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First of all, destroy
anything that tells you
precisely what beautiful is.
Quit looking at women on TV
or on movie screens except
as some rare form of fauna,
unobtainable and therefore
non-aspirational. Wear only
what you like, what makes you
comfortable. Groom yourself
for your own approval. Look
people in the eye. Smile. If they
don’t smile back, don’t take it
personally. In fact, take nothing
personally. Get out of your head.
Live in the world, not in the confines
of your body. Notice. Learn. If you
want to know how you look, ask a
dog of whom you’re fond. He will be honest.
Otherwise, never think about yourself again,
except in terms of happiness and peace.
Don’t stew if you find you have neither.
Instead, collect good moments, until
you find enough to string together into
a lifetime. Eat whatever you want. Love fiercely.
In the end, wrecked, in bed, ready to slough off
life entirely, you will be beautiful. Radiant.
God will sigh at the sight of you. And you
will know what you were all along.

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Last night, my husband and I went to the hockey game.  In general, I am not a sports nut.  I couldn’t care less.  Unless you put me in front of a hockey game.  I also spend a great deal of time watching the crowd.

Weeknight games are often themed.  Last night was Pride Night.  Throughout the night, video of various players would flash up on the big screen.  “If you can play, you can play.”  Think about it a second.  If you are a hockey player, they don’t care if you fly the rainbow flag.  You are welcome to play the game.

What does this have to do with beauty?  Another set of images also flashed up on the big screen.  Throughout the night, the camera would focus on various people in the audience dancing to the music or cheering on the team.  One of their favorites was a person dressed in drag.  It was clear, this was a look meant to turn heads and it was a look that took hours to pull off from silvered dark hair to stage worthy makeup and a rainbow tea length dress.  The Queen Mother carries herself with less dignity.

Beauty isn’t a matter of makeup, hair color or just the right nail polish.  It also isn’t choosing a more natural look.  It is the inner strength, courage and dignity needed to be yourself.

–SueBE

 

ray

I’ll never get these Christmas cards ready in time.

I’m not done shopping.

I’ve got to start making the cookie dough.  Start!

It is so easy to let negative thoughts tumble around in your mind. The problem is that once they take over there, they start to color how you see the world.

You forget that you’ve looped a friend who is going through a divorce into a new group of friends.  That you finished rewriting a book and turned it in.  That you’ve got a really good idea for an inspirational how-to for writers.

All of that falls by the wayside.

But when you beautify your inner dialogue, you start to see what is positive.  You note what you’ve done right.  You see the talents of those around you.  You remember that they too are children of good, carrying his light into the world.

Not bad for something that started out by getting rid of some of those negative thoughts.

–SueBE

That’s Shakespeare, by the way, opining on the unbearable heaviness of being. As per usual, I’m with Sweet William. I always thought that if I could choose a super-power, I’d choose incorporality — the ability to lose my physical body, pass through walls, fly (or at least float) and be incapable of being touched or hurt by human hands. (My husband tells me Rogue from X-Men is like this, but my nerd credentials can neither confirm nor deny.) In other words, I want to be body-less. Why? Because I hate my body.

I was too thin growing up, and now I’m much too fat. (When was I “just right”? I don’t remember that ever happening.) I am too tall, my features are insignificant, I’m graying, and just now I have a rash on my face — stress dermatitis — which makes me want to stick my head in the ground like an ostrich.

My gorgeous redheaded sister-in-law tells me to try body positivity (or at least body neutrality). My friends tell me not to engage in negativity. They’re right. I know this. I also know that it is shallow and wrong that society puts so much emphasis on a woman’s looks; that when male professionals are described, words like “leader” and “strong” are used, but when women professionals are described, words like “hot” or “cute” prevail. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s the way things are.

It is also unfair to God, who made me as I am: tall, yes, but also smart. Unremarkable, but in better health than many. Temporarily red-faced, but a good listener.

I suspect that we all struggle with ourselves to an extent. I’d hate to meet someone who was totally self-satisfied, who honestly felt there was no work to be done on their innards (or out-ards). We can all do better. But honoring God means honoring ourselves, too.

I suggest a compromise. Let’s each try to think of one thing (per day) about ourselves that we like or value. I value that I can reach the top shelf at the grocery store. I will never have to ask a man to get something for me that I can’t reach. I like that my eyes show everything I am feeling. I like that my hands look like my mom’s.

That’s three things. So, how about you? What do you struggle with? What can you celebrate? How can we move past focusing on the physical to focusing on the spiritual?

I bet our souls are absolute knockouts.

Today, I’d like to challenge each and every one of you.  Call out the beauty that you see.  

Yes, we need to see what is wrong in this world before we can change it.  But if we dwell on the negative?  If we focus on the hate?  We lose hope.

And we lose more than hope.  We lose Light.  Not that Christ turns from us, and maybe this isn’t even true for everyone, but me?  I lose sight of the Light. I lose that feeling of warmth and His Love.

As with so many things, you need to maintain a balance.  Yes, you need to be aware of what is imperfect and flawed and needs to change.  But you also need to hold onto what is right and good.

With that in mind?  These two ladies I work with here?  Lori and Ruth, thank you for holding up the Light for all of us to see.

–SueBE

 

We try to tackle the big topics on this humble little blog: life, death, spirituality, peace, love, justice, mercy. So, in comparison, my topic today seems ludicrously flimsy and terribly vain: I am going to write about my recent decision to let my hair go gray, as it has been wanting to do, lo these many years.

I started going gray — white, really, if I’m honest — in my thirties. I’ve been dying my locks ever since. I consider being brunette part of my identity. I could never wear colored contacts, for instance. My brown eyes are also part and parcel of who I am. A good deal of this identity is wrapped up in pop culture: Brunettes are serious. They’re smart. My earliest role models were Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas on “That Girl” and Catwoman — all brunettes, all “making it after all,” on their own terms. That was my tribe!

So why change now? Why not go to my grave with my roots intact? Well, for one, my husband recently encouraged me to go natural. And if he doesn’t care, why should I care what the rest of the world thinks? Secondly, it’s a drain of time and money to continue to color my hair, and the chemicals involved are not as healthful and innocuous as one might think while watching a Clairol commercial. Third, why lie, even to myself, about what I look like? I like to think I embrace truth-telling. My white hair is a truth about myself.

But here’s the big one: I truly believe the purpose of life is in embracing the little “yesses.” After all, at the end of our lives, there is going to be a huge “yes” that we will have to embrace, like it or not. By accepting and welcoming each little “yes,” I prepare myself daily for the big “yes.”

And this is, despite being firmly entrenched in female vanity, a tough yes. I look at other women who are letting their hair go natural and I judge. It looks slovenly. Like a lack of self-care. And yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to think. I’m appalled at myself. But there it is. And this is what I will have to see in myself as my “skunk stripe” covers the crown of my head and extends, inexorably, downward. I will have to confront the worst in myself. I will have to deal with my own feelings about aging and about how women are judged and valued on their beauty and youth. I will have to see myself lacking.

And I will have to find God in all of this. I will have to grapple with a God who loves everything about me, but who created humans to love what is aesthetically pleasing. I will have to align myself with a God who expects my power to come from something bigger than a bottle of dye. I will have to say “yes,” not just once, but over and over again, every time my fingers itch to solve the problem with a box from the drugstore.

I am hoping all of this will be good for my soul. Because that’s the part of me I care about most. And it doesn’t need anything artificial in order to be beautiful, does it?

There was a women’s march last weekend. Then, there was a backlash. (Of course there was a backlash.) Most of the content of that backlash centered on the marchers themselves — specifically, their looks. Certain male politicians characterized these women as “ugly” — a word often consigned to feminists — or “fat.” These men know how to push buttons. They know exactly how to hurt us.

And yet: To look at these naysayers objectively, it is clear that we are not dealing with young Paul Newman lookalikes. There is nothing beautiful, graceful or aesthetically pleasing about them. They are, as my mother would say, “as homely as a mud fence.” You could tell these men that, but they wouldn’t care. Because it doesn’t matter. A man doesn’t have to be beautiful. His entire worth to society — to the world — isn’t bound up in his looks.

But ours (as women) is.

Why? Why? The question keeps ringing in my head like a plaint. Because you see, I know women who marched — in D.C. and other areas. They are beautiful inside and out. More importantly, they are smart. Most importantly — and I use this adjective with the gravity it deserves — they are holy. Which is a darned sight more important than beautiful. Which is, in fact, much harder to obtain.

I vacillate between gentle, head-shaking wonder and furious rage when I examine the dichotomy between what we say we are as a nation and what we do. Politicians, especially conservative ones, like to call us a Christian country. But what would God think of building a wall to keep people out? I’m talking about the God who sent his son to say, “What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” What would God think about denigrating whole swaths of people, trying — quite calculatedly — to shut them up and shut them down?

I have been told a hundred times to “accept” what is happening politically. To smile and accentuate the positive. But this isn’t about policy differences. It’s about opposing what I see as evil. I will never back down from opposing evil. It is my moral right — my moral imperative — to oppose it.

It is also my imperative to disabuse the notion that a woman’s looks define her. Until we are all judged by the content of our souls, no one here — or anywhere — is free.

In Hamlet, our droopy Dane laments, “O, that this too too solid [to drive home the theme, this should be pronounced to sound like ‘sullied’] flesh would melt!” I’m with you, Hamlet. When I am forced to look at myself — really look at myself — I see a fleshy mass of undesirable traits. Too much here, not enough there. A face that requires (to quote Sylvia Plath), “Soap, water and good Christian charity.” A pile of parts as mismatched — one leg longer than the other, one shoulder rounder and less broad — as Frankenstein’s monster.

And yet, we are made of the same stuff as the stars. “Little less than angels,” the Bible contends. Really? From the mites in our eyelashes to the sloughed-off skin bits we leave behind us like a crumb trail, human bodies are really pretty gross. But we are also formed in the image and likeness of God. I find it hard to imagine a God with ingrowing toenails or knobby knees. God ought to look like Paul Newman in his prime. Or like Lupita Nyong’o. What does God have in common with a common slob like me? (Not that I am, in any way slobby or sloppy. I give myself that much credit.)

These are the thoughts that plague me when I am forced to contemplate the link between humankind and God. Wouldn’t God do better to have the image and likeness of a graceful swan or sleek gazelle? If you could look like anything, why would you want to look like a doughy, clumsy, mostly hairless biped? There are better options out there.

Of course, the first Homo sapiens didn’t look exactly the way most of us look today. They were more hirsute, for a start. What if God looks more like that? What if God looks like a Bigfoot? (Author shakes head vigorously.)

What God is made of — what we are really made of — is more eternal than an ordinary body. Bodies wither, decay, are riddled with diseases. Ultimately, they do not stand the test of time. But something in us does, and that is the way in which we resemble God — in the speck of eternity that, in the end, defines and antecedes us. God is everything and forever. We are a little piece of that forever.

Maybe that’s the piece we should focus on. Oh, not that I’m advocating allowing one’s self to go to wrack and ruin. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — that is, try to keep your body well and safe. But give to God what is God’s — your soul — and make it the most beautiful soul you can. Beauty, even interior and hidden beauty, must be cultivated by hard work and consistent effort. And it doesn’t require the services of a high-priced plastic surgeon, either.

A new and more beautiful me! I won’t see it in the mirror. As long as God sees it, I’m good.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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