What is beautiful?

I was driving home today and as usual, my thoughts wandered and I came to this topic. Some of these values are expressions of my own insecurities. The rest is what my husband has been trying to drill into my for eight years.


They sat on the park bench together, enjoying the warm sunshine of that spring day. It’d been a long time since they talked and both had so much they wanted to say. She wanted to apologize for everything that happened, while all he wanted to do was start over and make things right again.

He looked to her and watched how her natural highlights caught the sunlight, creating a striking contrast with her brown hair. The wind played amongst the waves of her hair, tossing it over her shoulders and sending tiny strands across her face. Her emerald green eyes squinted at the disturbance and she tried to push the hairs away. Without thinking, he reached out and tucked a locket behind her ear, letting his fingertips linger over her sensitive skin.

Even through her layers of makeup, he saw color rise into her cheek as she grew deathly still. It was his touch that set her off, but he didn’t care. To touch her was to touch life and hold a bit of it in his hands.

She broke free from her stunned state and pulled down the edge of her shirt over her lap, no doubt to try and hide her figure, even though it was buried beneath frumpy clothes and a jacket that was two sizes too large.

“You’re beautiful. You know that, right?” he suddenly said, his mouth blatantly disobeying him. Silence was needed now. Not words. But how could he contain such a truth for so long?

He might have expected her to be angry. At best, flattered. But instead, she looked out over the sparkling lake and gave a humorless laugh. “Don’t lie to me,” she replied.

“I’m not lying. It’s the truth.”

“I’m not beautiful. I never have been and I’ve given up trying for so long now.”

He shifted on the harsh wooden planks of the bench so he could face her more directly. “What makes you say something like that? Why don’t you think you’re beautiful?”

She refused to look at him, keeping her gaze fixed on the scenery around them that paled in comparison to her.

“Beautiful isn’t something anyone can achieve. I’m convinced you’re born with it or you’re not. Beautiful girls stay skinny all their lives without having to diet or exercise. Beautiful girls always have clear, flawless skin and don’t have to wear makeup to look decent. Beautiful girls wake up in the morning, brush their hair and it just falls into place naturally. Beautiful girls can walk down the street and attract men like moths to a flame. Guys drool over those girls with their big boobs and perfect, pinchable butts. They’re the girls that even up as models or actresses on the covers of magazines giving their secrets about beauty away.

“But girls like me, girls who have to wear makeup to look like they don’t have leprosy and hair that has a mind of its own, we can never be that beautiful because we’re not born that way. We’re born with those genes that make us gain weight when we’re stressed and metabolism that can’t keep up. We’re born flat chested or with love-handles that will never go away no matter how much we exercise or diet. There is no secret to being beautiful. You’re born that way or you’re not. And it’s sickening when a beautiful girl passes by a girl like me and I know that it’s not fair.

“I’ve always wanted to be the one that men adored and crushed on in high school. I wanted to be the girl that all the guys wanted to go to prom with and date. I still want to be the girl that walks into a place and turns heads. I want people to whisper about how amazing I look or how perfect my outfit is. Instead, I hear them talk about my  makeup and  why I can’t find clothes that look good on me or why my hair is frizzing so bad. Just once, I’d love to be the girl that other girls are jealous of.”

He sat there, listening to her speech and watching the tears push against her eyelids. He heard the way her voice was starting to crack under the frustration of what she was saying. It was plain that she had thought a lot about this. She had spent too many sleepless nights and countless hours in front of a mirror, singling out every little wrong thing about her face and her body. She’d seen too many magazine covers and heard too many nasty words. Maybe she was teased in school. Maybe she was rejected by a guy she really liked and then saw him go out with some girl that might have been prettier. Maybe her parents never told her that she was beautiful just the way she is.

He was about to make up for that.

“You’re beautiful. I’ve seen the way you treat people. You’re kind and courtesy. You’re considerate of others, going out of your way to make sure everyone’s ok. I’ve seen the way you work hard and you’re the best employee there. You care about people and their happiness, sometimes sacrificing your own to make it happen. You’re funny and smarter than most girls I’ve ever met. You have an adorable laugh.” He reached out and gently pushed her chin so she could meet his eyes. Tears were rolling now, ruining her thick mascara. “You’re even beautiful when you cry because it’s genuine. You don’t cry to get your way or to gain sympathy. You cry because you’re really hurting. You show your emotions, the good and the bad. You’re not shallow or superficial. You’re beautiful for your personality, your character, and your flaws. You’re beautiful because you’re flawed, not flawless. The kind of beauty you describe is only skin deep. Those girls will grow old and bitter because they’ll look back on their glory days and realize they don’t look like that anymore. But you will always be beautiful because time can’t change a soul.”

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