While shopping at Target a few nights ago, my son and I passed the same couple every few minutes, and each time we saw them I was moved nearly to tears. The man’s appearance didn’t make much of an impression, so I took few mental notes: straight brown hair, pale skin, tallish, thin, t-shirt and jeans. He looked happy, but mostly he looked at the young woman beside him. This woman’s external looks were similar to and as ordinary as his.
By common standards, they were both average. Neither one had big beautiful eyes or long lashes, or a face that could launch even one ship. Yet she positively radiated, sort of bounced, floated with every step, a smile like a rainbow playing on her lips seemingly continually, and the way her eyes danced was magic.
I am inclined to stare at people regardless of their looks or manner or whether their appearance happens to momentarily enchant me. I like people. I like to know their stories, fears, hopes, ideas, insights. When I’m out and about, I tend to gaze too long, but really, not long enough if we haven’t said “Hello,” or at least acknowledged each other. Human beings are mysteriously amazing and to simply walk by people without noticing them is impossible for me. I do exercise wisdom.
Anyway, this woman absolutely captivated me. I wanted to ask her if we’d met before because I got the feeling that maybe we had, or maybe we should, though most likely I met her in a dream, as I have first encountered so many friends. But at that moment I was too shy. I appreciated her from afar, scrolling time-past to see if I could locate her in a waking memory. Then they were gone, and my focus turned back to shopping.
Hours later she came to mind. Again, I went over her purely physical, non-noteworthy looks. I was struck by an elusive realization. When she looks in the mirror she probably sees “average” looking back at her or maybe she even dislikes her looks.
Her beauty is so evident, but it emanates from something she will likely never see in a looking-glass. Surely she is aware that her company is appreciated, and no doubt attracts men easily, but there is also a good chance that she compares herself to models and actresses without even knowing it. I’d be happy to be mistaken on this point.
What saddens me is this: so many men and women are average or even unattractive when the criteria is strictly physical, and largely dictated by the media. And this strictly physical face is what meets each of us in the mirror every morning. Unless we have a conversation with ourselves right there over the wash basin, we’ll likely miss the light in our own eyes, and may even forget it is the larger part of what others witness. We’ll miss the beauty of our own smile in action and the particular way our mouth moves when we talk. We can’t see how well we reflect our friends’ joys and sorrows back at them, or how much our expression conveys our love for them. Basically, we cannot see our own beauty, because beauty is a soul in motion out in the world.
How many of us trust this to be true and give up judging our appearance based on factors that have little or no actual weight in the true balance? I’m not suggesting we should throw in the towel and forget about being careful to present our physical selves clean, trimmed, well dressed, or whatever one thinks of as important. I’m thinking how lovely it could be if we each knew that our beauty really does emanate from the inside and radiates out. Period.
Heidi Baker is a second-generation poet and story teller whose writing reflects inner landscapes shaped by journeys of miles and other measures: from Illinois to Arizona, work to home, childhood to adulthood to parenthood. Gentle, imaginative, full of honesty and wonder, her clear writing captures the sacredness of everyday moments. In addition to her growing body of published works, Heidi creates space for other writers, youth and adult, through facilitation of workshops and groups.