Here at Peaceful Dumpling, we usually talk about how we shouldn’t base our self-esteem on external appearance. Beauty, we’ve said, is not the measure of our importance. While I agree wholeheartedly, I’ve recently been reminded of why your appearance does matter–and in fact, speaks volumes about who you are as a person. Allow me to explain…
Recently, I went away to a yoga retreat at Kripalu center in the beautiful Berkshires. In keeping with the theme of withdrawing from the world to allow for self-reflection, they offered silent breakfast, which meant no talking in the dining hall. I sat down with my tray across from two middle-aged women, who were clearly friends. I thought they were in their forties, but somehow their faces looked much older.
One of the most memorable things about Kripalu was their incredible food, especially vegan baked treats at every meal. This time, it was flaky, fragrant, hot-off-the-oven ginger scones. As I was gobbling up my scone with jam, feeling happy and content, one of the women in front of me gave a ginger scone to her friend. I was so shocked at what I then saw: the woman took one bite of the scone, immediately spat it out onto a napkin, and proceeded to mime, ‘that is disgusting!’ with such a look of snickering judgment. Then they both broke out in silent laughter–not one of happiness, but a cruel one of ridiculing something. It really took me aback, because the ginger scones were actually delicious. Of course, not everyone has the same taste, but even when I take a bite of something I can’t possibly stomach, (not to mention accidentally biting into non-vegan item), I spit it out quietly and discretely, in deference to others who would appreciate that food, and for someone who took care to make the food. It really amazed me that people could openly scorn food while other people are enjoying the same thing at the table.
What struck me then was how people can express so much negativity even without any words. All she needed to show her character was her face. I realized that I’d had the impression that she was much older than her true age, because of the deep lines in her face, especially between her eyebrows. When she was eating silently, her face was deadened with the heavy lines of her face, cold and indifferent. Then when she was disapproving and mocking, those lines came alive, lifted and molded into their usual position. The lines were the result of a lifetime of negativity and judgment. Even if she had the bone structure of Charlize Theron, I’m pretty sure she could not have looked beautiful, and certainly not kind, generous, or peaceful. It made me realize that your beauty comes from within, and is expressed visibly on the outside. How many times have you come across someone who may not be “classically beautiful” but strikes you as radiant, gorgeous, and pretty because of inner warmth? Perhaps you may also have a friend who attracts love easily, not because she looks like a model, but because she is inexplicably confident, glowing, full of life. You might also have seen the eyes of older people, whose beauty has nothing to do with the youthful ideal, but with wisdom and kindness.
The relationship with internal state and external appearance also can be reversed–meaning your appearance can impact the way you feel on the inside. This poignant time lapse video from non-profit organization Degage Ministries shows you what happens when a veteran with a long history of alcoholism and homelessness is given a makeover. Over the course of just a few minutes, you watch someone who has been suffering from emotional and mental trauma go through an extraordinary physical transformation, which is followed by a profound internal change as well. Gaining a dignified appearance led the veteran, Jim Wolf, to start fresh with new housing and treatment for alcoholism.
When I reflect on how much your appearance and your inner self are closely related, I’m reminded that the reflection on the mirror can show love, openness, generosity, perseverance, and intelligence–or stinginess, impatience, meanness, indifference, laziness. You may not be your face, but your face shows who you are. No matter what you’re born with, you are as beautiful as you choose to be.
Related articles: Mirror Mirror – Teaching Beauty to Children
Photo: Elizabeth Brossa via Flickr; Still from video by Degage Ministries