Beauty

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False humility and hashtags

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Over the last year or so, women (and some men) have been embracing the hashtag #iwokeuplikethis, posting pictures of themselves “first thing in the morning” in the name of being #real and #authentic. While I know that some of these posts are meant to be funny, and some come from a genuine place of embracing oneself au naturel, I’m struck by many of these images as being carefully staged and posed: steaming cup of coffee in hand, messy hair that conveniently resembles that of a sex kitten, wearing a chemise, nestled up in a white duvet. The only sign of morning face is calculatingly smudged eyeliner. The images are often run through a filter, which makes anyone’s skin look like that of a glowing angel. She probably recruited her boyfriend or roommate to take the shot, after being #awakelikethis long enough to get the lighting right.

(Fine. I never found a picture that was ALL of those things – but I found those elements in a bunch of different shots, and combined them for a super #iwokeuplikethis conglomeration. You can see it, right?)

But the picture isn’t really the issue for me. I can’t fully know the intent behind each of these posts – but sometimes, they have long captions that reek of what I can only call false humility.

I’ve run across images from women (and an increasing number of teenage girls) who wax poetic about the terror of exposing their physical imperfections, only to get comments about how stunning they are. They call out their flaws, in turn receiving adoration for their courage to share. They talk about humbling themselves, which results in their followers thinking they’re amazing for being so humble. It seems to work like reverse psychology: By talking about how imperfect I am, people will tell me that I’m perfect. Some of these women have tens of thousands of followers, and when they address the question that they claim “so many” people are asking them – How did you get so many followers? – they attribute it to being so #real and #authentic.

Rather than telling people that we are #real and #authentic, why don’t we just live real and authentic?

Any of us is capable of taking something good – humility, for example – and twisting it into something selfish. I know I am. In a world where we’re taught to be defensive and cynical, we’re not exactly invited to celebrate our confidence out loud – and so we shroud our proud moments or the things we like about ourselves in a humblebrag, all the while hoping for the validation we’ve been craving all along: acceptance, admiration, and love.

What if we just said what we meant?

When someone gets a piece published in a magazine, she shouldn’t have to express being “grateful” and “humbled” by it, all the while secretly wanting everyone she knows to read it and share the link. It should be okay to say, “I love this piece that I wrote, and I’m proud as punch that this publication loved it too!”

When someone loses 20 pounds, he shouldn’t have to brush off recognition of his hard work by saying “Oh, I’m nowhere near my goal,” while covertly savoring the positive response and being hungry for more. It should be okay to say, “I know, I’m killing it!”

When someone is told “You look really pretty today,” she shouldn’t have to clam up and deflect the compliment. It’s perfectly okay to just smile and say, “Thank you.”

And when someone feels the urge to pose for an #iwokeuplikethis shot, styled however they like, it should be okay for the caption to read, “Here’s me in the morning. #iwokeuplikethis” without listing all of the reasons she doesn’t deserve to post the picture, all the while knowing she looks pretty hot for an #iwokeuplikethis shot and hoping for compliments. Sure, it’s a little narcissistic – but it’s more honest than feigning a lack of vanity.

In our false humility, we are projecting the message of “I’m not that great,” while secretly hoping that we actually are. We are assuming that there isn’t enough wonderful to go around, leaving all of the worth to the girls with the thigh gaps and perfect skin, even though we are desperate for the world to find us beautiful. We are protecting ourselves against the potential accusation that someone will find us arrogant, even when we know we’ve done a pretty great job.

But in a way, false humility is the same thing as arrogance – because either way, we’re giving ourselves too much credit.

Confidence in our worth is not the same thing as arrogance. Confidence in our worth is claiming what is true: We are unique and irreplaceable. Our worth isn’t based on who we are or what we do. Our worth is intrinsic, built-in, and doesn’t in fact depend on us – which, ironically, is the genesis of true humility.

I want to live this way. Just don’t expect me to post an #iwokeuplikethis, because the world is not ready for my nightguard. #real #authentic

I’ll just leave my heart right here

Friday, February 20th, 2015

All of San Francisco is a protest to the uniform and utilitarian. I will never not wish for more time here.

SF

Northern exposure

Monday, June 9th, 2014

I spent the weekend in Minnesota along the edge of Lake Superior, an area called the North Shore. I’d been to Duluth once before – but that was in November, and I was really only there during the dark. I needed to see it in the summer, in the daylight.

I was not disappointed. Northern Minnesota is magic, and I had the dreamiest time.

On Friday, I drove north from Minneapolis and was in Duluth by 5pm. I checked into the Hampton Inn (which is basically just like the Hamptons), and immediately changed into my walking clothes; it was 85 degrees outside, and my very top #1 hobby is walking around. Talk about low-maintenance – someone marry me!

Duluth

After a shower, I headed out on Friday night to realize a dream I’ve always held: to eat alone in a legitimate restaurant, a place with a menu and a server and a cloth napkin. For the amount that I hang out by myself, I don’t know that I’d ever gone out for the express purpose of dining alone – but I’m happy to report that everything went really well. I ordered Pinot Grigio and the truffle mac & cheese with bacon (a respectable Grown Up Lady meal). And because I tend to excel in situations where I don’t know anyone, I struck up conversation with the man sitting next to me.

He was a complete weirdo.

I wasn’t being flirty or anything – I just wanted to talk to someone. I wound up having my leftovers boxed up and walking back to the hotel, turning around every block or so to make sure he wasn’t following me. He wasn’t. I am not blogging from the grave. Hooray!

I had big plans for Saturday: I was going to hike 18 miles on the Superior Hiking Trail. With just 3 weeks to go until I set off to thru-hike the Colorado Trail, I felt the need to get some mileage in – but Mother Nature (that old hag) had other plans. When I woke up on Saturday, it was pouring rain.

Ever delusional, I got in my car at 7:30am and headed toward the trailhead. “It will burn off in the next 30 minutes,” I thought. “Rain never lasts.”

Oh sweetie. Welcome to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, all of which were apparently filled by ceaseless precipitation.

It kept raining. So I kept driving north. For hours. All the way to Canada.

And since I didn’t have my passport, nor a legitimate reason to flee the United States of America (besides the national debt, portion sizes, and Pat Robertson), I turned around. Still in the rain.

North Shore

When I stopped at the Java Moose in Grand Marais to order a chamomile tea, I noticed a massage parlor across the street – and it struck me. That would be a great place to wait out the weather. Whilst someone rubbed my body.

Let me tell you, the worst mistake I ever made was to have smelly massage oil smeared all over my skin, only to have the rain let up and therefore head out into the boggy, mosquito-ridden wilderness of Minnesota. I now have West Nile. I don’t even need a test – it’s just a fact.

I wound up hiking for a little bit around the Temperance River – which, for the record, shows no temperance. It shows rage.

Temperance

Then I hiked 6ish miles around the Split Rock River, which I felt earned me all sorts of snacks and sweets. So I ate cookies and drove back to Duluth.

If you’re looking for natural beauty, lighthouses, interesting people-watching, and gift shops with names like Moose-scellaneous, get ye to the North Shore. It’s one of the most lovely, charming places I’ve ever been.

:::::

The whole time, I felt a million miles away from Seattle Pacific University, the school that used to be my address.

I don’t understand why some of us get to live longer than others. I don’t know why I was able to spend my weekend up to my eyeballs in beauty and charm, feeling wonderfully independent and alive, while others were forced to grieve. But I know that I can’t be okay unless you’re okay – because to quote the ever wise Frederick Buechner, “there can be no real peace for any of us until there is some measure of real peace for all of us.”

Seattle, from one waterside town to another, I’m sending you all my love.

Weight weight… don’t tell me

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Several years ago, I threw out my scale. The contraption had come to rule my life, with every weigh-in feeling like spinning a wheel in a game show – What did she win, Bob? – except the needle never landed on the jackpot. Tossing my scale into the dumpster was equal parts terrifying and liberating, and for years, I had no idea what I weighed.

But this past year, my mind started to play tricks on me. The mirror has never been dependable for me, as the image I see rarely matches reality. The old paranoia started to creep in; I was convinced I was gaining weight, even though my clothes still fit and my diet hadn’t changed. And while I kept a good poker face about it and didn’t mention this insecurity to almost anyone, inside, I was falling apart.

So in January, I decided to once again embrace the scale. In the midst of the mind-games that were yanking me around, I needed an objective number to ground me in reality. And no one is more surprised than me, but these days, I have to admit that knowing my weight is almost a comfort – an unbiased, unemotional truth in a manic world.

On Saturday morning at the gym, I stepped on the scale – the mechanical kind they have at the doctor’s office where the little weights are moved to the right or left until everything is balanced. I automatically set everything to the number I had been last week, but then was horrified to have to keep moving it up, up, up – over 10 pounds higher than it had been a week before.

Panic started to rise in my throat, threatening to strangle me. THIS CANNOT BE, I despaired. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? NOOOOOOOO!

And then I heard a snicker behind me.

I whipped around to find a man much too old for pranks standing behind me with his foot on the corner of the scale, pressing down, laughing at his own trick. “I got you!” he crowed.

Fine, it’s kind of funny to retell it now – but in the moment? I was not amused. I was not a good sport. After calling him a dipshit in my mind and a terrorist to his face, I said, “That’s one of the meanest things you could do to a woman.” A sudden fury was rising, as were my eyebrows. He must have sensed my intensity, because he took a step back. I turned to face him square on. “Are you going to leave and let me weigh myself? I’LL WAIT.”

He slunk away, I stepped back on the scale and got the number I was expecting, and then spent the rest of the day thinking about body image, weight, beauty, and how they’ve all become so inextricably fused.

I recently saw an interview with Mindy Kaling. When asked, “What’s the biggest compliment someone could pay you?” without skipping a beat she replied, “That I’m beautiful.” No apology. No pretending that her answer was “wise” or “generous” or “compassionate” in the name of respectability. She wanted to be known as beautiful.

And it was so refreshing.

Because ladies, isn’t that it? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ll go ahead and own it: I want beauty to be the truest thing about me. Granted, the definition of beauty has been twisted by our culture to the point where it’s difficult to even be able to define it – but we know the real thing when we see it. We want to be associated with it. We were designed to want to be noticed, seen, and enjoyed.

Beauty is beyond the physical, of course – if you say differently, I’ll fight you. But because we live in this very physical world, it includes our bodies, our features, our faces. This is why we make attempts to foster our beauty – not to manufacture it, not to attain it, but to release what is already there. We want our outsides to match our insides, respecting and cherishing the bodies we’ve been given.

Of course, that’s the ideal world. Reality is much more warped.

I manage the Instagram account for my work, and a recent hashtag search accidentally led me to the accounts of young girls struggling with eating disorders. One of them had posted a picture of our product, a 200-calorie snack bar made of nothing but dates, peanuts and sea salt, with the caption, “I feel so guilty about eating this. I don’t deserve food.”

It broke my heart. And while I’ve never struggled with a full-blown eating disorder, I know guilt. I know deprivation. I know workouts as punishment, ubiquitous insecurity, and self-hatred – yes, hatred.

If I were a “tie a bow on it” type of Christian, this would be the time to say that God thinks we’re beautiful (even if the world doesn’t), that our hearts are all that matter (so stop being so vain), and just wait until that glorious day when there will be no more insecurity (the struggles of this life don’t mean a thing). But I’m not that kind of Christian.

I believe that “Thy kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven” means that the physical here-and-now matters. I believe that our desires are important, because they point us toward something True. I believe that we come into this world packed to the core with beauty, and that part of the work of this life is to let some of that loveliness out, restoring us to what we were originally imagined to be. I believe that we get to play a part in making this sad place beautiful again.

And that’s something worth putting my weight on.

Fostering beauty

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I’ve decided to start painting my fingernails. This may sound inconsequential, but it feels significant: it’s a tiny symbol of an effort toward beauty.

I’ve lived in Denver for three years, and while by no means have I “let myself go,” my circumstances during this time have not exactly required me to bring a fashionable A-game. I worked from home for a long time, which allowed for days upon days in my pajamas. When I would venture out of the house, 9 times out of 10 it was to go running – so why would I ever bother with hair and makeup?

Just over a year ago, I started working from an office again – and while it’s required me to actually, oh you know, GET DRESSED every day, I happen to work with all women. There is no pressure to look awesome – so I don’t. T-shirts and jeans every day, whatever’s comfortable, hair in a ponytail. Done.

It’s interesting what the world’s focus on physical appearance has done to me. For a long time, it was a standard I was trying to meet. Then, when I realized that perfection was unattainable, the pendulum swung the other way: I just shouldn’t care at all. Who am I trying to impress, anyway?

But I’m realizing how deeply my lack of personal effort has been sinking into my psyche. Go for months without feeling put together, and one is bound to start falling apart.

The past 6 months of my life have been marked by some significant decisions toward health. I see a counselor on a regular basis. I paid off all of my debt. I am making changes in my calendar and my habits and my thought patterns. These developments feel beautiful.

I just want my outside to match my inside.

I keep thinking of the phrase “fostering beauty.” To foster does not mean to strive, to strain, to struggle, or to contrive. To foster means to cherish, to cultivate, to nurture and uphold. It suggests that the thing one is fostering already exists; it does not need to be fabricated or manipulated. It just needs to be cherished. Cultivated. Nurtured. Upheld.

So today, my hair is curled, and I’m wearing a new shirt. My fingernails are a dark, dusty pink – the color of Ibuprofen, an accidental homage to the trusty pain killer.

And I’m telling you, just like Ibuprofen, it’s making things better.

Damn, girl.

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Before you hear this little story, there are two things you should know.

1) My sister Becca is definitely a looker: funky and darling and adorable.  She has a heart-shaped face and a great figure and awesome hair.  It’s never a surprise when a dude finds her attractive.

2) Sloan’s Lake, our new neighborhood, is… colorful.  Interesting.  Slightly ghetto.

Got those two facts?  Okay.  Here’s what happened on Saturday.

Becca was walking around the lake, and when a certain man passed her, he looked her up and down and said, “Damn, girl – you look beautiful!”

And despite Becca’s aforementioned beauty, when she relayed this story to me, we both laughed until we cried.

Because this is what she was wearing:

Damn, girl, indeed.

(I’m still laughing.)

Home is wherever I’m with you

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I spent the weekend in Southern Colorado, just a stone’s throw away from New Mexico, at a cabin with family and friends and dogs and sangria.  The aspens were turning, giving the mountains blond patches in their otherwise dark beards.  We celebrated the wedding of Kyle and Emily amid golden leaves and vivid blue sky, and the entire event was magical.

This was Kyle and Emily skipping down the aisle while we (the band and the bridal party) played this song on guitars, banjos, tambourines, and kazoos.

Are they not the cutest?  I love them.  They are playful and joyful and uninhibited, full of love and life.  I am lucky to count Emily and her sister Hannah as the closest thing I have to sisters – you know, besides my own sisters.

The entire weekend was a joy.  I can’t wait to point you toward the official pictures, courtesy of (who else?) The Parsons Photographers… coming soon.

– – – – – – – –

Speaking of joy and magic and love, this was a conversation I had with my 6-year old nephew at the campfire on Friday night.

Annie: What are some animals that lay eggs?
Micah: Crocodiles, fish, turtles, stars…
Annie: Stars?
Micah: Yeah, stars.  All of the stars we see are star eggs – and when they hatch, it’s daylight.

I love this little boy more than life itself.

– – – – – – – –

After a long, long, many-months-long stretch of vagrant, vagabond living, I will now experience an unprecedented 27 nights in my own bed before it’s time to leave town again.

No one invite me anywhere.  No one get married.  This chicky needs to nest.

To tell stories

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow is 58-years old?  I seriously thought she was 32.  What a beautiful woman.

Watching the Oscars makes me want to be in show business.  I just want to tell stories for the rest of my life.

I guess that this blog will have to do.

A song I haven’t heard yet

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

When this life, this world, this Whole Thing is all over, and we have the chance to look back on the story that was our life, I honestly believe that we won’t experience it as a narrative, but that we will hear it as a song – the most beautiful, sad, triumphant song ever written, played, or sung.

I may not be able to dream up a story that could convey the simultaneous joy and sorrow that swirl together in this life – it’s too complicated, too nuanced. It’s both dulcet and raucous, soothing and raw; words could never get it just right.

But I do believe that music could.

THAT is why I love music – because our stories cannot adequately be told through words alone.

And all those songs that I have ever started and then abandoned, with no idea for which direction to take them? One day, they’ll come together like puzzle pieces. I will see the picture I can’t see now. I will hear the songs – complete, whole, perfect, and true.

I believe that.

The work that has been started is going to get finished, and the song is going to end with the most beautifully complicated, conquering chord ever (and never) imagined. We will hear notes that have yet to exist to our ears.  Everyone will sing along, instinctively knowing the harmonies and the counterparts.

And most likely, Alison Krauss will sing the descant.

Sooner or later

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I went to the dermatologist yesterday.

I have an age spot.

At least, I’m calling it an age spot.  The doctor called it a “sun freckle,” and I was like, lady, I’LL SHOW YOU A SUN FRECKLE.  This spot is 5mm by 4mm – much larger than I am comfortable chalking up to just a “sun freckle.”

(To be fair, let’s remember that I have a flair for the drama when it comes to physical woes.)

I wanted her to burn it off, but she said no.  (Why does no one ever indulge my desire for the quick fix?  *pout*)  Instead, she gave me some bleaching cream to use twice a day for 3 weeks.  If it doesn’t help, then I’m supposed to stop using it because if I use it for too long, it could cause paradoxical darkening.

“What’s paradoxical darkening?” I asked, doe-eyed and naïve.

Well, Annie, paradoxical darkening turns out to be exactly what it sounds like.  The cream is supposed to fade the spot – but if you use it for too long, it can have the opposite effect and make it worse.  Get it?  Paradoxical darkening?  Get it?

In any case, it made me think of one of my favorite quotes – one that I’ve written about before, but surfaces frequently enough in my thoughts that it’s worth mentioning again:

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”
-C.S. Lewis (The Silver Chair)

Indulging my feelings is all well and good for a moment or two.  Everyone needs a good cry.  Everyone needs the freedom to acknowledge when they feel left out, or left behind, or unwanted, or unseen, or just tired and sad.  But at some point, it’s time to decide what to do – otherwise, the very thing that was supposed to make you feel better only winds up making you feel worse.

I’m making a plan.

And in the meantime, I am bleaching the devil out of this spot.