And God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, my sister and I were having a serious discussion on the following: losing weight, gaining weight, the benefits of this exercise program over that one, and the never-ending quest to be skinnier, fitter, and wrinkle free. Truthfully, it's a discussion we've had millions of times over the years.
"When does this ever end?" I eventually asked. "I mean, are we going to be worried about this stuff when we're ninety-nine years old? What is the magical age when we can be comfortable with who we are and sit in our bathing suits at the beach and not obsess about our thighs?"
My sister didn't have an answer and, quite frankly, neither did I.
Later that day I took stock. I spend an inordinate amount of time being dissatisfied with what I weigh, how I look, what outfit I'm wearing, and whether or not I am having a good hair day. As part of my quest to be a better me, I exercise (a lot) and eat healthy meals (almost all the time).
But it's one thing to try and be a better me, and it's another thing to try and be a better me and still be dissatisfied with the image staring back at me in the mirror.
With my sister's conversation still in my mind, I pulled out a few photo albums and purposely flipped to photos of vacations in which I remembered feeling frumpy or fat. I turned to our recent trip to New Orleans this past March. My husband and I had a great time -- a fantastic time! -- but I remembered not feeling at peace with my body. Prior to the trip I had some vascular surgery done and I was still wearing compression hose from my ankles to my thighs (which limited my wardrobe), I still had swelling in my left leg, and because of the surgeries I hadn't been to the gym in almost three weeks. But as I was looking at a photo of that trip, I realized what an idiot I was. I mean, I looked fine. Really, what in the heck had I been fretting about? And, more importantly, why couldn't I see that then?
The truth is, when we look in the mirror we are not kind to ourselves. We perceive ourselves much, much differently than other people perceive us and, quite frankly, other people are often much, much kinder.
Last fall my husband and I attended a marriage retreat and, during one of the sessions, they illustrated this very point. Scattered around the room were chairs arranged into groups of three. We were told to go sit in a chair, but the caveat was we couldn't sit in the same grouping as our spouse. As it turned out, I ended up in a group with two men ... both of them strangers. We were then given instructions to take 15 minutes and jot down complimentary things you notice about the two people in your group. Since we couldn't speak, it had to be physical characteristics. Then, at the end of the time period we were to share our compliments with each other.
Compliment two men? Strangers? And have them compliment me? I wanted to die on the spot. This was so out of my comfort zone, but the fifteen minutes started and I was under pressure because those two gentlemen began writing and writing.
In the end, here's is some of what those two gentlemen said about me (and I am sharing this simply to make a point):
-You have warm eyes that sparkle when you smile.
-You have an engaging presence which invites conversation.
-You have pretty brown hair with a feminine cut.
-You exude a calm, collected exterior.
-You have a genuine smile with a nice, authentic laugh.
-You have a feminine stature with a cute petite frame.
Boy did I feel all warm and tingly, but to hide my embarrassment I jokingly asked them to read that last one again. Seriously, talk about a morale booster! Of course, within the framework of the marriage retreat the purpose of this assignment was to teach us to not only accept compliments, but to step back and see what others see in us. The more I thought about it I realized this exercise paralleled the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video which was floating around the Internet. The video shows how women perceive themselves versus how others perceive them and, amazingly, sitting there with those two gentlemen I felt as if I had just participated in the very same experiment.
Did they really see all that in me? The sparkly eyes? The authentic laugh and genuine smile? The calm, collected exterior? The (eh-hem) feminine stature? Did they really? Because if I were to look in the mirror this would have been my list:
-My eyes look tired.
-I tend to be reserved, which sometimes comes off as snobby.
-My brown hair has a mind of its own.
-I need to chill and just quit worrying.
-I laugh too much to cover up my insecurities.
-You are curvy, and you will never, ever be petite.
But just like in the Dove experiment, I can see how my opinion of myself can be so skewered. And so, so wrong. Hasn't my husband been telling me for years that he loves my curves (Who wants to hug a broom handle? he once asked). Hasn't my sister told me again and again that my curves give me a proportional shape? Doesn't Timothy like to sit next to me on the couch and twirl his finger in my hair as he tells me it's pretty and soft?
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are several layers to this saying, but let's focus on the word behold. To behold something is to see or observe a thing or a person which is especially remarkable or impressive; in other words, to BEHOLD something or someone is not the same thing as LOOKING or SEEING. To behold is to appreciate all that is good, beautiful, meaningful and pure. To behold is to find the perfect in the imperfect.
Back to the conversation with my sister. I know we'll probably have that same conversation again, but I am finally able to acknowledge the fact that I am hardest on myself ... and maybe that's a good place to start. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that I am going to stop comparing myself to others (there will always be someone cuter, smarter, skinnier, more talented, etc.), I'm going to start listening to my family and close friends (in the end, it is their opinion that matters most), and I'm going to BEHOLD those around me.
And this includes the person I see in the mirror.