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In the eye of the beholder?

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.

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.

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.

It’s a new year. 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.

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.

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • leigh
    Twitter:
    January 1, 2013

    Ah, even with the side shot, you are a beautifully exotic young lovely! Don’t ever doubt it! Nice job, I think you have summed up most women’s feelings on their hair – mine is straight, used to be blonde, and about to get cut also!
    leigh recently posted… Gerome #8 WishMy Profile

  • Cheryl January 1, 2013

    Okay, I’m sorry for chuckling as I read this but you are one of the prettiest women I’ve ever met. Seriously, we’ve met a few times now in person and I LOVE your hair! You always look fantastic and your eyes are so gorgeous! And I’m not just saying that. If I didn’t mean it, you know I wouldn’t bother saying it, I just wouldn’t say anything. Isn’t it funny how differently we see ourselves from what others see us? :)

  • Barbara Storey
    Twitter:
    January 1, 2013

    Great post I have a similar response to the idea of self-portraits, and have been trying to work my way up to doing one for months. Oh, I’ve taken several – but I won’t post them, can’t bring myself to do it. *sighs* Thanks for the good example – and your self-portait is great, by the way! I would love to have curls like yours! That “grass-is-greener” thing again. ;)
    Barbara Storey recently posted… Next Year’s WordsMy Profile

  • Lisa Lori via Facebook January 1, 2013

    I’m going to hold you to LIVING that sentiment this year..whether you like it or not…lol :)

  • I would actually really appreciate that!

  • Debbie
    Twitter:
    January 2, 2013

    Nice photo! I believe we are our own harshest critics and much of the criticism is unfounded. Happy New Year to you. :-)
    Debbie recently posted… ONE WORD CHALLENGE 2013My Profile

  • Corinne Rodrigues
    Twitter:
    January 3, 2013

    Dawn – As I’m reading this I’m wondering why you need anyone else to tell you that you are pretty – you are! All you need to change is your mirror/s! ;)
    Happy New Year – have a great one – with a prayer for good health especially for your husband.
    Corinne Rodrigues recently posted… Taking Responsibility For EnergyMy Profile

  • Suzy
    Twitter:
    January 3, 2013

    Loved your post. I think we are often our harshest critics. That’s a lovely pic and you are very attractive. Wish you an awesome 2013.
    Suzy recently posted… UBC Day 3 – A pair of jeansMy Profile

  • a.eye January 13, 2013

    What a great post! I liked that photo of you in the challenge post, too!
    a.eye recently posted… Playback gets no payback!My Profile

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