If I could go back, all those years, and stand next to twelve year old me, would I have the courage and strength to tell that nervous boy watching all the other children, swimming, laughing, and running—playing shirts v.s. skins—to quit worrying and join in, that it doesn’t matter how chubby you feel, or how different you look, that as long as you love and accept yourself, no words from another can harm you, or would I just sit back and watch, still the observer unable to join the party?
It’s funny how something so simple as taking your shirt off to swim can be so detrimental to a young child’s self esteem and yet as adults we often forget what that was like or rather what external forces beyond our control led us to believe ourselves unworthy of such a simple, yet harrowing task.
As in childhood, so as in adulthood, what we allow to harm us will.
Commercials show us long, slender, sleek models who seem to effortlessly fit in to their surroundings while being rewarded with warm smiles and admiration for seeming perfect.
Television shows and movies give us well manicured, quintessential versions of ourselves that often seem more like science fiction than what actually is.
Billboard ads and magazines are placed conveniently to fill all our psyche with blemish-less detail to promote this false sense of unattainable beauty that even when met, there’s ultimately an even whiter teeth formula, or wax to whisk away our imperfection.
It’s a cycle that even before the mind has time to develop, stunts it’s growth and like a cavity begins to decay all sense of self worth.
How often have you judged yourself by your looks rather than how you feel?
For this average white guy, countless.
But it’s taken all those countless times to figure out that it doesn’t matter in the slightest, especially as a child who’s developing.
So would I tell that twelve year old me to take his shirt off and go swimming with the rest of the lot?
I don’t think there is a clear answer other than that instead of telling him what he should or shouldn’t do like all the rest of the world, I’d allow him the opportunity to listen to my story and decide for himself.
But I would say this. Chances are that boy or girl over there thinks there nose is too big or there ears are too small. Chances are that kid who cringes to put on his glasses everyday feels just like you do now, wondering what others will think of what makes him human.
Perhaps I’d reassure him that everybody has stretch marks, even the biggest, strongest athletes. Even his mother, and what could be more beautiful than sacrificing your physical form to grant another life?
If what you see in the mirror is ugly, then consider this: chances are you’re comparing your own unique beauty to what, for your entire life, you’ve been programmed to believe is beautiful.
And what is beauty anyways?
Margaret Wolfe Hungerford said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
And isn’t that true? Yes or no, in more instances than not beauty is subjective. In fact, I’d go even further to say that beauty manifests itself in infinite ways other than what the eye can see.
As a photographer with a fond admiration for women and men alike I can honestly say that I have taken countless photographs and manipulated them to appeal to the mass collective of what is to be considered quote on quote “beautiful.”
Hypocrite. No, I think not. I never claimed they were beautiful but simply did my job in a way that my superior agreed was aesthetically pleasing.
A wrinkle here, a crows foot there, deleted.
Nobody has ever died from a portrayal of beauty, right?
Wrong. Though I’m not an extremist so there are many factors to consider, all of which yes, I agree, may seem like a bit of a cop out or excuse not to hold oneself accountable for taking what is and transforming it into something less natural.
But this isn’t about my career choice or eye in which I behold.
This is about you and that “ugly” reflection in the mirror.
You are not ugly, you simply aren’t. You are you, and you are beautiful.
Those who claim to seek perfection, well, they’re only trying to fill a void. And it’s a bottomless pit because like beauty, perfection is ultimately subjective.
While I sit here and delve deeper into thought, I watch a mother and daughter walk by my window. The mother is flapping her arms as graceful as she can. The child looks to her mother and understands she is trying her best.
In the end all that we can do is try our best to love ourselves enough to fully accept the unique beauty of another.
Any other judgement is of which we have been programmed to believe.
It’s taken a very long while to believe in myself and I willingly admit that each day is a slow progression to further acceptance of my own unique beauty.
If someone tells you you’re not beautiful, that’s their loss.
And I hope the next mirror that you face looks back in your direction as the child looks with grace and marvels at the perfection of her mother’s love.