It Hurts to Be Beautiful
I wasn’t even able to walk when my grandmother put me into a high chair in the kitchen of the apartment above the photography studio she and my grandpa shared and gave me my first home perm. I’m pretty sure I cried; at least it looks that way from the faded black and white photo someone took as a memento of the moment. If anyone had really thought about it at the time, I’m pretty sure my mom would have put her last two dollars into the Therapy Jar for future me; toddler me definitely could have used it.
You see, my paternal grandmother was obsessed with beauty; creating it in one way or another was her life’s work, and she was a master at her craft. All through my childhood and even into my thirties, I remember her admonishing me as I turned up my nose at face creams, foundations, and ‘frownies,’ a little adhesive worn to keep you from getting wrinkles between your eyebrows. “It hurts to be beautiful,” she’d say, as she plucked something, slathered on creams, or chewed on alfalfa tablets to keep age at bay. When she died at 90, she was still dying her own hair blond.
Born a poor farm kid in the early 1900s, my grandmother valued beauty almost above everything; with her, it only went skin deep. I recall her telling me with great pride about a cousin whose red cheeks mortified her. The cousin nearly died from eating spoonfuls of corn starch as she read romance novels because she wanted to have the pale, wan complexion popular in those days. When I expressed my horror over how her cousin nearly died in an effort to feel pretty, Grandma was nonplussed. “It hurts to be beautiful,” she reminded me.
I’m not beautiful. Really. I’m not fishing for compliments or trying to get you to shower me with platitudes at all. I’m just stating a pretty simple fact. I am absolutely average; no one is going to turn into stone when they look at me, but I’m not exactly stopping traffic with my beauty, either. And most of the time, I’m okay with that. I know that I’ve gotten nothing in my life based upon my average looks, and I’ve been given no opportunities because of my dazzling beauty. For this, I am truly grateful because when I look back on my life, I love knowing that everything I’ve accomplished has had more to do with my brains and talent than with the placement of my cheekbones or the way my hair frames my face. And since gratitude is what I like to focus on when we share this time together, I’m relieved to be able stay on task in at least one part of my life.
But I have a confession to make. Even though I’ve never been a slave to the mirror, there are days when I pass it by and have to stop and look again. Where did all those grey hairs come from? What the hell is going on with my neck? And if God wants us to smile and be happy, why on earth did He use that happiness against us with those horrible ‘laugh lines’ that seem to be carving a horizontal pathway on each side of my lips? What was He thinking?
Seriously, these things sometimes stop me in my tracks…and don’t even get me started on how vital a tool a pair of tweezers has become in my world! Even though I still find it impossible to acquiesce to any makeup aside from mascara that my mom still buys for me, I find myself wondering if I should start to seriously consider fillers, botulinum toxins, peels, or even – gasp! surgical alternatives to make my face and other aging bits and pieces feel and look ‘high and tight’ all over again. After all, “it hurts to be beautiful,” right?
Once we reach a certain age, I think we all have friends who go for the “Lifestyle Lift,” the ‘facial rejuvenation,’ or who simply disappear from our lives and our Facebook feeds for a few weeks for an undisclosed ‘surgical procedure’ and who come back looking different, shiny, and maybe a little stretched in some places. I want to ask them a million questions; I want to ask them if they honestly feel like it was worth it, and I want to ask them what the final straw was that made them decide they weren’t good enough as they were. I’m curious to know what it was that broke their spirits and made them decide they had to hurt to be beautiful and had to change to feel wanted and loved. I want to hear their answers, but then again, I don’t.
I don’t want to know that others besides me question their value in society based on the way they look. I don’t want to know if I am wrong in believing that it really doesn’t matter what you look like. I want to continue to believe that beauty really is only skin deep and that even those amongst us who are just average have a place to belong and be valued and loved.
I want to believe that my grandma was wrong; it doesn’t hurt to be beautiful at all. It only hurts when you don’t recognize the beauty you already possess, and it doesn’t just hurt you; it hurts everyone in your universe because it means you don’t give yourself enough credit, and you don’t feel you deserve the love and friendship you get from those around you who really care about you and find you beautiful. I felt that way for way too much of my life, and I don’t ever want to go back there to that loneliness or feel that unworthy again. It doesn’t hurt to be beautiful; it hurts when you spend a lifetime not realizing you already are beautiful.
Maybe this is all on my mind because it’s January, and that’s not only the time we tend to make New Year’s resolutions and wish for a fresh, new start, but it’s also the time when I celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. I am so lucky to have been able to accomplish things in my life that were not directly related to or attributable to my looks. I am so grateful that many of my formative years fell during the 1960s, when no one wore makeup at all, save for robin’s egg blue eyeshadow, and the 1970’s when Coty Sweet Earth solid fragrance compacts that fit in your Levi’s perfectly and it would still be a couple of years before Farrah Fawcett became popular and convinced a whole generation to become addicted to hair spray and curling irons.
My looks may be average, and I still may have to learn to gracefully accept what’s happening to my neck, but I’m going to try to make it through without the injections, surgical procedures, and pain that was so integral to my grandma’s definition of beauty. I hope I’m not the only one moving forward who is going to try to be grateful for the beauty that I carry within.
Wendy Dwyer is a woman of many hats. A full-time Associate Professor at Indian River State College, she serves as a creative consultant for a variety of nonprofit organizations in the area. She also writes regularly for Luminaries, STUART Magazine, and a variety of other publications.
The creative force behind a variety of unique and wildly successful fundraising programs locally, including the Jewelia Project, the “What’s in Your Bag?” Food Drive, and the Silver Bells Holiday Home Tour, Dwyer is an active volunteer in the community as well, serving as a founding board member of the Van Duzer Foundation, and assisting a variety of local charitable organizations including: Mustard Seed, HANDS/VIM, Southeast Florida Honor Flight, Creature Safe Place, the Inner Truth Project, Guardians for New Futures, Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society, the Sunrise Theatre Foundation, LifeBuilders of the Treasure Coast, Heathcote Botanical Gardens, United for Animals, and many others.
An award-winning writer, educator, and public relations professional, Dwyer is always willing to assist non-profit organizations and provide dynamic and engaging public relations trainings for Treasure Coast charities. Her book Asshats to Assets: How to Turn Crappy Jobs into Career Gold is available at www.amazon.com. When she is not working or volunteering, she enjoys writing, walking, and spending time with her husband Dan and a large variety of rescued animals at her rural home west of Fort Pierce.