You Are So Beautiful to Me

I am flummoxed by the current definitions of beauty. For women, is it people with defined biceps and thigh gap, or people with more voluptuous physiques? Are men supposed to look like the letter Y, with broad shoulders and narrow hips? Personally, I hope we all decide that human-shaped is just fine.

While we might all intellectually agree that beauty is defined by the cultures in which we live, my own culture’s definition could use a rewrite. Even before Photoshop, it was a little difficult for me to entertain the notion that I had to look like the person in the magazine to be considered pretty. Models have an entirely different build than most other people. They’re not necessarily any prettier; they serve as moving hangars that feature the clothes, cosmetics, and products companies are trying to sell. That smexy, smoldery look of many a fashion spread is a combination of light and shadow, good photography and cosmetics. I won’t say models aren’t pretty and all, I just think it doesn’t hurt to have both a certain “look” and a team of professionals buffing, polishing, and air-brushing the “flaws” away.

In real life, people can and should look like people. Women are built to be squishy in some areas. That’s not something that needs to be liposucked away. It’s life. I love a certain online clothing retailer because it proudly features clothes for women from a size 00 to a size XXL. Oftentimes, the clothes are the same. I see rail-thin women showcasing the same swimsuit as their full-sized modeling partners, and they all look wonderful. Yes, there is air-brushing and cosmetics at work, but it doesn’t appear as though anyone has had their size distorted through the magic of Photoshop.

Is it just me or are we paying way too much attention to how the women look? How come men aren’t obsessing about whether their thighs touch? Given a very brief scan of Google, I couldn’t find a quick data blurb that gave me a ratio of how much women’s beauty magazines outnumber men’s manly-magazines, but a scan at the local bookstore suggests it’s pretty hefty (I’m factoring out special interest magazines here). There are more women’s magazines telling women how to be pretty (usually by buying stuff) than there would appear to be men’s magazines telling them how to be handsome. Hmmmmm, think there’s something to this? I do.

I don’t want to go all “Love yourself and you’ll be beautiful,” but loving yourself for who you are is usually healthier than wanting to look like someone you’re not. I have no objection to fashion, shoes, cosmetics, and so forth. I wear clothes, buy shoes, and wear makeup. If you want to get your wrinkles Botoxed or your eyeliner permanently tattooed on, ouch, but do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt you in the process.

I do, however, think it’s far better to engage in that whole eating right/active lifestyle deal I hear so much about. I am not the posterperson of healthy eating and exercise awesomeness. I think I am better about the exercise than the healthy eating. I admit freely to having a relationship with chocolate that I’m not in any hurry to correct. At least it’s usually dark chocolate, I tell myself.

I am betting by now that people are wondering what I look like. Am I some emo person who wears all black and decries fashion? Do I weigh more than my couch? Have I liposucked the fat out of my stomach or thighs? In order: Nope. No, and Not in This Lifetime. I am not going to win any beauty contests, but I also don’t scare children. I am trying to be the most “beautiful” me I can by eating relatively well and exercising relatively often. More importantly, I am trying to be a beautiful me by living with dignity, honesty, and a giggle or two. My beauty quotient in that regard changes daily.

In other words, I’m a work in progress. So are we all. That is kind of beautiful.

*Tip o’ the hat to Joe Cocker for the title.



Circles of Friends

Venn diagrams are awesome. I like to picture the minutiae of any situation in terms of how it would look in a Venn, or multiple Venns. Sometimes the intersections look like the whirling lines of a Spirograph circle, other times they are easier to notice. Lately I’ve been thinking about friendships, both their density and diversity.

Many people have circles of friends packed with family and a vibrant crew of old and new members. Other people’s circles are less densely packed but still necessary to the one who’s living within that circle. For today, I’m thinking about the diversity of our friendships, because that’s where the depth and flavor of our friendships happily coexist. We might have family, close friends, acquaintances – and then we add the friends we have online, and the stranger/friends with whom we may have superficial relationships, but ones that are still rewarding.

Our online friends are real in the sense that we feel a connection with them, wonder how they’re doing, ask about the newest events in their lives. Ask any Twitter follower or YouTuber about their favorite sites, and they will speak with warmth akin to how they feel about their loved ones. I am quite aware that the fondness I feel for my YouTube creators is one dimensional, based on an admiration for their talent and message. I don’t know who they are or what they’re like “for real”, but I am glad they create their works. It adds meaning to my life. I suppose it’s like people who watch The Walking Dead or any other long-standing program on TV. We become attached to the characters, though I would hope we don’t expect to see zombies walking down the sidewalk looking to nibble on our brains in real life.

I add to my friendship appreciation the people who work at my often frequented establishments. For me, it’s my local coffee emporium. I am habituated to mochas; the whipped cream with chocolate droozle adds a dimension to my day that making it myself would not. I am not wasting my money, necessarily, on a calorie-laden indulgence. Well, I am, but I am aware that I am doing so. I purchase my little cup of whipped-cream and caffeinated yumminess partially for the flavor of the beverage, but also for the people who sell it to me. I know when they get promoted, I know when they’re having a good morning, and I know when they’ve been out sick. Likewise, they know my schedule. When I hadn’t come to the counter for a week, they figured I was out of town. When I got my hair cut, they complimented me on it. They kickstart my day by connecting me to it. I am grateful for their good nature and their ability to whip up a delicious beverage.

The rest of my day may go in a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, but I get it off to a good start by greeting “my” people at the coffee emporium. They even gave me a free mocha one day when the machine had been broken previously. They may be wise marketers, but that was also a lovely gesture.

Think about your friendships both in terms of their density and diversity. Chances are you have more friends than you think about. All are beneficial, adding to the Spirograph-like Venn diagrams of your days; their intersecting point is you.

A Book Nerd Trip through the Dystopian Genre

I am a big fan of the dystopian genre. Present me with the framework of a post-apocalyptic society and I’m giddy. I was deliciously horrified by 1984 and Brave New World; I identified with the short story Harrison Bergeron; and more recently I savored the Matched series. The Giver made me cry, but then so did The Hunger Games. Actually, they all did. The notion that any culture would obliterate another or attempt to control the very factors that make us unique sounds a little too much like any other eugenic theory floating around within our more recent and very real histories.

The dystopian genre uses futuristic scenarios to remind us of our all-too human tendency to isolate and/or to create factions (Divergent). In other words, the future is already here, and we’re not doing very well at accommodating each other on the only planet we’ll ever call home during our next bunch of lifetimes. There is no “over there” anymore; the world is a plane ride away and filled with people who don’t share the same philosophies we have.

This is an intentional oversimplification of the complex issues we grapple with as members of the global community. I’ll bring it local for a moment. Think high school, the Greek system, your first internship or job, maybe even your present situation. You are faced with trying to fit into an engine that’s already been percolating along without you, thanks very much. Some people seem to fit in no matter where they go, while others figure the social rules out as they go along. Still others behave as though the landscape in which they’re living is mountainous and they’re without climbing gear. Even here in America where we applaud the maverick who goes against The System, we still have our unwritten social rules. We wear pink on Wednesdays, after all (Mean Girls reference — not dystopian, still fits). We still spend an exhausting amount of energy trying to fit in, or from another perspective, trying desperately to stand out.

The most compelling part of Divergent to me is the clinical method of assigning people factions. Veronica Roth does a brilliant job of turning our most basic descriptors of The Self into forced lifestyles. If I were to ask you the first thing (and one thing only) you think of when describing yourself, you would probably answer with one of the five faction categories: honest, intelligent, friendly, caring/self-sacrificing, daring/brave. She then explores what identifying the self in only one way means for humanity. In short, it doesn’t amount to anything very healthy.

I think that we need to have the dystopian societies fall apart in our works of fiction, whatever the medium, because we need to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to change our futures for the better. Instead of some “out there” faction or political agenda, the thing we most need to shape in order to build a more stable future for our progeny is ourselves. I realize time is a funky concept, but I don’t have the mental capacity to imagine a future that I haven’t in part shaped by what I’m doing in the present moment.

For me, that moment evidently involves baking bread with Amity because the first thing I thought of to describe myself was kind. I can envision myself protecting those I love without a second thought, I can definitely tell the truth, and I love learning, so there’s that; but if I were to go through the faction exercise, I’d definitely have made friends with the doggie. Whatever you’d choose, we need each other working and living together, not judging and fighting apart. Now let’s go have some of that bread.

New Exercise and Numb Behinds

I told my daughter the other day that I would try out a cycling class. Even though I occasionally grumble about commitments large or small, I keep them. Today was the day: I donned my exergear, grabbed my water and a towel and trucked on over to my local gympeople club. My first impression of the cycling room was of a disco room in Hell. Teal and blue lights festooned the ceiling, while the teacher’s bike was on a platform resembling the stage at a car show.

I didn’t know whether to be intimidated or simply bemused, so I took a bike in the far corner of the room, and waited for either instructions or an announcement that class had been cancelled. The instructor strode into the room, all healthy and well and glowing with the good spirit of one who is in wonderful shape. I was tired already and I hadn’t even mounted the bike. The teacher showed me how to adjust the seat and levers, and I was ready.

To the tune of today’s techno beat, we cycled, then cycled, and then cycled some more. I was so happy I could actually ride the cycle that when she said “Stand up,” I almost fell off. My center of gravity is questionable on a good day, much less when I have a machine to stand up on. I finally managed to get up as the song was coming to a close. I call that perfect timing.

At 10 minutes in, my muscles were already fatigued and I was drenched in sweat. I kept peddling, even though I wanted to be finished.

At 20 minutes in, when the instructor said, “Stand up and go to position three,” I tried to stand but my behind was numb and my legs were already wobbly.

At 40 minutes in, when the instructor said, “Stand up and work up that hill,” I found that even though my behind was still numb and my legs were on fire, it was easier for me to push through a hard resistance than a light one. Okay, uphill all the way for me. Then she said to sit back down. I couldn’t move properly. I forgot how to sit, I guess, or my muscles refused to change direction, or I was just cranky – in any case, my ability to control my muscles was not at its peak. Still I cycled.

At 50 minutes, I recited all the swear words I know, internally of course.

At 55 minutes, I heard the most beautiful words ever uttered: “This is the last song.” The sweet joy of that phrase carried me through. The cool down made me laugh; my muscles were so fatigued that I had to hold on to the bike for balance.

On my way out the door, the instructor asked if I was coming back. I answered, “Oh, yeah, and next week I’ll figure out how to stand.” Really? Where did that come from? She gently informed me that my numb butt was going to be mad at me tomorrow (I’d figured that one out on my own) and to keep my exercise light for the rest of the week.

I now have a new appreciation for my friend who rides bikes for fun, and for my daughter whose definition of great exercise is slightly different than mine. I also appreciate that variety is the spice of life, which certainly holds true for exercise. If I can get out of bed tomorrow morning without wincing, I’ll consider this a win/win.

Plus, there’s always next week to go back and try again.

Love the Love

I love Valentine’s Day: people unapologetically and publicly wear red, pink, and white with the occasional splash of purple – and, better yet, we share chocolate. We proclaim our love to the people in our lives, or scramble to get someone to hang out with so that we’re not alone on this most greeting-cardsy of holidays. Along with the smell of flowers and the tummy aches from eating too many chocolates, here’s what I want you to remember: even if you don’t have a deep and abiding love for a significant other, you should be busy celebrating the fact that you’ve been with YOU for your whole life.

I am reminded of this quote from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.” I realize Polonius wasn’t referring to love; I have just always understood this is my own noggin as loving yourself for who you are. As people, we have an amazing capacity to love ridiculously, beyond reason, deeply and profoundly. We can love far and wide, or reserve our devotion to a very special few. We get to choose.

Overall, love is difficult. In the daily act of loving someone else, we hurt each other, take each other for granted, and add qualifiers to the quality of our love.  In spite of ourselves, though, we’re optimists, or at the very least realists. We need each other to survive, and we need to have people to care for and about to live well. We tend to forget that having people to care for includes, most definitely and necessarily includes, ourselves.

Here is your Valentine’s Day challenge. Feel free to bestow upon the people in your life whatever cards, trinkets and goodies you want, but include yourself on that list. You are not alone on Valentine’s Day. You have the best friend you will ever have: yourself.

Many, many people get caught up in the cards/flowers/presents mode. Some people use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to gift themselves with something they’ve had their eye on. Still others use Valentine’s Day as their day of proclamation. I get to clap along with others as people propose to their beloveds, or, my personal favorite, as a 14-year-old carries a life-sized teddy bear up the stairs to his girlfriend’s house.

Valentine’s Day is just a day. If you want to celebrate it as a day of love, then tell people you love them, don’t wait for them to tell you.


Mother Nature

There’s been a huge event going on that you might have missed. It’s bigger than the new season of Sherlock, more catastrophic than global warming, and more terrifying than my local drive through coffee emporium raising their prices. Heart palpitating yet? It will be: I am going gray.

I’ve been gray for a while; I’ve just been coloring it. Then, I stopped. It really was as simple as that. I didn’t have any heart-to-heart talks with the children entitled “Mom is Going Gray and We’ll be All Right” and I forgot to inform my friends about this life altering event. You know why? Because it’s my head.

I won’t bother sharing how many people have commented on how brave I am to let my looks go. I decide that the cost of hair color in a bottle isn’t worth the price and I’m letting my looks go? Last time I checked, I have two eyes, a nose and a mouth in the proper locations on my head. My looks are exactly how they’ve been; they’re just a little more sparkly. I stopped coloring my hair because I like the shade of silver gray it is. I think it’s pretty. Going natural has also made my hair softer. If I am more Jamie Lee Curtis than Megan Fox I’m okay with that. I’m closer in age to Jamie Lee anyway.

I carry the road map of my life on my person and on my head. I have lived more than a minute on planet Earth and I have the scars, stretch marks – and now gray hair – to prove it. I think people of all ages are beautiful, with coordinating features that showcase our endurance, if not our longevity, on planet Earth. I don’t think I look older with graying hair. The present combination of silver and medium brown tinged with metallic bronze due to fading hair color is kind of fascinating. I have a telltale skunk stripe down my center part with silver hair around my temples and over my ears. In two more haircuts, I am told, I will be completely gray. I don’t know what I’ll look like, but I’m fine with that. I didn’t know when I was seven what I would look like at 20. Some transformations are best revealed slowly.

I understand the natural concern people have for any type of transition, I just hadn’t thought about it in relation to my head. Like all things, people will get used to me being gray and they’ll forget, except when looking at pictures, that I ever looked any other way.

As long as I don’t change my hairstyle.

New Years Begin Every Day

I am not a New Year’s Resolution type of person. Each day is a reminder to me that I have another 24 hours of possibilities, so I don’t really need sparkly balls dropping from the sky on New Year’s Eve to get me thinking. I live in the moment, and usually the moment I’m in requires coffee. That is, until gravity began to pull on my person. I noticed on my most recent birthday that gravity had begun gently reminding me I’ve been on Earth for a while. A good while. I have college-aged children type of while. That’s a pretty long while.

Because I accept that gravity is a thing and that time passes, I joined a gym. I do not have the personal motivation necessary to do yoga or exercise tapes, and I truly despise my husband’s little rowing bicycle torture device. That thing judges me, sitting there looking all sleek and sportylicious. Instead, I tossed on my old sweats and t-shirt, happy to receive my teacher discount at the local gympeople establishment.

For three months, I have stuck to a regimen. This is not gloating. I’ve been breathing for a whole bunch of years and I’m not likely to give myself a sticker for that, either. There are days where sticking to my regimen is the biggest accomplishment of my day. I might only have done the exercise gig for 15 minutes, but at least I did the exercise gig. I celebrate the days where I reach my fitness goal, and I forgive myself the days that I jog at a pace even slower than I normally walk – at least I’m out there.

Of course I feel better. That endorphin kick people talk about works even when a person hasn’t run a marathon. For me, I start being able to problem solve and think more clearly after 30 minutes of doing whatever exercise I’m doing that day. Exercise helps me manage my stress better. I can also climb a couple flights of stairs without getting winded. I’m feeling pretty awesome about that.

Whatever your resolutions are, I suggest you make them each morning and hold yourself accountable. That can mean a chart, or a journal, or a desk planner, or some groovy-cool “keeping my promises to myself” type app on your phone that beeps when you log in that you’ve done The Thing you set out to do. Keep it real though: I am under no illusion that because I’m now exercising regularly that I have tossed gravity out on its keister. I’d be floating and typing if that were the case.

Happy Monday.

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