that she enjoyed taking pictures of beautiful things.
Watching the faces change when they were told they were beautiful was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Sometimes their faces lit up and sometimes they fell. No matter the circumstances, every single subject was beautiful.
It occurred to me that my definition of beauty has changed over the years. Redefining beauty has also given me other rewards.
Like my ability to accept a compliment.
I watched this video and found my throat tightening up and my eyes leaking. It seems that since I’ve been locked in my house, I have no problem processing anger, but if I am presented with something poignant, then all bets are off.
There is a young woman in the video who when she was told she is beautiful, responded with “shut up”. She wanted nothing to do with the project. She did not want to accept for a moment that she is beautiful. In fact, she seemed angry at being called beautiful.
I identify so hard with her. I understand not just running away from a compliment, but actually being annoyed by them. It feels like gaslighting. Like someone is messing with your own personal reality, and that can be unsettling.
Not long after a very dear friend and I became friends, she offered me a glowing compliment on my writing. She referred to me as an amazing humorist. I told her to shut up and put my hands over my face.
She was taken aback at first. My reaction was not what she expected. My friend is an accomplished professional musician. I just wrote shit down that I found funny. I was not in her league and certainly didn’t deserve a compliment. I wanted the conversation to end and move on to something else. Anything else. Then I removed my hands from my face and looked at her. I realized that my reaction hurt her feelings.
I explained that compliments have always been difficult for me. I told her how much I appreciated her kind words, but it was not easy for me to be at ease with anyone telling me that I was not only okay, but better than okay.
That moment in time was a learning lesson for me. I realized how I could be grateful for compliments and be thankful rather than hiding. My issues are my issues, no need to project them on anyone else. I am not saying that it has been easy or that I’ve always been successful, but I am aware and I try.
Another lesson I have learned is that being kind sometimes takes an effort.
I am not a patient person. I am kind and giving, but have very little tolerance for rude people.
Way back when, during the days when we could still go out and mingle with other humans, I had an interaction with someone at a convenience store. The outcome could have been the same outcome that I’ve experienced numerous times, but I changed that outcome.
As I approached the door to the store from the left, another woman approached from the right. She got to the door before me, opened the door and then let the door shut in my face. There was no way that she didn’t see me. None.
I went in with a cloud of annoyance hanging over my head.
I got my items and went to check out and the rude woman was already in line. I looked at her back and thought “Well, of course you are in front of me. Rude bitch.”
Then I thought, “Do you know her? Do you know what her life is? Did it really hurt you that much to open a door?”
So, I decided to change my thinking. I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and looked at me and looked ready to battle.
I said “Your haircut is adorable. It’s so flattering. I love it.”
She paused for a minute and then said “I think this is the first time in my life that a stranger complimented me.”
I wished her well and went on my way. I have no idea if I made her feel better or not. I think I did. I do know for sure that it made me feel better. Because damn, no one should wait a lifetime for a compliment from a stranger. Also, it feels better to not be mad. So much better.
I’m not perfect at being kind. I’m awkward and I say weird things and when that happens, instead of backing away gracefully, I just make it worse. But I still try. I try because I learned that day that it feels better to make another person feel good than it feels to stew over someone being rude.
So, getting back to the video.
As I said, as I’ve grown older, I have realized that what I’ve been told is beautiful and what I find beautiful aren’t necessarily the same.
So I am going to ask for a favor from you.
Don’t fix your hair, don’t put on makeup. Don’t look at yourself through the eyes that Madison Avenue has insisted that we all look through.
Just look at yourself.
You are beautiful.
It might not be easy. And you might not believe me, but you are. You are beautiful.
When you go out or watch TV or read articles, try to look at the humans you see through other eyes. Find the beauty that exists in all of us. Find the beauty. Beauty doesn’t mean that you have to be symmetrically perfect. Beauty can have lines and bulges and flaws.
I believe that when we find the beauty in ourselves, and we find the beauty in others, that we will work toward protecting that beauty.
We all deserve that. We all deserve to be loved and accepted, regardless of the package we come in.
I hope that you are safe. I hope that you experience joy. We have so much to work through. Life is easier when we see beauty. We can all start by finding that beauty in ourselves.
Michelle Poston Combs writes humorous and serious observations on life, menopause, anxiety, and marriage on her site, Rubber Shoes In Hell.
She lives in Ohio with her husband and youngest son. She stands at the precipice of empty nest syndrome which she finds both terrifying and exhilarating.
Michelle programs computers to pay the bills. She counters this soul sucking endeavor by contributing to Jen Mann’s anthology I Still Just Want To Pee Alone, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Better Homes and Garden, Grand, Vibrant Nation, Erma Bombeck's Writers Workshop, New Jersey Family Magazine, and Listen To Your Mother.