Some Shape Of Beauty

March 31, 2010

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.

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    pamela March 31, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Awe that is so beautiful. I’m going to tell a stranger today.. hoping that they don’t think
    I’m crazy.. not that I really care
    .-= pamela´s last blog ..What The Hell I’ve Been Doing? =-.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    If it does sound crazy, it’s the best kind crazy, no?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    Jen March 31, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    You are beautiful.
    Your writing is beautiful.
    Your love of your friends is beautiful.

    I completely agree that we all have trouble finding beauty in ourselves. My psychologist is trying to do exactly that with me, and I hate even looking at myself in the mirror.

    I think you two ladies have an amazing stroke of genius here, and you’ve inspired me.

    Thank you.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    I have had SUCH a hard time with it. I have the worst discussions with myself about my appearance – even the ones in which I tell myself that I am more comfortable with my looks, I am telling myself, basically, that it’s okay to NOT be beautiful. Which is very different from seeing my own beauty.

    It’s hard, yeah.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    katie | motherbumper March 31, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    I will do this today and hope that it is contagious.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Sneeze it around.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    LD March 31, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This is a wonderful idea.
    We all need to hear it.
    And I know just the person who could probably hear it right about now.
    .-= LD´s last blog ..Two Years Old =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    I hope that you did let them hear it. :)

    Erin March 31, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    On a day like today when I am feeling like crap, thanks for this. I am going to go tell my son. I think he needs it too.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..I am happy, but… =-.

    Loralee March 31, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    This project has quite possibly saved my week, my sweet friend.

    EVERYONE needs to be reminded they are beautiful and I hope there is an outpouring of it.

    I’m so glad we did this.

    P.S. Just as an aside, after Mom 2.0 I have discovered that everything looks just a LITTLE more beautiful with liquor. Who knew? :P
    .-= Loralee´s last blog ..You’re beautiful to me…* =-.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    The booze-goggles are indeed rose-colored, my friend ;)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    Karen March 31, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Tahnks to both of you for this.

    It was beautiful and inspired me to share some feelings that really needed to be shared with some people who really need to hear it.
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..You are beautiful – the "Sisters" edition =-.

    sarah March 31, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks y’all for this today.

    I have, for the past few days, been very stressed out about something in regards to my personal health and wellbeing – and something I won’t have a clue about until at least next week when I can sit down with a specialist — and last night, the dam broke and I poured my heart to my husband and though he tried, he so so tried, he said the wrong things.

    Today I turned to my friend and I said to her, He said I was LUCKY. I don’t feel lucky. I feel like things aren’t fair. I feel more than a little pissed off about my life right now – I hate this stress.

    And she said to me this: It’s not right to compare lives. I have this. You have that. We don’t live in Haiti. We have roofs over our head. So what. What you’re feeling is important to you. It IS important. YOU are important.

    And it was the exact thing I needed to hear, at the exact moment I needed to hear it. So she is beautiful for making my heart hurt a little less and I told her so.
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..TIL Tuesday: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution =-.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Thank YOU. :)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    MommyNaniBooboo March 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Awww… crap, now I feel all warm and fuzzy.
    Off to recognize some beauty…
    .-= MommyNaniBooboo´s last blog ..22 things I’ve learned as a mother =-.

    liz March 31, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Your writing is as beautiful as you are.
    .-= liz´s last blog ..Observations on Cereal (while shopping at Costco) =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    Aw. Thanks. That’s a complicated thing for me. And a forceful thing. I’ve often thought that my writing was much more beautiful than me, and struggled with wanting to be as beautiful on the outside as on the inside (or as I thought I was on the inside.) So, yeah. Complicated. But thank you.

    tawnya March 31, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Love. Knowing Loralee, I agree, and very happy she led me here. There has been too much NON-beauty lately and this is a great reminder for all.

    Lynn @ Walking With Scissors March 31, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    This is exactly the kind of post that the blog world needs more of. Much love to you!
    .-= Lynn @ Walking With Scissors´s last blog ..Overreacting? Me? =-.

    Scary Mommy March 31, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Now, THIS is what the blogosphere should be used for.

    I feel lucky to consider Loralee a friend, and hope, someday, to consider you more than someone I respect and admire from afar. :)

    You both are incredibly beautiful.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    The feeling is mutual, lady :)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Some Shape Of Beauty =-.

    Sierra Black March 31, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    OK. Done. This post just saved my day from being a cranky loss.

    Instead, I blogged about beauty in my life here:

    Thanks, as always, for sharing some of your beauty with us through the Intertubes. I’m sure we’re all more beautiful for the ways you’ve made us smile.
    .-= Sierra Black´s last blog ..Beauty All Around Me =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I will be rushing to read it at first opportunity. Thank you.

    paige March 31, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    My God. I am sitting here in a puddle of tears. I have had a week filled (already!) with a parent of a kid I teach, pushing ugliness on me. I have felt utterly covered in ugly, unworthy and unloved.

    I am so blessed that I have a husband who insists on washing away that ugly.

    I am even more blessed to have a tight group of five best friends, women I would trust to raise my children if it came to that. Women who would help me hide a body. The one who lives closest to me comes for breakfast every Saturday. This past two days, she has held up a mirror for me and said “Look! Look how beautiful, how kind and dedicated, how smart you are. I love you and you are so beautiful.”

    Thank you, thank you for this post.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    So awesome that you recognize how blessed you are. So BEAUTIFUL.


    Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) March 31, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Both Loralee and you are truly beautiful!

    I also could NOT believe it when Loralee told me that… it is so ridiculous… not just because Loralee happens to have a strikingly beautiful face, but because nobody should ever say that to someone.

    I find it very hard to tell myself I am beautiful, but I always make a point to tell other women how beautiful they are. It is so very true how we all need to hear it so often.
    .-= Susan (5 Minutes for Mom)´s last blog ..Look and feel younger with Origins Starting Over =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Telling ourselves is the hardest thing. Maybe that should be the next issue we tackle :)

    tiff March 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    How lovely is this?

    I can associate.
    My own father told me I was fat and ugly on an almost daily basis and it seemed to spiral from there.

    I still have trouble seeing any part of myself as beautiful.

    But beauty is in the every day and I am going to tell my friends they are gorgeous today.
    .-= tiff´s last blog ..Posting is scanty, at best. =-.

    kgirl March 31, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    I made a very, very conscious decision not to let my insecurities about my looks rule my life, or limit me in any way. I had to do this – I have two girls who I think are the most beautiful creatures in the universe, and I try to remember that I will be their compass and their role model. But yes, pass it on, let’s. Let’s, let’s, let’s. I always think everybody is gorgeous anyway,
    .-= kgirl´s last blog ..Passover and Out =-.

    Maureen@IslandRoar March 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    You’re right; we’re beautiful. And we need to be there for one another and say it. Thank you.
    .-= Maureen@IslandRoar´s last blog ..Spin Cycle: Favorite Post =-.

    Ironic Mom March 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    It reminds me how as I age I can no longer tell what “good looking” is, because beauty is intrinsically wound up with people’s personalities. Thank you for reminding me to verbalize this more often.

    Off to read Keats. It’s been a while…
    .-= Ironic Mom´s last blog ..Manipulation 101: The Illusion of Choice as a Disciplinary Technique =-.

    elz April 1, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Thank you Catherine for this post, it gave me the perfect opportunity to tell my friend how beautiful she is while fighting cancer.

    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Thank you so much for doing this – I can’t wait to read it!

    Suebob April 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I love finding what is beautiful in people. Sometimes it takes some digging. Sometimes A LOT of digging. But people who are the most hateful are usually the most afraid, the most hurt.

    I’m always surprised when my friends complain about their looks or weight, because it is so unimportant when you know their heart. We should all give ourselves a break and remind ourselves that those who love us see us as beautiful no matter how our bodies look.
    .-= Suebob´s last blog ..Life Lesson Day =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

    “But people who are the most hateful are usually the most afraid, the most hurt.”

    And the most unaware of their own real beauty. A tough one, for sure.

    domestic extraordinaire April 1, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Loralee is such a wonderful person. At BlogHer this summer I met her in the lobby with some other friends I knew and when I told her who I was she threaded her arm in mine and insisted I go to breakfast with them.

    She is beautiful inside and out.

    And so are you lady! Because you know I don’t drive 2 hours to see those who aren’t….xo

    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:30 am


    red pen mama April 1, 2010 at 11:54 am

    How wonderful is this? Not only this post about beauty, but how I am filling my head with all the possibilites. I can tell my best friends IRL they are beautiful; I can tell my 3yo daughter she is beautiful; I can tell the moms & dads I know, & my readers that they are all beautiful; I can tell you, Catherine, that you are beautiful. And mean it 100%.

    As to me, I could pick apart the little things about my face or my personality that make me feel decidedly unbeautiful. But I don’t do that often, and I don’t think I’ll do that at all today. I’m going to think about all the times my husband has called me beautiful (and sexy); I am going to remember the time my best friend told me not to get a nose job because my nose gave my face character.

    Thanks. I agree with the commenter who said this is what the Internet should be for. Not for tearing down, but for building up.
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..You Don’t Know Me! =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I always wanted to get a nose job. My parents always insisted that doing so would change my beauty, and I’m so glad now, years later, that I listened. But it was hard to get here.

    Miguelina April 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    One of my favorite topics in the whole wide world. Since you asked here are two posts I can think of off the top of my head, they’re old, but this is a topic that should be discussed over and over:

    Karen from Chookooloonks April 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm


    *waving hanky in enthusiastic support*

    ALLELUIA, I say,

    .-= Karen from Chookooloonks´s last blog thursday: random acts of kindness =-.

    Catherine April 1, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    And I even left comments open, just for you ;)

    kittenpie April 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    This is both the wonderful and not so wonderful thing about being right up the middle – I am and get called neither beautiful nor ugly. And so my feelings are pretty “meh.” but I make sure to tell my Pumpkinpie about how very beautiful she is. And should make a point of telling other people too, but how strange does it sound, really, to do that? From someone who is not demonstrative, I don’t know. I try it, though, because I do think it’s a lovely idea to spread some joy around.

    anonymous April 1, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    This made me really sad. I’m not beautiful, and I haven’t been in a long time.
    I like that I live in the country, being in a mall recently in a city I had to walk through the cosmetics departments & all of the women just ignored me with their free samples & make-overs & whatever it is they peddle. I don’t mind being ignored by them. I don’t mind being plain. I’m a good person, a really, really good person who does a lot to take care of others in the world. My appearance means very little to me, and I just don’t care if anyone finds me beautiful.

    Allison Zapata April 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    You sound beautiful to me. BIG HUGE EFFIN HUG TO YOU!!!! Hug yourself, from me, right now. Please :) XOXOXOXOXO
    .-= Allison Zapata´s last blog ..Anything you can do, I can do better…. =-.

    Sarah Denley April 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    That is so AMAZING if you can honestly say that. It sounds so vain, but I wish I could say “my appearance means very little to me”. I don’t care that I don’t look like a super model. I used to struggle so much because my sister did. But I’ve always been the girl that was “cute” and I’ve finally just embraced it. We live in a culture that is telling us something so very different, and it’s wonderful that you have not bought in! I really do wish I could say the same thing.

    I also wish that I could honestly say “I’m a really, really good person who does A LOT to take care of others in the world”.

    Clearly, you are very beautiful.
    .-= Sarah Denley´s last blog ..Just FYI…. =-.

    Sheri April 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    If you look closely at the definition of beautiful, you should find:

    “a really, really good person who does a lot to take care of others in the world.”

    It fits, yes? I feel your sadness, but the person you just described is the epitome beautiful. Know that in your heart.
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Trying to give back =-.

    Sheri April 1, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    I meant to type “epitome of beautiful”. Sorry for my bad grammar :)
    .-= Sheri´s last blog ..Trying to give back =-.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    EXACTLY. Yes.

    Her Bad Mother April 1, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    What all those very wise women said? THAT.

    Believe it.

    Heather Cook April 1, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Dear Anonymous, Plain is beautiful. Being a good person is beautiful. There is no continuum of beauty with some at one end and some at the other end and a big bell curve of plain.

    There are an infinite number of ways to be beautiful and it has a whole lot more to do with how you are than what you look like.



    Her Bad Mother April 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

    “There are an infinite number of ways to be beautiful and it has a whole lot more to do with how you are than what you look like.”

    Yes, yes, yes, EXACTLY.

    MsDarkstar April 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Beautiful is not a reflection in a mirror. It is a feeling deep in the heart.

    Thanks for the post… it inspired me to share with my readers.
    .-= MsDarkstar´s last blog ..You are beautiful… =-.

    jennybek April 1, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thanks for this. I find that the older I get, the more beauty I see. And if I could talk to my teenage self, I think I’d slap her for her shallowness.
    .-= jennybek´s last blog ..I better get a reunion. And soon. =-.

    WarsawMommy April 2, 2010 at 4:05 am

    I don’t understand why people feel the need to put each other down. It is so beyond me.

    Want to know what is UNbeautiful? Telling someone they are lacking in some way, or unattractive, or fat. For me, that is the ultimate beauty-killer – ’cause ugliness within is always always refelected on the outside. No matter what you may physically look like thanks to some freak combination of genetics.
    .-= WarsawMommy´s last blog ..Wordy Wednesday (One Day Late) – The Scarf =-.

    Catherine April 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    People who put others down lack faith in their own beauty, and resent it in others.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Dear God =-.

    nic @mybottlesup April 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    catherine, this is so inspiring and uplifting, and needed in this community right now. thank you.
    .-= nic @mybottlesup´s last blog ..well this sucks =-.

    Aspen April 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Beautiful post! Thanks!

    Issa April 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Catherine, I love this. I just read Loralee’s post. I agree with both of you. You are both amazing, lovely people.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Monday five =-.

    Catherine April 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Dear God =-.

    bokker April 6, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I am feeding my fabulous 8 week old daughter as I type this. A few weeks ago she started to develop a strawberry birthmark, right in the middle of her forehead. As it has grown- and it has grown, rapidly- I have had to confront some of my less comfortable attitudes, to “beauty” and true Beauty and what others think and whether I care. This is just one of the ways in which she has taught me,and for that and so many other reasons (including those eyes and those cheeks and that smile, oh my gosh) she is beautiful.

    I have blogged about it but don’t know how to link.
    .-= bokker´s last blog ..Vanity, Vanity Part Deux: The Mark of Distinction =-.

    Catherine April 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Just copy and paste the url into the comment box (note, though, that your comment includes a link to your most recent post – is that the one you mention?)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Dear God =-.

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