Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

March 15, 2008

This past week, the daily essays from Simple Abundance A Day Book of Comfort and Joy, by Sarah Ban Breathnach, have been about inner beauty, and making peace with our physical appearance. This excerpt from March 10th is from an essay titled, You Are Not Your Appearance, But Does the Rest of the World Know That?

The essay begins with this quote from Jessamyn West: “The tragedy of our time is that we are so eye centered, so appearance besotted.”

Breathnach writes, “Let’s consider those days when you just don’t give a damn or are too exhausted to remember to pick up a brush. Can we find inspiration in dirty jeans, an unwashed face, stringy hair? Can there be incarnational revelations when the skirt is too tight and the pantyhose pulls at your hips?

I hope so. For I know those days, and those days know me.”

Those days know me, too. The last few weekends have found me, for the most part, in slob mode. Some days, I haven’t bothered to shower or get dressed. Or, if I do get dressed, it’s in sweatpants and sweatshirt. Glamour has left the building. It’s all about the comfort, baby.

This passage, in particular, stuck a responsive chord, and is responsible for this entry.

“Unfortunately, our outside packaging counts for far more than it really should. Often, when we don’t live up to the world’s expectations of how we should look or behave, we fall victim to a vicious circle of self-loathing and denial that can be difficult to escape from unscathed.”

Back in the Dairy-x days (circa 2002) I wrote an entry based on “the world’s expectations of how we should look or behave.” For lack of anything better to offer, I’m going to re-post it here.

Body Language

So, Spice Girl, “Posh,” who up until a year or so ago feigned indignation over rumors of anorexia, finally admitted that she had an eating disorder. Well, no kidding. Did she really expect us to believe she looks this way naturally? And, while we’re at it, Lara Flynn Boyle should ‘fess up, too.

Many celebrities have publicly acknowledged their eating disorders. They include Princess Di, Tracey Gold, Elton John and the Barbi twins. Much is being done to educate people about the dangers of eating disorders, and to emphasize the importance of a healthier acceptance of our bodies, but we still have a long way to go.

Believe it or not, there are websites PROMOTING anorexia. Anorexic Annie thinks she is “grossly obese” at five foot three and one hundred ten pounds. She wants to look like R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe (!!!), and says she knows her life would be better if she “got rid of about thirty pounds and got down to eighty.” My heart breaks for this girl. And for all the other girls/women who want to look like Ichabod Crane.

I don’t get it. On second thought, maybe I do. We are under constant pressure to conform to an impossible image of what is beautiful. The standards we’re trying to live up to are unrealistic, unreasonable and unhealthy. Yet, we continue to starve ourselves.

I’ve been there and done that myself. Extreme dieting landed me in the hospital many years ago. When the doctor brought me the results of my blood work, he compared them to those of an Ethiopian. I was lucky. That was all it took to convince me to pick up my fork and resume eating. However, others are not so fortunate. Many victims of eating disorders suffer reduction of bone density and hair loss. They risk heart failure. Some of them die. (Karen Carpenter.)

I wish I could say that I’ve managed to develop a better body image over the years, but I haven’t. Nevertheless, because of my daughters, I make a real effort to not obsess about weight (aloud, at any rate). They see enough of that sort of thing outside the home.

Too often, I find myself having to perform damage control. At the beginning of last summer, my oldest daughter told me that when people see her in shorts, they comment on the size of her legs, and how they don’t match her slim upper body (poor kid is built like me). To add insult to injury, a friend’s mother is one of those who made an insulting remark.

Apparently, Mrs. Knucklehead was telling her daughter what nice, long legs she has, and then turned to Rebecca and told her that hers are fat. (This from a crackhead with no teeth! Please excuse my momentary lapse in tact. I’m only human.) I felt terrible, but all I could do was try to assure my daughter that she’s beautiful.

Of course, she doesn’t believe me. Because she carries a few extra pounds, she thinks she is unattractive, and that’s scary. It is also scary for me to consider my own hypocrisy. For, in spite of everything I know, and everything I’ve written here, I continue to be dissatisfied with my body. I need to practice what I preach and learn to feel good about myself from the inside. Unfortunately, self-acceptance is as bloody a battle as any I ever had with weight.

Song of the Day: Under Par by Thrice

“It’s my life!
you set the bar too high
your expectations have become my failure”

11 Responses to “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”

  1. Carol said

    It is sad that women and girls are taught by society to have body image woes. But I saw my grandson doing sit-ups one day and asked him what he was doing. He said he was too fat. This from a child that can suck his stomach in clear to his backbone. We had a talk.

  2. Amy said

    I totally agree with everything you’ve said. Just recently, I read another very good blog entry on this same topic. It’s here:

    The beauty industry is getting completely out of control. It’s time for people to stop allowing commercials to tell them what is beautiful and stand up for themselves.

  3. goatbarnwitch said

    OUr culture is so sick and it freaks me out that A. will be a teen soon. She may be spared some because we live on the edge of mainstream culture but she won’t be oblivious to the unrealistic expectations either. The shame is she is naturally rail thin but will likely have some phase of feeling fat.

  4. Sasha said

    That was a good entry, Stephanie! Back when I was a lot thinner, I was “thin/average” sized on top and had very wide hips and large legs. I used to practically starve myself because I thought I was abnormal when I didn’t realize that I was okay, I was just shaped differently. Young women’s perceptions of themselves are so easily warped, it’s sad.

  5. This entry was so good. I have body image problems but never got to the anorexic stage. I just eat too much. Still Do. I need to lose about 40 lbs and at this time of my life; it is much more important that I get into a healthier eating habit than ever. I am so sorry that you had such a bad day yesterday. I can’t understand why some people can be so rude and not understand that sometimes their clients just need some special consideration. I sure hope you can get some satisfaction from the Dial-A-Ride management although I doubt that they will do anything.

  6. Sunshyn said

    I wish someone had told me I was STRONG instead of fat. Because I was. Now, flabby. I’m sure not strong.

    Dial-A-Ride? Here we have ParaTransit, and they can’t find their ass with both hands and a flashlight. My chiropractor is open until 6 p.m., though, and until noon on Saturdays… Hope you get it worked out.

  7. Sunday said

    HA! “Crackhead with no teeth.” Priceless! As we know, the toothless crackheads are always knowledgeable about what’s attractive bodily. Too bad you couldn’t give her some bad crack! (Just kidding! ;-))

    As for body issues, it sucks when you hear all this hubbub about sports and steroids, yet there’s only a few squawks about modeling or actresses who suddenly get the “flu” and wind up in the hospital. But it’s a sad fact–you are seen as more competent and in control if you’re thinner. Not Karen Carpenter-thin, but thinner. Ironic, because as a nation, everyone’s getting fatter. Then again, humans don’t make sense sometimes.

  8. I’m reading Simple Abundance as well and I love her quotes and essays. I have to also say thanks to my manicurist who in her own gentle way makes comments of conversations between her and her daughter (teen). But I pick up on the general theme. Since then I’ve been attempting to put some make up on daily even if it is nothing more than lipstick and some mascara. Because of medications I take and which started the weight gain, I have a problem with my body image but I am attempting to make peace with that. Now a days, I try to watch my portions, get my fruits and veggies in and a little physical activity. I’m not successful every day and I’m okay with that too.
    mz. em

  9. LeAnn said

    This was a really great blog. I hope your daughter is confident enough in her own self image not to allow the crude comments of a toothless crack head cause her to doubt her beauty. Most people are so self conscious they truly take to heart the insensitive comments of thoughtless and clueless individuals like that. Young people are especially impressionable and the slightest remark will cling to their memory for years. You and your daughters are all very beautiful and I admire your appearance and your taste in clothes. I think Kate Howard would approve for sure. As for me, I wish I could get away with sexy red heals Claudia prefers!!!! You set a standard Stephanie!! I seriously do love the way you dress and the way your hair is always perfect. Go with confidence!! You’re lookin good!!

  10. A.Ho said

    The thing is “the inside” could not be easily seen by others, that’s why the outside is so important.

    Vanity, thy name is human

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