You Are Beautiful

Here's another writerly thought from the vacation of television viewing. On one of the days we were in Denver over break (what? I didn't tell you we went to Denver? Well of course I didn't. Do you know how many loonies are out there waiting for a public broadcast about when a person is not going to be home for an extended period of time? Sheesh.) my sister-in-law had a marathon of some fashion show on. It was some makeover show where two totally obnoxious people, a gay guy and a fashionista, makeover a woman and throw out all of her clothes while they make fun of her for not dressing like they do. It's really rather disgusting.  

During one of the episodes my brother chimed in with how he thought that all of them women were unattractive. His reasoning was that just about every one of them cried during their makeover and that to him was an ugly thing. He likes strong women who are sure of themselves and don't need clothing to feel important or worthy.

What troubled me about this was that my brother, the big NRA, Ron Paul, motorcycle mechanic, who I love, is not really all that in tune with the feminine psyche. While women will always be an enigma to me, I do seem to understand them a bit more than most men (even if I try not to let on like I do). Growing up in a divorced home where all I wanted for my mom was to find true love, I bent my will to trying to become the perfect man for some woman someday. I'd horde my mother's issues of Glamour and Cosmo. I'm sure that others in the family thought I was doing it for the pictures of the gorgeous models when in truth what I was doing was reading all of the articles pertaining to men and what women wanted. After many years of teenage research, all of them spent bumbling through failed interactions with women, I discovered some truths. The first truth is that you shouldn't believe what you read in women's magazines. Often times a woman's expressed desire does not match with what she takes action on. Years later I would finally understand why.

What my brother was seeing as a weakness, and even a rarity in women was in fact quite the opposite. Hell, it's not even confined to women, we're all that insecure. It's just that these fashionistas and their producers have found a way to break down the walls of defense so that they can get tears on film. What my brother doesn't seem to get is that almost all women feel that way. They struggle with weight, apply makeup, shave, spend thousands on clothing, work on posture, mannerisms, all the things that he would think are silly plague women from the time they are little girls. That's why Twilight even for as bad a production as it is, has captured the minds of so many women.

Here you have a girl who is insecure, unsure of herself, not the prettiest, or smartest, or most loved and then suddenly one day it all changes. In steps a man who sees her for her inner beauty, who loves her unfailingly, willing to give up everything to be with her and will even “wait” for her.

It struck me as rather sad that so many men don't get it. Heck, our entire culture doesn't seem to get it even though half of it is suffering from it. It has inspired me to delve into it more in my writing. Strong female protagonists are fun and sexy, but unless we show how they struggle with what all women struggle with, and possibly suggest ways for them to get past it, we are doing a disservice to our readers, to truth.

And just in case you're a guy out there or a tough as nails woman in denial, I'll add a note from the photography world that I happened upon. While I was researching posing women for glamour shots, I happened upon a female photographer whose profession it has been to take glamour and fashion shots of gorgeous women for over a decade noted that the most difficult part of her job is simply this: getting her model to believe that she's beautiful because even the most gorgeous women in the world don't believe it.

Photo two is from Cheryl McLaughlin, titled: My Insecurities.


Amber J. Gardner said...

I really like this post. It makes me think about what really is and what we want it want it to be.

Reading this makes me want to show a little more vulnerable side to Anya and less the MarySue-ish character she first seems to be.

David Noceti said...

Glad that I could be of assistance. :) It actually got me to thinking the same way about female characters in my own stories. Now I just have to see if I can do it justice.

Mer said...

After I found my tissue-box & dried my eyes, blew my nose, I re-read this entire post so that I could apply it to my writing... Thanks, sweetie.....a thought (& emotion) provoking subject that you handled in your usual insightful way.


(btw--I can't enlarge the photo--I'd love to read the comments around the photo--can you send it to via email? Thanks!

SA said...

You think people who have self-confidence are in denial? Wow. *That* right there would probably damage the self-esteem of someone insecure who was trying to become more confident.

I'm not saying that there's anyone without vulnerabilities, but telling people that they *should* be weak can encourage them to wallow in their self-loathing. I fell into that trap myself when I was a kid, with people telling me it was "okay" to be imperfect. It was only when I realized that, no, it wasn't, that I began to make more improvements in my life.

I think that what well meaning people mean to say is not that it's "okay," but that it's inevitable. We shouldn't beat ourselves up about our fallibility, because we can't eliminate it. However, this is not an excuse to embrace it, either. And strong people learn to acknowledge failure and learn from it without dwelling on it. We should sympathize with those who fail, but also encourage each other to do better.

As for body image? Just a matter of what you learned to find attractive. I think a lot of people are ugly -- I think a lot of *models* are bland looking. But I don't think they're lesser people because of that. Anyone who is insecure about how you look, I'm sorry that you feel that way, but you really should not let the opinions of others dominate your happiness like that. Because you can *never* please anybody, and you *shouldn't* try to please anyone but yourself and your loved ones. That doesn't mean one should be a slob, as part of pleasing yourself probably involves things like holding down a job or going out with friends, and one must put effort into their appearance to do that.

I would agree with the person who thought that crying because someone else finds you ugly is really unattractive... because this person is probably deeply, deeply unhappy inside. And for a foolish reason, as well -- they let the opinions of people who don't care about them at all control their own self-worth. It's really not worth worrying about.

Maybe they've just lived sheltered lives and never had to deal directly with someone calling them ugly to their face before, and it was a cathartic moment for them. I don't know. My point is, it is totally not necessary to live with that level of insecurity on a daily basis, and anyone who does is making themselves miserable over nothing.

David Noceti said...

Dear anonymous contributor, I'm not really sure what your point was as you seem to have been all over the board with your response. Indeed, you'll likely never read this because you've left an anonymous post (note to self: remove anonymous posting). But let me briefly reiterate my intentions with the post for the sake of others that might happen upon it.

For the most part, my point was to acknowledge those people that think that weaknesses are easily overcome. “Simply get a new wardrobe and life will be peachy keen.” They often come wearing the mask of that person who has faced down their own demons in the past and no longer has to worry about such petty insecurities. In my own life I've found that those people tend to be the ones in greatest denial.

My hope was that other writers would keep these points in mind when creating their characters so as to not perpetuate that self reliant myth that so plagues our society. We are not islands unto ourselves. We cannot do everything on our own. And everyone, yes everyone is screwed up in one way or another. The ones that don't appear to be are just better at hiding it from the outside world.

As for “the person who thought that crying because someone else finds you ugly is really unattractive.” Had you paid attention, I noted that it was my brother who felt that way. For much of his life he has been, shall we say, heavy set. I know for a fact that he has definitely felt the sting of cruel words in his time and it is quite possible that he still has insecurities because of it. Frankly, I wouldn't blame him; then again, it sounds like you would.

SA said...

If you'd noticed, I'd left an email address. Thx.

I did note that it was your brother. I also noticed that you said that *he* found crying unattractive. It sounds to me like he has gotten over the insecurity trap enough to know that it's not a good idea to tangle with individuals who are still within it. That might be why he finds it unattractive. He's dealt with cruelty himself, as many individuals do, and he's learned that it's rather foolish to be bothered by it. Those who are upset by other's opinions on such minor things as appearance are necessarily very tortured individuals, because we can *never* be 100% attractive to anyone else. They're not the type of men or women that make good partners, hence they're psychologically unattractive, no matter how they actually appear.

My response was my thoughts inspired by your post and a general critique of what I thought to be your line of thinking, specifically the statement that I first mentioned on "tough" or confident individuals just being weak ones who are in denial. You put that statement out there without any support to back it up, and I think it is not only incorrect, but something that would be damaging to an insecure individual who is trying to improve herself. It is basically discouraging someone from trying to be better.

Another note, inspired by the quote from the photographer, that even models have insecurities. To say that it's surprising that even beautiful models have insecurities is rather unimaginative, and shows a basic misunderstanding on the nature of such individuals. If you've ever met a model, you know that most of them get into this line of work because they *are* insecure about their appearance and they thrive on trying to be beautiful in a mainstream way that has broad appeal, and they deeply want to be recognized for that beauty, so much so that they make their appearance (a fleeting and transitory quality) the focus of their life's work. In career counseling, I've worked with young women who wanted to be models, and some were very open about their reasons for going into modeling, namely their insecurity over their appearance and the compounding worry that they had nothing else of value to offer. Some were also self-critical of choosing to be models, noting that it's not really a valuable career, but they were so fixated on appearance and what others thought of it that they couldn't really *not* be a model. It's a fascinating personality type, but definitely no surprise that they exhibit insecurity.

Insecurity over appearance is generally a form of depression, in that it bears classic signs of depression, namely self-blame and guilt over one's state. Persons who feel like they could do more about their appearance (whether they can or not) are usually the ones who are depressed over it. For example, individuals who are overweight due to psychological problems. People who are born "ugly" due to "defects" that they have no control over generally build the confidence to not care what others think of them, and to even counter-judge those who criticize them for being so shallow or ignorant. For an example of this that most are probably familiar with, think of Timmy from South Park. They are rather inspirational in that they show being insecure is totally based upon one's attitude; it is something that can be internally controlled. They grew up in the same society as those who are insecure, yet they learned an attitude that makes them happier. It's people who have an unhealthy fixation on pleasing others and criticizing themselves that have the worst time of it. General point: they'd be a *lot* happier if they could recognize what is going on and develop a different attitude. Telling them that what they're doing is okay and normal does not help them along.

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