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Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

Reminiscing…

It all started with four simple words from the soft-spoken young cashier at the grocery store as she rang through the eclectic assortment of foodstuffs I’d chosen to carry my husband and I through a quiet New Year’s Eve at home.

“I like your hair,” she said shyly.

Like many (dare I say most?) women, I have a rather dissatisfied, grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side approach to my relationship with my hair. It’s a mousy shade of light brown; I wish it was dark. It’s fine and thin; I wish it was lustrous and thick. It’s naturally curly, tending toward frizz; I wish it was straight or, at the very least, sleekly defined curls. It looks better short; I wish I could wear it long.

comb

Oh, a few of these things I can change, of course… and sometimes I do. Achieving the perfect shade of colour is a fairly easy (albeit somewhat high-maintenance) task. Occasionally I will brave my stylist’s disapproval and grow out my hair – though I always breathe a sigh of relief when I come to my senses and have it cut short again. In a rare “perfect storm” of mild temperatures, no rain, and low humidity, a good blow-dry followed by the use of a salon-quality straightener can do wonders to temporarily tame my tresses. And there are thousands of products which, when used properly, can move one a little bit closer to body, fullness, and sleek curl definition.

But for the most part, when it comes to my hair, it seems that I spend a whole lot of time wishing.

So the cashier’s quiet words, so far removed from my own feelings about my hair, stopped me in my tracks. I smiled with some embarrassment, said an automatic thank you, and exchanged a few comments about curls, and haircuts, and wishing we had something we didn’t… then I quickly packed my groceries and headed to the car.

But it was too late.

My day had been made, and I basked in the glow of that unexpected, sweet, sincerely-offered compliment for hours afterward.

beauty

Later, I checked out the topic for the last day of the December photo a day challenge in which I’d been participating, and was dismayed to find that it was “self-portrait.” The horror! As you might imagine, my feelings about my appearance are very much along the same lines as those toward my hair, so the idea of posting a photo of myself for all the world – not just those closest to me – to see? Terrifying. I was in the midst of frantically trying to figure out how I could capture something abstract, non-identifiable, and safe that could still be classified as a “selfie” when the cashier’s soft words came to my mind.

“I like your hair.”

I don’t much like my hair… but so what? She did. I don’t think of myself as pretty… but so what? My husband does. I dislike the size and shape of my nose… but so what? They say my eyes and smile are nice. And in the end, does it really matter? It’s quite obvious that externals are subjective – but who I am, how I live my life, the way I choose to treat others… that’s what really matters.

I have always known this. But this time I felt it.

So why focus on things I can’t substantively change, and that may actually, from some views, be pluses rather than minuses? Why invest so much emotional energy on loathing rather than loving, rejection over acceptance, criticism instead of praise? Why spend a lifetime wishing and not appreciating?

#FMSphotoaday December 31 - Self-portraitI can’t say it was easy – in fact, it was particularly difficult! – but in defiance to my instincts I tentatively picked up my iPhone, pushed aside my discomfort, and bravely snapped a few photos of… myself.

And then I posted one.

And no one laughed, or mocked, or told me I had no business splashing my unattractive self all over the internet. But you know what? I’m not sure it would have mattered if they had… just as the handful of compliments I received from those who know me were, while much appreciated, far less important than the awareness that tiny seeds of self-acceptance had been planted by a total stranger and seemed to be taking root in my heart and mind.

So here’s to a new outlook! Let’s each go forward and learn to treat ourselves with the sort of kindness and acceptance that we offer to those we love… and then let’s take a step further and do whatever we can to enable others to do the same.

Have you ever learned something important from a stranger’s words?
Please share!

UBC

NaBloPoMo July 2014

(Updated from original post in January, 2013.)

Laurel Regan – Writer, tangler, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, cat herder, needle felter, iPhoneographer, Growlita, iFan, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 36 comments… add one }

  • Kebba Buckley Button
    Twitter:
    July 2, 2014

    Laurel, I’m visiting from the UBC. Thanks for the story and the powerful reminder of how a chance comment from a stranger can uplift us. That one comment can start a chain reaction of thoughts and memories, even change us. Congratulations on receiving your shift!
    Kebba Buckley Button recently posted… UpBeat Living:  How You Can Still Feel Great When the Summer Heat is BlazingMy Profile

  • Joshua James
    Twitter:
    July 2, 2014

    As a ginger, I’ve always had a hard time regarding my hair… and in all honesty I think I worry about it more than most guys. I was chatting to someone a while back and they told me NOT to worry, love the body you have… Whatever part it is! I’ve kind of adopted that idea and it’s helped me alot. Enjoy you, for you! :D

  • Rosemary Cunningham July 2, 2014

    Wise words Laurel!
    I’m always keen to offer compliments to strangers.. It starts a conversation and can totally change someone’s day .. or more!
    Can’t remember any comments that have come my way .. and will continue more fervently to spread nice thoughts and spoken words outwards!

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 3, 2014

      Good for you, Rosemary! I need to start doing more of that sort of thing myself, since I know now how wonderful it makes me feel to be on the receiving end!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Words have PowerMy Profile

  • Penny McDaniel
    Twitter:
    July 2, 2014

    Wonderful story and reminder of the power of words, especially when we least expect them. We’ve been blessed to live in these physical temples known as the human body, and it’s our job to treat them as the temples they are. If it’s good enough for our Creator, it’s good enough for us.

    Love the selfie! Such a confident and mischievous look…awesome.
    (Oh, dropping by from UBC).
    Blessings.
    Penny
    Penny McDaniel recently posted… The Great State Of AppreciationMy Profile

  • Cheryl
    Twitter:
    July 2, 2014

    This post made my day. I always had fabulous short hair, or so I thought. A few years ago when peri menopause set in, my hair took a nose dive. No life to it. Gray stuff popping up even after a dye job. Mousy at best. Every so often, I’ll hear “cute haircut” but I tend to respond rather negatively: “Ugh! Look at the grays!” I wish I had the confidence I had a few years ago and I do hope it comes back. You’ve inspired me. Thank you. P.S….your photo is marvelous.
    Cheryl recently posted… Dog Tales: Pondering Life Without My Little CompanionMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 3, 2014

      Thank you, Cheryl! I too find it difficult sometimes to just say “thank you” when getting a compliment – my first instinct is to point out the negatives! Here’s hoping we both gain/regain a sense of confidence. :)
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Words have PowerMy Profile

  • ElaineLK July 2, 2014

    Oh, do I hear you! I’ve always had exactly the same thought and feelings about myself–and my hair. I always longed to be able to wear it long, but it’s too frizzy. I still struggle with my feelings about my looks. Luckily my husband (like yours) thinks I’m beautiful, so I lap that up and don’t even make any comments about his bad eyesight! And yes, there have been a few times when someone has paid me a compliment, and I ride on that for a while and actually feel a little better about myself. It never lasts, but I’m grateful for it!

  • Debbie
    Twitter:
    July 2, 2014

    I think most of us suffer from this grass-is-greener syndrome. For you, it’s your hair, (which I think looks good and really suits you), for me it’s a blotchy complexion and a few other things. (Got lucky with the hair.) Love the selfie; you have such a warm smile and twinkling eyes!
    It’s always a little boost to the ego when one receives a compliment, but like you said, if your partner thinks you’re beautiful, that’s all that truly matters.
    Debbie recently posted… SPIDERS ON DRUGSMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      July 3, 2014

      I think you’re right, Debbie – honestly, I’ve met very few people (women in particular) who are truly happy with themselves EXACTLY the way they are. Something to work on, I think!
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Words have PowerMy Profile

  • Kajal
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    Very wise thoughts, Laurel.

    Compliments can really do a lot for a person’s self worth/self belief…works for me :)
    Kajal recently posted… DelightMy Profile

  • Shilpa Garg
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    I think most of us love to hate our own hair. The other day, my sister complimented the way the layers showed in my ponytail and this was when I hate my hair currently with passion and cant wait for them to grow a bit more so that I can style it better. But since that day, I am feeling better about my hair. A small gesture, few words can mean a lot! And that was a lovely selfie. I liked it a lot :)
    Shilpa Garg recently posted… FlashbackMy Profile

  • Tina
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    It is so true Laurel… The grass is always greener side – specially on such hairy facts!!!How I wish I had those romantic curls which doesn’t need any maintenance, how I wish I didn’t have to brush through hair often to keep it tangle free. lovely post

    Tina from The Sunny Side of Life

  • Suzy
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    I always wonder why those that have the lovely curly hair want it straight – I would love to have some curls. Yes a few nice words can bring sunshine into our day. Nice pic Laurel.
    Suzy recently posted… UBC Jul 3 – Row Row Row Your BoatMy Profile

  • Aditi
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    Such a sweet story! A compliment, and especially from a stranger can do wonders! Ha, so true about our relationship with our hair, we always want what we don’t. I love love curls. I have straight, thin, black hair and I have always wanted instead curls, thick! ;)
    Aditi recently posted… Chapter 3 – Of Facing RealitiesMy Profile

  • Jina July 3, 2014

    Hi! I saw your post on the UBC and loved it. I just turned 47 and have been feeling so old. I recently moved from the USA to the South of France and today a group of French men young and old at the French market saw me approaching my sister in law’s market stand. They said to her who is that pretty lady with long legs she could be a model. I haven’t heard this in the USA since I was in my 20′s so it was a bit of a shock when she relayed their words to me. The men here don’t care what age you are just that you take care of your self which I do. Way to go France I love you! By the way I hate my hair because it is straight. Yours looks like it is curly you lucky girl! We always want what we can’t have right? Anyway please be sure to visit me in the South of France at http://masabicou.com/jinas-page/ Thanks so much! Jina

  • Beloo Mehra July 3, 2014

    That’s a great post, Laurel, with an important message. So many youngsters these days go through this phase of not being sure of their appearance and always looking for acceptance by peers/others. This not only ruins their sense of self-confidence and self-acceptance but can also lead to self-destructive behaviour among some. I wish they soon realize what is it that truly makes them beautiful!
    Lovely picture of you there! And I love those gentle curls :)
    Beloo Mehra recently posted… Beads that MatterMy Profile

  • Crystal Duncan (
    Twitter:
    July 3, 2014

    My hair is very thin and fine as well. I keep it cut short for the same reason you do. It’s amazing how one little compliment can make your day!

    Visiting from UBC!
    Crystal Duncan ( recently posted… A Letter to my 12/13 year old selfMy Profile

  • Kalpana
    Twitter:
    July 4, 2014

    I enjoyed laughing at your self deprecatory comments about your hair. We’re never as bad ;) as we think we are and a stranger’s words are often more telling than others – maybe because we have no expectations from them. I’ve often learned things about myself from someone else’s comments.
    Kalpana recently posted… Travails and rainbowsMy Profile

  • Monica Deshpande
    Twitter:
    July 4, 2014

    Laurel, those are wise words indeed. I’m with you on the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ bit as well as the ‘shy about compliments’ bit. I wish I could change both these aspects of myself but then I wouldn’t be me.
    Btw, I loved the selfie. :)
    Monica Deshpande recently posted… Sunshine timeMy Profile

  • A. July 7, 2014

    Visiting from NaBloPoMo and rejoicing in your small act of bravery and selfie-celebration. Why should we feel so shackled to yardsticks determined by others? Rock on, pretty lady!
    A. recently posted… Diamonds, Born Under PressureMy Profile

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