A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.
– from Endymion by John Keats
I felt beautiful this Easter. My outfit was simple, sharp, and neutral – cream dress, tan heels, navy jacket. Neutral makeup, hair up. The accessories provided the spark in this outfit – blue topaz earrings from my aunt and a feathered fascinator.
The outfit helped, but I felt in-the-bone beautiful, beyond what I was wearing. Usually I feel that beautiful when I’m sitting in strong sunshine, soaking in the warmth of the sun and smelling the heat rising off the ground around me. And it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing as long as it is comfortable. It doesn’t matter what I weigh or whether my skin is clear or whether people see me sitting there. The sunlight making my eyelids coral pink is enough on its own. My sister and I were laughing about how happy sunshine makes us and we agreed makeup was just a way to replicate how we look in the sunshine when there’s no sun. (Truth.)
Looking beautiful and feeling beautiful are two distinct things. Women are beautiful, but it would be a lie to say that women always feel beautiful.
Easter was so lovely that I thought, “I feel very beautiful today. Wouldn’t it be great to feel beautiful all the time? I’m going to try to leave the house feeling BEAUTIFUL every day this week.” HA. As it turns out, that is easily said, not easily done.
We had the Monday after Easter off of work and on that Monday evening I got a cold. Tuesday, I woke up feeling like an elephant sat on my face all night. Dark puffy eyes, runny nose, oxygen-deprived brain. I felt gross and I felt like I looked gross. The truth is that makeup covers it pretty nicely. If I hadn’t been coughing/sneezing/blowing my nose all week, it wouldn’t have been obvious that I felt like a dumpster fire. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a metaphor for something that starts out garbage and then bursts into flames. I felt like a DUMPSTER FIRE ALL WEEK, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. It was one of those truly hilarious scenarios that romantic comedies’ bread and butter, but without any romantic stuff.
Tuesday’s stream-of-consciousness thought process: My face is puffy and my nose is bad news. Sleeping didn’t work out that well last night and my brain isn’t working that well now. Beautiful. Oh gosh. I’m supposed to leave the house feeling beautiful. WHY DO I DO THESE THINGS TO MYSELF? I’ll curl my hair. Maybe that will help. Lots of makeup today. Especially around the eyes. Earrings. Maybe that will help. High heels. Maybe that will help. Nope. Still don’t feel beautiful. I feel like a slime monster. Oh well. Need to get out the door. I failed the challenge and it’s only the first day of it.
Wednesday’s thought process: I like black and I like flowers. I will wear those things. My face is still so puffy. Still a virus-ridden slime monster. Do I feel beautiful? Nope. Oh well. Failed again.
Thursday’s thought process: My dream just scared me awake and I can’t go back to sleep. How did I dream? It doesn’t even feel like I slept. I don’t feel like smiling. I still feel sick. I don’t feel smart or competent or ready to face the day, let alone beautiful. I’m going to dress like a grown up today and maybe I’ll look competent and smart. Blazer. That’s what blazers are for. I’m going to straighten my hair. Because that seems like something a grown woman would do. FAILING AT THE BEAUTIFUL THING AGAIN. OH WELL.
Friday’s thought process: How much did I sleepwalk last night? I know I woke up outside of my bed about three times, but really, I have no idea how much I walked in my sleep. Scary. In my dream, a group of friends came over to throw me a surprise birthday party at three in the morning in my own house. Then they judged me for how messy my house was. Then I turned off my alarm. Then I woke up at 8:15. 8:15?????? I should already be on my way to work! No time for contacts. It’s a glasses day. Brush hair, throw on clothes. Dress and sweater. Is this the best outfit? Nope. But it’ll do!
When it comes down to it, feelings aren’t the most important thing.
Would I like to leave the house feeling beautiful every day? Of course. I would absolutely love to feel beautiful every day, but feeling beautiful is elusive and complicated. It’s true that we learn more from failure than from success. This week made me think about the difference between my own perception and how everybody else viewed me.
Looking through the outfit photos this week, Thursday (blazer/jeans/straight hair) was by far the most successful outfit, but it was probably the hardest day. Wednesday was the most emotional day, but Thursday was the hardest, because everything was raw. My stupid dream woke me up too early (I still don’t remember what about it scared me awake, but I couldn’t go back to sleep). My nerves were raw, my nose was raw, my throat was raw, and my eyes kept watering. I felt stupid, but I knew I needed to get a ton done at work that day. I felt insufficient as a human that day. Forget about feeling beautiful. I felt like a scratched scab on Thursday. Oozy and exposed. Gross.
Feeling beautiful comes down to a lot of different elements, only some of which I can control. A lot of them I can’t control. I can’t make it sunny outside. But I can turn on the song “Ventura Highway” by America and feel like I’m in California driving with the windows down. I can put on bronzer and look sunkissed. When I’m happy, I feel sunny in my soul. Happy is beautiful. But I have to wait for sunshine. I can do that. And the waiting makes the sunshine even more amazing when it comes.
I realized that one of the things that kept me from feeling beautiful this week was comparison. Comparison is one of the fastest way to stop feeling beautiful. I was constantly comparing my sick self with my healthy self. (If I wasn’t sick, I’d feel beautiful.) We do this all the time. “Me right now” versus the “Me that doesn’t have a cold”, the “Me with the nice haircut”, the “Me, but 20 pounds lighter”, the “Me ten years ago”….. these are the kind of comparisons that I don’t even need to leave the house to find. Also, the assumption that the “other Me” would feel more beautiful might not even be true. On the whole, I feel more beautiful now than I did when I was 20. I was very uptight at 20 years old.
Once I step out of my house, I see beautiful women everywhere. Actually, social media allows me to compare myself to the world’s most beautiful women without leaving my house. Comparison City. If I start down the comparison road, it will never stop. There’s always something to compare. My hair versus her hair. My personality versus her personality. My nonexistent coolness versus her very obvious coolness. My body versus her body. I don’t have many illusions about my body. I have a My Little Teapot sort of body – short and stout. (And when I get steamed up, I do end up shouting sometimes.) If I fall into comparisons and then fall short, there’s a natural impulse to start listing what I have and she doesn’t. That’s a bad way to go. Don’t do it. Confess that sin and get out of there.
The things that counter and conquer comparison are gratitude and love. Give thanks for what makes that woman beautiful and give thanks for the different thing that makes you beautiful. How boring would the world be if we all looked the same? Give me variety. Give me personality. That’s what makes me happy. I love all my amazing friends and how unique and beautiful you all are. I’m so glad you’re so different from each other and different from me. It keeps the world from getting dull and obvious.
Getting back to feeling beautiful – what can I control and what can’t I control?
Things I can control:
- My attitude. If there’s no sunshine outside, I can still be sunny on the inside. It’s a cliché, but that is because it is absolutely true. If I’m sad or anxious or angry, I’m not going to feel beautiful.
- Clothes. If my jeans are too tight, I’m uncomfortable. If my bra is too stretched out, I’m uncomfortable. I feel great in a dress that fits through the shoulders and the waist, but my go-to confidence outfit is jeans, t-shirt, and a fitted blazer. The look is tailored and sharp and it suits where I am in life right now.
- Makeup. I only do enough makeup to make me feel the way I feel when I’m in sunshine, which isn’t that much. I usually do a light foundation, bronzer (I don’t own blush right now), mascara, and tinted lip balm. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll do eyeliner or lipstick. One or the other. I’m more likely to accentuate my eyes. Eyes are the windows to the soul. The perfect shade of lipstick, perfectly-applied winged eyeliner, getting the eyebrows together – these are all wonderful things. They might not sound like much, but they make a big difference.
- Hair. I’ll preface this section by saying that sometimes I can control my hair, but sometimes hair can be what insurance companies categorize as an “Act of God”. Then you just have to do your best and know that this hair day was sent by God Himself. My hair actually isn’t that difficult. I do have many many cowlicks. The cowlicks are more obvious when my hair is short. Sometimes Good Hair Days and Bad Hair Days fit into the What I Can’t Control section, but there’s always a ponytail. Or a hat.
- My surroundings. When I get ready to go out, I’ll turn on Frank Sinatra or bossa nova samba music or Natalie Cole. Music can make me feel beautiful. It sets the mood. This will sound funny, but I feel especially pretty when I’ve had a glass of wine – not because I’m delusional, but because I’m relaxed. When I’m having a great meal with friends or family and I’m content and happy and have a glass of wine, I’m golden. When my house is clean and picked up, I’m more likely to feel put-together. Even if everything is thrown into the closet, if I can’t see the mess, that’s good enough.
- My love. Feeling beautiful is very closely connected to feeling loved. But I’m not commanded to receive love. I’m commanded to give love. God has told me to pay more attention to loving people than to how well those people are showing love to me. Like feeling beautiful, this is easy to say, not easy to do. It’s easy to see how people are failing in love towards me, but it’s hard to love people. I’m always trying and failing and learning and working on it. I’ll be working on it until I die.
Things I can’t control:
- Other people. If people don’t compliment the look, is the look still good? I know there’s a disconnect between what I like in my outfits and what other people like in my outfits. If nobody likes what I’m wearing, it’s hard to feel beautiful in it. Approval is important to us. Not everybody needs mass approval, but I think we all have a few people we want approval from. A compliment can turn a day around. But I can’t control how people will respond to me or what they will say.
- The day. God has a plan for my day that may or may not line up with my plan for my day. The weather. My job. Finances. People. If I was solely in charge of orchestrating my day, I’d do a bad job anyway. It would be a boring day. As it is, every day is a surprise.
- Love towards me. Sometimes I feel unloved or unappreciated or lonely. All of these feelings are lies. The amount of love that God pours out on me is laughable. It’s a hilariously, embarrassing huge amount of love. The sky is small in comparison. The ocean is small in comparison. So when I feel unloved because no guys tell me I look pretty, that displays a stupid lack of perspective. That’s when the feelings just don’t matter. Rely on what you know, not what you feel. Feelings aren’t the most important. I know that I’m loved. I’m loved by my family, by my friends, but far and away loved most by my Creator. I have nothing to complain about.
- Everything I take for granted. Even the things I think I can control, I can’t control. The things I take for granted are a gift, not a given. My face, my body, my voice, my heart, my passion – these are all given to me and can be taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Everything gets categorized as an Act of God, because everything is. If there’s anything I assume is an Act of Ashley, I should be prepared for it to be taken away from me. This week showed me some of my many blind spots and I’m grateful for it. Blessed by the name of the Lord and here’s to next week. Like this week, it will be a gift.