“To the people who love you, you are beautiful already. This is not because they’re blind to your shortcomings but because they so clearly see your soul. Your shortcomings then dim by comparison. The people who care about you are willing to let you be imperfect and beautiful, too.”
― Victoria Moran, Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty
I can’t deny it.
I’ve fallen in love.
And the object of my affection is me.
I had a bit of an awakening several months ago when I shared my perspectives on living inside the body of a fat girl. I have never in my life been thin and always looked longingly at other girls and women, desperate to understand what it must be like to have tight skin that sat smoothly above their skeleton. Never did I look at myself with a sense of pride or gaze longingly in the mirror, enchanted by the reflection that stared back at me. No, instead, I have typically avoided mirrors and found disdain in most photographs of myself. Pouring through boxes of old photos and scouring through albums, I struggle to find many images of me. It should come as no surprise. I hid myself – from myself. Because, of course, I could never hide from the rest of the world. As much as I have tried to avoid seeing myself, I have also failed to realize how abundantly noticeable I am to all of those around me. And what they see is a very different image of me.
For Christmas this past year, I was given a very special gift. It was a gift of headshots and I was appreciative because it was generous and kind and thoughtful. These were something that I needed for my company and I had gone through a few rounds of shots not really finding anything that resembled what I hoped to find. They were all nice and suitable but did not illustrate for me the person I had in my mind. The photo shoot was quite glamorous including a makeup artist, several changes of clothes and a photographer who made me feel like I was soon to be on the cover of Vogue. Throughout the entire process, I had expectations of what I would see when the images were sent to me afterwards. Somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, I think I hoped that I would undergo some kind of transformation in front of that lens that would leave me looking like someone else.
After weeks of anticipation, the photos finally arrived in my inbox and I quickly scoured through them looking for “the shot” – the photo that would allow me to see reflected back at me the person I thought I was. One by one I went through the photos, critiquing every inch of myself.
I went on and on. Never once was I able to look at a picture in its entirety and soak it in. Never once did I look past all the obvious imperfections and see anything beautiful. Never once did I pause and give love to the person staring back at me. The last group of images in the pack were of me and my friend and I found myself staring at him and smiling. I saw his handsome face, his sparkly eyes, his bright teeth, his genuine smile. And, what really appealed to me in the pictures was my love for him.
I was deflated. Even with this stellar photographer and a beautiful backdrop, even with perfect hair and professional makeup, even with some great clothes to accentuate my coloring, even with all that, I couldn’t find a single image that I liked. With some trepidation, I shared the photos with some friends, worried that they would see my unattractiveness. And, right there, something occurred to me. How could I possibly know what others see? I can’t see through their eyes because they have a 360 degree, 3-dimensional view of me while I only have what I can see from my vantage point as I look down or around myself and what reflects back at me from limited views from the mirror. My view is determined by my range of motion. My perspective is obstructed, no matter how much time I spend contorting myself.
As I showed the images to others, I was flooded with compliments on how beautiful I looked. I spent some time with my friend who gave me the gift and asked him to describe for me what he saw in each of the photos he liked. The only way I would be able to see what he sees would be for me to try to don his lens, even if just briefly. And, he described, in detail, various aspects of the images that appealed to him. Much to my surprise, very little of what he shared was actually present in the photos. “Your smile in this one reminds me of…” “When I look at this one, it represents this aspect of your personality.” He went on and on with analyzing what he saw through the lens of his experience with me. He saw deep beyond the features, the colors, the hair, the makeup, the clothes. He saw what he loves.
For years, my husband has tried to explain this concept to me and I could not understand it. He has told me again and again that when he looks at me he does not see my messy hair in the morning or the dark circles that have set in under my eyes. He doesn’t see the flesh that expanded during my two pregnancies that lost its youthful elasticity and now just hangs around as a reminder. He never focuses on my aging face or my days without makeup. Instead, he sees our life together. He sees the pride, the joy, the love. And, that day, after my friend told me the story of what he saw in my pictures, I hung up the phone and just sat in front of my computer looking at myself. I needed to find what he saw. I needed to find what my husband sees. I needed to find what my children see. I knew I had to expand my peripheral vision and see myself in 360 degrees – rather than little pixels of imperfection.
So, there I sat. I didn’t move for at least 30 minutes. I stopped looking and started feeling. And then, it happened. Almost like looking at a painting where there is a hidden design embedded in the art, I suddenly saw the emergence of what they all see. I found the love. I looked at myself as a whole and complete being and not just a series of features and flaws. And I fell in love.
As with most breakthroughs, I immediately wanted to share it. And, I knew the exact place to do it. I decided to pay this forward with my coaching group – the group of women with whom I have worked for the past year to help them overcome some of their own personal challenges. Self-image has been such a big subject for all of them, in various ways, and I suspected a focus on learning to love themselves – to see what others love about them – would be highly beneficial.
We spent weeks working on this, culminating in an exercise of taking “selfies” and sharing them with the group. Our job was to explain what we saw and loved in each of the images. No “pretty smile” or “great color” because, we knew, that was not what we were looking for. The women needed to “see” what we see. They needed to understand what made them beautiful in our eyes.
What we learned, of course, is that beauty is about so much more than what we see with our eyes. In fact, our eyes are only a small piece of the equation. When we look at someone we love, regardless of what they look like, we see beauty because we are looking deeper than the surface features that present themselves to us. Similarly, if there is someone we do not care for, someone who has hurt us or we have little regard for, no matter how conventionally attractive they are, we often find them ugly because, again, we are looking at them with more than our eyes.
The difference for me, and hopefully the different that will evolve for the women in my group, is that I found a way to fall in love with myself. I discovered a pathway to see all the richness of myself that extends so far beyond what reflects back at me in the mirror. I love who I am. I love what I put into the world. I love where I have come from and have come to. I love how I live my life and my values and ethics. I see myself as a complete picture, not just the limited view afforded me.
And, sure, I have my moments when I look in the mirror, groaning about my bigger-than-I’d-like butt or my hair that torments me on a daily basis. But these are just window dressing. They are set decorations that can be changed. As my remarkable friend Kim, one of the gems in my coaching group, pointed out yesterday, our bodies are just our containers. Our souls are who we are. And I love my soul.