Last month, I listened as a friend stood up in a conference session on video-blogging and told the room that someone had once advised her to never put herself in front of the camera. “He told me,” she said, “that I have a ‘far-away’ face.” A face, that is, that is best viewed from a distance. A face that one’s mother could love, and maybe some others, but not everybody, and certainly not a camera.
Everyone in the room gasped, of course. Most, too, I suspect, cringed inwardly at some similar memory – a schoolmate teasing them about their hair, a friend commenting on their weight, a well-meaning relative remarking that ‘she’d be so pretty if it weren’t for her nose’ – some memory of some statement that maybe wasn’t meant to hurt, but did, because it aggravated all those insecurities, all those doubts, all those misgivings that we have about how we are seen. We were all, I am sure, thinking that the words that were spoken to Loralee were ridiculous and wrong. But we were – many of us, some of us, I am sure – also thinking that those words could have been spoken to us. It is easy to see the beauty in others. It is so hard to see it in ourselves.
I said this to Loralee, later. I told her that she was beautiful and that what had been said to her was ridiculous and that who knows what makes people say such crazy stupid things? But I also said that I’d been there, too, that I knew what it felt like, and that I knew that it hurt. “I hope that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore,” I said, “because you are – you know this – beautiful.”
“YOU are beautiful, too.”
“No, I’ve never felt that way, but I don’t care anymore.”
“You are so beautiful.”
“No, you are.”
“No, YOU are.”
It was one of those conversations that nauseates bystanders.
But we don’t have these conversations often enough, possibly for the very reason that we fear they sound insincere. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the saying goes, but we suspect that that’s an easy out, a free pass to the kind of social flattery that enhances friendships and eases discourse and provides us with an convenient means of expressing admiration. You’re beautiful, we tell our friends and our loved ones and our would-be loved ones and, some days, anyone who says, even in passing, I hate my hair, or I look fat in these pants. No, no, we protest. No, you’re beautiful. No, really, you are. And they wonder if we’re telling truth.
We are telling the truth. We are. We could attach all variety of disclaimers and conditions to that statement – we are, because when you love someone, you see beauty; we are, because, in love and in friendship and in admiration, we can overlook things that might be conventionally regarded as flaws; we are, because even when we see flaws, those flaws appear to us as parts of a beautiful whole; we are, because whether or not you look fat in those pants doesn’t matter to us – but the disclaimers and conditions don’t change the truth that when we really look at people – people we love, people we admire, good people – when we really look at them, we see beauty. We do. We should celebrate that more often. Say it more often. Insist upon it, more often, so that it gets heard.
Loralee and I decided that we should do just that, that we should follow the example of people – like this lady – who make a practice – an art – of celebrating beauty, wherever they find it. We decided that we would make a practice of using our words to remind others of their beauty. And we decided that we would start with each other.
But then Loralee had a terrible week, and she said, I feel like crap, and not beautiful at all, and maybe we should postpone it, because, ugh. And I was tempted to agree, because I’ve been having terrible weeks, too, too many terrible weeks, and I feel like crap down to the furthest reaches of my heart and to the very tips of my toes, and, also, who knows what kind of hatred such a post on friendship and beauty might draw, and, ugh, UGH.
Instead, I said this:
You are a beautiful, beautiful soul, and my heart breaks that you’ve been subjected to that hate – a hate that I know too well, as you know – and I wish that I had words to erase it all but the only words that I have are the ones that say ‘you are beautiful, you are wonderful, you are a woman who every woman should have as a heart friend.‘
I don’t know much, but I do know that beauty fights hate and pain, and you have it in spades, and I have some, I think, and we can use it to beat the ugly back. We can beat the ugly back by refusing to look at it and by filling screens with loveliness instead.
And so we did. And so we are.
Here is what is lovely – what is beautiful – about Loralee: she wears her heart on her sleeve and in her eyes and you can see that she is kind and that she is gentle and that she would be the sweetest of friends, just by looking at her. And you would discover, very quickly, that she is the sweetest of friends, because it is impossible to not be friends with Loralee, who has arms that are quick to hug and a mouth that is quick to smile and who is unabashed in her willingness to grab hold and draw you near and make you feel as though the world has been emptied of everything that is mean and ugly and hurtful.
Loralee shines and Loralee glows and Loralee is beautiful, in every sense of the word.
And my world is more beautiful for knowing her.
Now, you. You go tell someone that they’re beautiful, and tell them how they are beautiful and why they are beautiful and everything that is wonderful about their beauty. Tell them directly, or in a letter, or on the screen. And tell us, tell the world, about their beauty: leave a comment here, describing the beauty of someone that you love or admire or see lawn-bowling on Saturdays in the park. Or write a post ( if leave the link if you do, so that we can find it.) Pair up with someone online, if you want, like Loralee and I did, or do it as a meme (do people still do memes?) and encourage others to do the same. Post a picture that speaks for itself, or just use your words. Write it about another blogger, or your spouse, or your mom or your dad or your grandma or a friend or a neighbor or a total stranger – write about yourself – anyone whose beauty deserves celebration but isn’t celebrated enough. Write to remind yourself of how much beauty there is in people. Write to remind yourself how much beauty there is in you.
Who is beautiful to you? Why? How? Why and how are you beautiful?
Let’s fill up our screens – let’s fill up all the spaces that we can – with loveliness, and revel in it.
*Title lifted from Keats, Endymion.