In my hurry to recover, I’ve been spending a lot of time doing nothing. And by “nothing,” I mean working feverishly on an iMovie about BFA to show this summer, socializing with friends, reading, and taking pictures of my mom’s garden–you KNOW I’m bored when I resort to photographing flowers!
As I’ve spent so much time looking at the world around me through the lens of my camera, I’ve been prompted to think about beauty. Another factor in my beauty-musings might be the decidedly unflattering aspect of my own face these days, pictured here two days after my surgery. The word “ew” doesn’t really do it justice–and I’m referring to the incision, swollenness and stitches, not to my lack of makeup!
What is beauty? Is it the incoming storm-front, cast in an eerie blue glow, that came skimming over the houses across the creek last week?
Is it in the innocence and undiluted joy of a little girl cuddling two so-cute-I-could-melt puppies?
OR is beauty the aesthetic tyranny of unachievable and unnatural standards tattooed on our subconscious minds by a media barrage of pictures and diet ads and clothing styles? Not only is flawless beauty promoted as a means to happiness, love and wealth, but the ads have increasingly gone one step further, demonizing aspects of the human (and female) anatomy that are the normal attributes of real bodies engaged in the aging process: wrinkles, cellulite, sagging appendages and shifting weight distribution.
The not-so-subtle message squawking at us from TV screens, magazine covers and billboards is this:
Unless we look like this…
…we will never gain this.
Uhm…anyone have a soap-box? ’cause I’ve got a doozie to tell about the myths of singleness and marriage readiness! But not now…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a person who has floated through life completely unaffected by my own obsessions with physical imperfections. I still live with the dream that someone–someday–will invent just the miracle gadget that will allow me to do away with my most despised trait!
But I am also painfully aware that modern culture as a whole has mindlessly embraced the concept that thinness and flawlessness are symbols of worth. Until a little over a year ago, I’d become so focussed on a need to control (key word) my food intake and waistline that I lived in perpetual, handicapping guilt. I began each day telling myself that I would be “good,” broke every vow of food-abstinence I’d made by lunch time, gorged on anything I could shove into my mouth for the rest of the day as retribution for having broken those vows, then lay sleeplessly in bed at night, cursing myself for having failed again and making new vows that were intended to somehow make tomorrow different.
Tomorrow never was.
And yet…the part of me that was shaped by the fears and complexes of my childhood still believed that if I could just be her…
…things would be different. My adult mind, my slowly-being-redeemed mind, knows that attempting to be her has often lead to this:
And I’ve seen the devastation of the beauty-cult on people I’ve loved.
About a year ago, a former student came to visit. She had struggled with bulimia for most of her life and was just beginning to win her latest battle. After I told her about my guilt roller-coaster, she recommended that I read possibly the worst-titled book ever written on the subject of eating–but also a revolutionary book for this food-martyr: “If Not Dieting, Then What” by Rick Kausman. The book didn’t tell me what to eat. It didn’t even tell me to eat healthy. What it did was show me that by trying to control food, I was giving it a stranglehold over my life. From the moment I woke up in the morning until I crawled into bed, guilt-ridden, at night, I feared, craved and despised food.
I cannot and will not attempt to summarize Kausman’s wisdom in the limited space of this blog. All I can say is that it is the simplest, most common sense, most gentle and empowering commentary I’ve ever read on this topic–and it changed my life. Buy it–please.
Within days of reading the book, I was already claiming my life back from the weight-obsession that had allowed food’s tyranny over me. It’s not a done-deal yet–there’s no such thing–but the emotional freedom was almost instantaneous.
So, from this vantage point (and after a dismal attempt at clothes shopping this afternoon), what is beauty? Based on the experiences of these last weeks, I’m convince
d that it has little (nothing) to do with leg-length and tiny pores. I have experienced beauty in so many different forms recently that it defies defining.
It was in the shuttle driver taking us to and from the hospital. He had been the president of a company and the dean of a college before taking up chauffeuring. He’d quit his last job because he didn’t want the money; he wanted contact with real people.
It was in the nurse in the blood-clinic. I asked her if she liked her job (a bit of a redundant question, given her sunny enthusiasm). “Like my job? I LOVE it,” she answered, fiftyish and glowing. Why? Because she got to see patients all along the path of recovery and their courage gave her purpose.
It was (is) in my mother’s garden, a budding and blossoming expression of her appreciation for (and devotion to) God’s creation.
It was in the generosity of a handful of ladies in Michigan who got together to help me with my medical expenses. Astounding kindness.
It was in the evolution of blue-shelled eggs into squacking baby birds in a nest under my mother’s deck.
It was in the kindness of strangers and the faithfulness of friends. More than ever, I am convinced that beauty is not about how a person looks. It is most clearly displayed in that person’s motivations and how he/she touches the lives of others.
On a spiritual level–an all-encompassing level, really–the ultimate beauty of my life has been in God’s answers to the prayers of so many: in a smaller tumor than expected, in benign other “bumps” on my face, in a smaller wound than anyone had predicted and in an incredibly fast-healing scar. Beauty is in a faith that has allowed for peace despite the medical uncertainty. It is…and has been…in God.
We sang a chorus by Keith Getty on Sunday. One of the lines went: “Oh, to see my name written in your wounds.” The lyrics moved me because they made me realize that it is actually His name that is written in my wound. And though I hope it will some day become less visible, each time I catch a glimpse of it, I am reminded of God’s incredible sustenance throughout this McJourney. And there is great–GREAT–beauty in that.