start working on feeling beautiful today! feel beautiful by summer!

It seems like one Harvard professor or another in exceedingly blue, alarmingly stiff jeans is always coming out with a pop psych book about happiness and how misunderstood it is.

(source)

Apparently, people make a lot of the same mistakes about happiness over and over. We keep thinking that we have to work really hard to get to it, and do certain tricky things to capture it, sort of like that scene in Avatar, where they have to bond with the giant flying dinosaur things, and they’re just as likely to get killed, because you have to really earn that bond—not just any Na’vi can fly! But man, when you stick your hair tentacle into your bird dinosaur’s tendril thing and make that platonic, yet soulmate-y connection—there is NOTHING else like that shit. So worth it.

My point is, we expect happiness to be hard. But (apparently) it isn’t really. And instead of fighting and waiting for it, we should probably just work on recognizing where it’s already sneaking around in the shadows of our current lives, like a little smiley cat burglar.

I think it’s like that with beauty and self-acceptance, too.

 

Lady mags are always telling us what easy steps we can take to get our bodies beach-ready by the summer, and fitness program ads shout encouraging things about reaching your goals and hauling your fat ass up that mountain of old habits and deliciously high carb food to the other side, where a smirking, hotter you is waiting, sipping a wheatgrass infused carrot protein drink. If we work harder at pilates, if we buy more age-defying makeup with science-y looking commercials that show cells bouncing around being healthier and shinier, if we finally manage to calculate that precise mathematical formula of facial shape + length of neck + relation of space between the eyes to width of chin to dimension of nostrils that will result in us at long last establishing what exactly the right haircut is, THEN, and only then, will we look great. And we will feel great, too, because we look great. And who doesn’t feel better when they look better?

During some magical, thrilling time in the future, every one of us has the potential to feel truly good about ourselves, because we will be a lot sexier than we are right now.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much we’re taught to think about our potential future sexy selves. Pregnancy is really a wild transformation, like one of those nature videos with the leaves going through their life stages on fast forward, so you can see them bud and grow and green and brown to death and drop off all in the span of like a minute. I feel like I am one of those sped-up sequences, with my body changing practically every day. And as this is happening, I keep reading stuff geared at pregnant women that urges us to think about our post-birth bodies already. To make sure we’re setting ourselves up to bounce right back and reclaim our tight, lithe, pre-mom selves. And honestly, I’m kind of offended. I’m like, give me a friggin’ second to just be huge and pregnant over here! I get all defensive: “Maybe I like my enormous belly, OKAY? Is it going to be alright with everyone if I think it’s pretty cool that there is an entire HUMAN BEING in my abdomen right now?”

And then I think that maybe we should get indignant about this stuff even when we’re not carting around entire tiny humans in our bellies. Because maybe we look really good already, but we’re just so used to expecting to find something wrong with our hair that we don’t even notice.

  (source)

It is entirely possible, I think, that we have learned so thoroughly that true beauty is something just outside of our grasp and self-acceptance is waiting alongside true beauty that we are missing out on how cool we are right now.

And even if we don’t happen to look gloriously lovely but are just failing to pick up on it, it seems a little ridiculous to spend so much energy working to get more gloriously lovely all the time while neglecting to work on feeling better about how we already are.

Because, really, there is no magical moment when you find the fantastically science-y concealer that perfectly balances the complicated pH of your mysterious skin and then you look and feel obviously better forever. Because even when people do get a fabulous haircut, they find themselves nitpicking and criticizing soon thereafter.

We have learned too well to keep searching and waiting and hoping. Appreciating your appearance isn’t a frivolous or impossible fantasy—it should be a basic exercise in emotional well-being. If we care enough to keep buying crazy cosmetics and feeling guilty over eating dessert and stressing out over that startlingly unforgiving three-sided reflection in the department store fitting room, then this stuff matters. It affects our quality of life. It affects our happiness.

It’s time to stop waiting to change and improve and get sexy and get your beach bod. It’s time to stop expecting a long, cold fight. It doesn’t have to be that hard. Instead, look in the mirror and think about what you really like about what you see. Because this is you, right now, with the only body you can have in this moment.

After I have my baby, I don’t intend to try frantically to rush back to my slimmer, tighter body. Instead, I want to appreciate the fact that my body just did some seriously impressive stuff. Having a baby is a big deal. But just having a functioning body is a big deal, too, when you think about it. Being appreciative of it shouldn’t be a ridiculous, improbable undertaking—it just makes good, solid sense.

So please, please, when you catch yourself thinking about the things you need to improve about the way you look and how long it might be before you can chip away at the block of your not-sexy-enoughness until something better is finally revealed—stop yourself. Think of those very earnest Harvard professors in their very blue jeans. They are wearing those jeans for you, because they’ve spent so much time researching the way you think that they didn’t notice the fashions gradually changing, over the years. It’s honorable, really. It’s self-sacrificing.

We have learned that beauty is about pursuit and inadequacy. We have learned that we can’t have it yet, or maybe ever, but we’re supposed to keep trying anyway. Let’s get smart and look at the data and look at ourselves in a way that makes us happy.

You might be surprised by what is already there. You might be surprised by how much you like yourself, right now. Maybe, secretly, defiantly, you even like some of the things that you’re not supposed to. I have always loved my squishy thighs, for example, it just took me a while to admit it.

But why not love the way we are, as much as we possibly can? Really, it seems lame not to. If your non-sexual soulmate winged dinosaur was already here, just placidly waiting for you to jump on and fly, would you say no? Well, you shouldn’t! And maybe it already is. So get on that rainbow-colored reptilian joy machine and don’t look back!

You know what I’m saying.

(source)

A version of this piece appeared originally in my Mirror Mirror column

* * *

What do you like about yourself that you didn’t expect to?

Unroast: Today I love the graceful way I sometimes imagine I am moving, as I walk.

23 Comments »

Kate on May 20th 2013 in beauty, body, pregnancy

23 Responses to “start working on feeling beautiful today! feel beautiful by summer!”

  1. teegan responded on 20 May 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Pregnancy was really good for me in learning to love my body as it was. I agree with you on the time-lapse thing, especially in that last trimester.
    But I wasn’t completely immune to all of this, especially because there’s so much of that “pregnancy weigh! omg! ahaodighsdhgaohd!” hype out there. i was happy when i only gained 30 pounds during my pregnancy, and after the birth, i was super frustrated – not necessarily all about how i looked but about not being able to hop out of bed and go for a run two weeks after giving birth. then it was winter, and exercise was hard to come by anyway (i am not a gym person. at all), and not exercising not only made the weight come off slowly but also meant i was losing out on the endorphins i’d been rocking all summer due to pregnancy & yoga & tons of walking.
    but here i am, eight months later, and i look better than i’ve looked in i don’t know how long. i still eat what i want for the most part (there was some badass mac & cheese last week, not to mention mark’s birthday cake, for example). i walk at least half an hour every day, partially for me, but partially so the dog doesn’t go stir crazy and partially so thomas can see birds and squirrels and trees and breathe super-fresh air.
    and even as my body has been changing over the past three months, the scale was hardly budging, so i made sure to make a practice of appreciating my body, the fact that it still feeds my kid 85% of his nutrition, the fact that it can carry around 17+ pounds of baby all day with no trouble at all, the fact that thanks to him i have muscle where muscle has never been seen before.

    i remember the first time a guy ever treated me like someone who was hot – and suddenly i was. i hadn’t ever believed i could be, but with him i was, and that was the beginning of being able to believe it myself without anyone else’s opinion mattering, though it doesn’t hurt to have a husband who thinks I’m the prettiest, most attractive woman in the world (except, I think, for Ani Difranco. Good thing she’s taken).

  2. Jana @ 333 Hand Lettering Project responded on 20 May 2013 at 9:16 am #

    I’m learning this…slowly. I love your message of self acceptance!
    Jana @ 333 Days of Hand Lettering

  3. Leslie responded on 20 May 2013 at 9:25 am #

    I love this post, Kate!

    I was just recently beginning to fall back into my body hating ways – they ebb and flow – and what you wrote here brings me back to reality and self love. So thank you!

    One thing I have started to, slowly, like about my body are my breasts. They aren’t so bad, they are actually quite beautiful! I’ve always been very self conscious about them for some reason, probably because they don’t look like the boobs I see in the media.

  4. San D responded on 20 May 2013 at 11:05 am #

    The metaphor for all of this beauty hunting is my piles of black pants that I am packing up to bring to the Salvation Army. I don’t need all of these black pants, and why oh why do I have a gazillion pairs? Looking for the “perfect” pair is my answer. Just like looking for the perfect “look”. I am now keeping only those pairs that feel great, that I can move in, that make me feel confident and happy because they don’t pinch when I sit. Just like my body. Don’t need oinments, tactics, exercises, spanx, just need to feel comfortable in it.

  5. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 11:28 am #

    @teegan
    I don’t feel immune at all, myself, and holy shit, you are so healthy! I’m like, “Yay! I went for a walk!!!” That’s…it.

    I want to write a piece soon about NOT feeling immune. I’m trying to think how to do it.

    Ani is definitely beautiful. So are you. And also kickass.

  6. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 11:29 am #

    @Leslie
    Hooray for liking breasts!! I’m acknowledging the reality of mine by wearing some very comfortable thin cloth bras these days.

  7. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 11:30 am #

    @San D
    I get like this sometimes with clothes. Actually, I have a million black shirts for a similar reason. And it’s hard to let go, because in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking, “But what if this looks amazing on me soon?” It’s that soon thing that gets you.

  8. onebreath responded on 20 May 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I’m so glad you are here and writing these posts – it’s like the antidote to every other bit of media out there. I find I keep starting to believe in myself and appreciating me and then I see another story on the news about the latest fitness craze (how does that make the 6 oclock news?!). Suddenly, I feel like I should get off my butt and do something. So thank you – you help me come back to me.

  9. Mandy responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    I’ve been indignant about this subject ever since I realized that the main strategy of every advertizer of “beauty” products–from make-up to diet pills to the latest exercise fad–is to create a need for it by MAKING US FEEL INADEQUATE ABOUT OURSELVES. Because if we actually like the way we look/feel, obviously we wouldn’t be buying their products, would we?
    As a result, I haven’t even glanced at a beauty mag in nearly two decades. And I heckle commercials (which annoys my husband sometimes, but I tell him it’s hecking, the mute button, or I throw something at the TV.)
    And, you know what? Most of the time, I really like what I see in the mirror. And, after over 30 years of being subjected to the deeply negative messages in advertising, I’d say that’s pretty freakin’ awesome.

  10. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    @Mandy
    I’d say so too! Way to go!!

  11. Hellena-Beatrice responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    I like my pregnant belly (still small, but changing every day).

    Ten years ago, when my father got cancer and died, I got heavier with 15 kg in 3-4 months and stayed like this for all those years. Much later I realised it was probably some sort of self-defensive reaction – putting something between me and the terrible world where people just get sick and die in less than a year time.

    For years I felt fat, without really being it – I am 178 cm and even with the extra 15 kg I never looked fat. Thinking I was fat made me feel miserable and deprived me of do many happy moments, that I wouldn’t even bother making the list of them – it would be a huge one.

    And then, two and a half years ago the most beautiful relationship happened to me. The moment we met I felt so exhausted from work that I had just stopped worrying about how I might look. Finding out that someone was loving me the way I am, made me realise – veeery slowly:) – that I’ve been stupidly unloving to myself for years. When I unexpectedly got pregnant almost 5 months ago, I started getting slimmer – without doing anything really – it was just my body that had finally found its balance and didn’t need the self-defense anymore. Now I feel absolutely happy with myself and think I’ll feel like that even if I become huge by month 9. It’s not about weight, it’s about balance and that feeling that I’m just fucking perfect.

  12. lik_11 responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    I’ve always liked pimples. Not because I like THEM or think they’re attractive- but I’m a picker. I derive entirely too much joy out of squeezing my skin and seeing what comes out. As a teenager, I took 2 rounds of Accutane. After the 2nd one- there was not a blemish on my face. No blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, cysts… nothing. I had reached the ultimate goal of myself, my dermatologist, and my parents. BUT- I would stare in the mirror and have nothing to pick. Which made me really sad.
    Even though I’m now in my mid-30s and starting to have wrinkles- I still have pimples, but now I embrace them.

    @teegan- I totally get your last paragraph. As a (pimply) teenager, I knew that my looks were never going to take me far. I had to rely on my smarts and my winning personality. When I was 20- I met a man who looked at me with the “I want to eat you eyes”. He pointed out other men checking me out… he made me feel beautiful. Although he is no longer in my life- I still credit him for teaching me how to feel like a woman.

  13. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    @Hellena-Beatrice
    It’s so interesting how pregnancy helped you attain that equilibrium. I’ve heard of this happening before, and find that it’s definitely part of my pregnancy, too. It’s amazing, really, how unloving we can be to ourselves for so long, without even noticing. It just becomes habitual. I’m so glad that you are stepping out of that habit! How awesome!

    And I’m sorry about your father. That’s terrifying. I don’t know how anyone could go through that without reacting defensive against the world.

  14. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    @lik_11
    Oh my god, me too, with the pimples. Always.

  15. Patricia Christianson responded on 20 May 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Love this post!

    Imagine there’s no unforgiving three-sided reflection in the department store fitting room
    It’s lame not to try
    No beach below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine comfortable thin cotton bras

    Imagine there’s no pursuit and inadequacy
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to weigh or diet for
    And no fashion too
    Imagine all the people surprised by how much we like ourselves, right now

    You, you may say
    I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
    I hope some day you’ll join us
    And the world will recognize contentment sneaking around in the shadows of our current lives

    Imagine no latest fitness craze
    I wonder if you can
    No need for a million black pants or shirts
    A rainbow-colored reptilian joy machine
    Imagine all the people who like what they see in the mirror

    You, you may say
    I’m a dreamer, but you are here and writing these posts
    I hope some day you know what I’m saying
    And the world will bond with the giant flying dinosaur things

  16. Kate responded on 20 May 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    @Patricia
    Did you just write a friggin amazing POEM in the comments?? Am I seeing this correctly??

  17. Hellena-Beatrice responded on 20 May 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    @kate
    I was 22 when my father died and I don’t think I would ever get over it. But my body is probably wiser than I am and it is finding a way through. I am still amazed by this new equillibrium of mine. And the most beautiful thing is that I started listening to my body. It just knows things. It knows what it needs to eat and how much. It knows who to hug and who to avoid being in the same room with.

  18. deanna responded on 20 May 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    I was reading a blog similar to yours written by a British blogger. She was talking about all the articles written for bikini ready bodies etc. I guess us Yanks don’t have a monopoly on this.

    So one guy pipes in (love reading comments) how Latina women are very conscious about how they look and spend more time than British or North American women on their bodies, tans and everything else that is required to look gorgeous. I do know there is more plastic surgery in South America than anywhere else so maybe there is some truth to this. If so, isn’t this a sad way to be? I mean I am all for taking care of yourself and I am even in the biz of helping people stay fit and healthy, but I wonder if that very tall ladder is just so high that it is always out of reach. At some point you’ve exercised, dieted, waxed, polished, colored and surgically enhanced yourself as much as possible and then what??

  19. Jade @ Tasting Grace responded on 21 May 2013 at 11:09 am #

    I was just noting to myself today how annoyed I get by people commenting on my size as my pregnancy progresses, as if being pregnant makes my body public property or something. As if I’m not dealing with enough, going through so many changes I can barely keep up with, I now have to deal with the peanut gallery too.

    But secretly, very secretly, when I look at myself in the mirror, I adore my growing breasts and belly. I love the way it looks when the morning light hits my curves, and I like how my hands look on my belly. I’m not in a hurry to get through this pregnancy, and I’m not in any hurry to “get back” to my pre-pregnancy body, because I find the one I’m currently in gratifying…and it’s plenty temporary.

  20. The Furries & The Happy Club responded on 22 May 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    It is strange that it seems to be harder to be content with what we have and what we are than starting some crazy diet-exercize regimen…

    I think we have gotten it all wrong in today’s commercial society…

    LET YOUR CURCES ENJOY LIFE!

  21. moosh responded on 24 May 2013 at 4:59 am #

    I accept companies exist to make money, but to exist within a society bombarded by messages solely aimed at ‘keeping you off-balance’ is tiring, mis-directs our energies to this chasing-of-rainbows and doesn’t lead to happiness, fulfilment or a life well-lived in our precious time on earth.

    The more that this selling of dissatisfaction is called out for the negative effects it produces, the more that young girls and boys are taught to question the water of ‘not good enough yet, try harder to be something you’re not’ that they’re born into and have to swim within every second of their existence, the more chance we have to disentangle what product pushers want from what is truly worthwhile.

    Thanks for your blog & writing Kate, I’ve been reading for a while but not commented before. It’s about time I said thankyou for the thoughts you articulate that are humane, delightful and well worth sharing.

  22. LassLisa responded on 27 May 2013 at 3:21 am #

    So, several days after reading this post I’m walking around in my favorite jeans, the ones that totally make me look tall and skinny and I always get compliments in. (not ‘compliments on’. No one seems to notice that the jeans are responsible. Just that suddenly I look skinnier and taller than usual.)

    Turns out they’re, uh, kind of stiff. And very blue. Never quite noticed that before… I suppose that means I’m a bit out of touch with fashions. But at the same time it makes me feel kind of good that I’m in a place (in my job, in my life, in my family, in my town) where I can wear clothes that are years out of style, and get away with it.

    Besides, in my industry if I look too stylish everyone will assume I’m a receptionist.

  23. jillyji responded on 30 May 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Timely. I had a revolutionary thought this week, in the midst of a 2 month long bullsh*t controlling diet body shrinking campaign.I realised ‘I’m happy here’. .’here’ is a physical place, my home.my body, it was my toddlers home for a little while, and maybe a new little human will be happy in there some time soon as well.what an honour. having read and thought a billion times that I should love my body, I’d always considered it an object rather than a home for me primarily and sometimes, for babies! It was revolutionary for me!

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