“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ~ Confucius

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“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” ~ Stephen Covey

 “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

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The Epitome of Beauty: The Venus de Milo

How many times have you looked at someone you do not know and made assumptions about that person based on the way that he or she looks? How often do you see a woman in ill-fitting clothes or with a bad hairstyle and think to yourself that she should take better care of herself? Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and noticed that the person in front of you is wearing out-of-date clothes and shoes and is a little overweight? Did you make assumptions about this person, or perhaps, increase the space between yourself and the other person?

If I am going to ask you these questions, then it is only fitting that I answer them. Yes, I have made assumptions about people based upon their physical appearance. Yes, I have thought to myself, “why doesn’t she do something with her hair?” or “she would be more attractive if she lost some weight.”

But then I will catch myself and think, “who am I to judge?” I could stand to lose some extra pounds myself. I’ve run out of the house in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, my hair in a pony tail. I’ve gone into stores feeling very self-conscious because I know that I don’t look particularly great, but I needed a gallon of milk. 

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Alan Alda

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One of The Great Beauties, Marilyn Monroe, incredibly self-conscious and suffered from low self-esteem

Harsh though it may be, scientific studies have proven that physical appearance makes a difference in the amount of money you earn, how you are treated by physicians, how educators react to you, and even whether or not you make partner.

According to a CNN article by Kate Lorenz, “Do Pretty People Earn More?” the facts show that attractive students get more attention and higher evaluations from their teachers, good-looking patients get more personalized care from their doctors, and handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.”*

So what does this mean to individuals in society who do not resemble Daniel Craig or Angelina Jolie? Dr. Gordon Patzer has made it his life’s work to study attractiveness and its role in human behavior. According to Patzer,

“Human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people . . . Good-looking men and women are generally judged to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts . . . People go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”

This societal preference for attractiveness is called the halo effect, due to the association with the perfection of angels. The halo effect occurs when an individual is influenced by a person’s strengths, weaknesses, physical appearance, behavior, or any other single factor.

Whether or not it is fair, research shows that attractive people also have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts. Attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular—probably because they have received better treatment from their teachers, their peers, and their bosses.

*(http://www.cnn.com/2005//US/Careers/07/08/looks/)

“Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” ~ Angelique Arnauld

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Academy-Award Winning Director Peter Jackson

But let us pause for a moment. How many persons of note in history actually do not fall into the beautiful people category? Albert Einstein certainly wasn’t an attractive man, with his bushy eyebrows and unruly hair. Bill Gates, one of the wealthiest and most generous men in the world is what most people would describe as ordinary. Peter Jackson, a genius in the film world, resembled a hobbit when he made Lord of the Rings; but even he felt compelled to lose weight.

Is physical beauty truly necessary to be successful, to be considered extraordinary? I don’t believe so. Think about it. What about intelligence? Does anyone ever say, “Oh, her brain is so beautiful”? No. But shouldn’t they if they are really going to look at a woman or a man and judge her/him? 

“When a woman isn’t beautiful, people tell her: You have lovely eyes, you have lovely hair.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Why am I pondering this point? I was reading an article about a Scottish woman who appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” the UK’s version of “America’s Got Talent.” The judges for this program are the ever-snarky Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan (who also judges on the U.S. version), and Amanda Holden, an English actress who is mostly recognized for her television appearances.

A brief lesson for those of you who do not follow the show: Contestants apply from all over the country to be finalists on the show. In the initial rounds, the three judges watch the one-minute performances and then vote yes or no on whether or not the individual is talented enough to go to the next round. Once the contestants are reduced to 24, then there is a round for the semi-finals. In the finals, the viewing audience votes on who should stay and who should go. The winner is decided by audience votes.

“Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself.” ~ Kevyn Aucion

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Contestant Susan Boyle Singing "I Dreamed A Dream"

Now picture this: an older woman (by older I mean not in her 20’s, not old for god’s sake) with bushy eyebrows and a very unfashionable dress and hairstyle walks out onto the stage. It only takes seconds before Simon Cowell begins his attack dog shtick, the raised eyebrows, the rolled eyes, the crossed arms. All of it. A pan of the audience shows that almost to a person no one is liking this woman: sneers, crossed arms, negative body language abounds.

Already, the judges and the audience have formed an opinion on this contestant based solely on her physical appearance, and that opinion is not positive.

How fair is this? Not at all fair. Has the woman had a chance to perform yet? No. Does the audience even know what she plans to do for her talent before they cross their arms? No.

The woman declares to the judges and the audience that she wants to sing, that she has always wanted to sing. You can hear the snickers from the audience. After all, how can this unfashionable, frumpy woman sing, let alone sing well enough to be on the show?

“There comes a moment when you realize that virtually anything is possible—that nothing is too good to be true.” ~ Kobi Yamoda

What happens next is positively enchanting. Susan Boyle opens her mouth, and pure beauty emanates from it. The audience jumps to its feet. Simon Cowell raises his eyebrows, and this time, it’s not in a malicious way. Piers Morgan is stupefied.

Boyle sings “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables, an incredibly difficult song to sing because of the range. As I watched the video of her performance, I got chills, and I began to tear up.

I wanted to reach through the screen and hug Susan Boyle for her performance, and I wanted to slap Simon Cowell for his disbelief that a woman who looked like Boyle could have such an angelic voice.

“Women notice details that most men don’t . . . They notice all the details, then make assumptions about every other area of your life based on these details.” ~ David DeAngelo

But it wasn’t just Cowell, was it? It was everyone. When the opening refrain of the song played, Morgan appeared to be totally uninterested, Holden had her hands over her head as if she were trying to stifle a yawn. No one was truly interested in the woman on the stage.

However, as compared to males, we females can be absolutely merciless in our criticisms of the women who are in our office, the women our friends date, the women who do our hair, or our nails. But we can be especially venomous when it comes to total strangers. Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about: only saintly women or women who are completely self-confident do not beat down other women. And how many of those do you know?

“It matters more what’s in a woman’s face than what’s on it.” ~ Claudette Colbert

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Pursuit of Beauty Gone Horribly Wrong: Jocelyn Wildenstein

This is the very problem with assumptions. We make assumptions about people all of the time, every day, based on their looks, on what they are wearing, on how their hair looks, how scuffed their shoes are, what kind of purse they are carrying, how old their suit is, even what kind of car they are driving. And admittedly, women are worse when it comes to judging other women.

In my own experience, I have found that many beautiful women lack in self-confidence, while those who are not considered beautiful, abound in self-confidence. It’s as if they know that the world doesn’t believe in them, but they don’t care. They believe in themselves. How wonderful that is to believe in yourself, truly believe in your talent, or your goodness, or your abilities. And how pitiable it is when women abuse themselves by repeated plastic surgery in attempts to be more beautiful, look more youthful, more perfect, not stopping until they resemble caricatures of themselves.

“Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the feeling of being beautiful exists solely in the mind of the beheld.” ~ Martha Beck

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The Ugly Duckling Is Not Always What It Seems

Now what I did not mention is that when Sarah Boyle came out on stage, she was obviously prepared for Cowell’s sour disposition, but it didn’t seem to affect her at all. She answered all of his questions with a smile on her face. It was as if she were challenging him: “I know that you are assuming that I have no talent, but you just wait. You’ll see.”

Boyle stood her ground, even doing a bit of a jig in her sheer delight at just being invited to the party. And when she finished, she knew that she had won the battle. She walked off the stage with her shoulders back, a broad smile on her face, and joy in her eyes.

All three judges were effusive in their praise. But the best part is this: With her talent, her incredible voice, Susan Boyle has a real shot at winning “Britain’s Got Talent.” Wouldn’t that be something? And about time, too.

But just a closing thought: Why were we so surprised that Susan Boyle could sing? That is probably the heart of the matter, and a question that we should be asking ourselves even as this incredibly talented, sincere, selfless woman stands before the world and graces us with a voice from the gods.

 And on that note, I present Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed A Dream”

Embedding has been disabled. To see the video of Susan Boyle’s performance, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

More later. Peace.

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“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Post note: If for some reason you land on this particular post because it mentions a Kardashian, please understand that it was written over a decade ago when this site was very young. I still do not follow the Kardashians, nor do I give a wit about any of them, so don’t bother to leave nasty comments. I know that her body has changed greatly, in large part because of cosmetic surgery. The point of this post wasn’t her— it was that we all view beauty differently. If I could go back in time and remove any reference to KK, I would, simply because it’s such a lightning rod, but that was then, and this is now, and my contentions about beauty remain the same: we are all skewed in our opinions.

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Iconic, Magnificent Beauty: The Stunning Sophia Loren

Who decides what is beautiful?

“Beauty is power; a smile is its sword” ~ Charles Read

kim-kardashian1 I was reading a post on a blog a few days ago that really just made me sit up and take notice. Apparently, Jessica Simpson has gained some weight. Oh my. And Kim Kardashian has come to her defense. Well this particular blogger found the whole thing offensive because Kim Kardashian is too fat to have an opinion on Jessica Simpson, who apparently is humongous because she must have gained—omigawd—twenty pounds!

I am going to post here the picture that was on the blog showing Kim Kardashian’s horrible body, her “thunder thighs and fat a**.” Now, as with most women who have carried and delivered four children, I am not as thin as I used to be. But my body image is skewed, in large part because of the media and because of comments like the one in the blog that I read.

But in looking at this picture of Kim Kardashian, I have to say that I see nothing wrong with her body. She is not rail thin. She is wearing a bathing suit that flatters her body. It is not a thong; it has a strap that artfully conceals the little bit of tummy that she has. She has legs, yes. They aren’t bird legs, and how wonderful that is. How wonderful to see a beautiful, sexy woman who is proud of her body and full of self-confidence.

You can tell by how she carries herself. More women should use Ms. Kardashian as a role model as far as how they carry themselves. She has an aura of poise that reflects a confidence in her bearing and her demeanor. It is not hard to imagine that Ms. Kardashian can walk into any room and command attention.

I know nothing about her personal life. I’ve never watched “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” I know that Bruce Jenner is her step-father, and I know that she is relatively high profile. But other than that, I don’t know squat about this woman. My choice to write about her is purely because I am so tired of the media holding up wraith-like women and girls as role models in our society.

I mean, yes, women are taking much better care of themselves. Forty is the new thirty. Generationally, we are aging much better than our mothers. But there are numerous factors that come into play: better moisturizers, more knowledge of what ages the skin, better nutrition, less smoking among women, to name but a few. Look at Madonna. Her body does not look fifty years old. Personally, I would kill to have chiseled arms like hers, but I know that she works hard every day for those arms.

“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical” ~ Sophia Loren

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Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

But it’s a matter of give and take, and what you consider to be beautiful and that for which you are willing to settle. And it is so hard to know what to settle for when you are constantly being bombarded with images of celebrities who look perfect two weeks after giving birth. Of course, their pictures are air brushed. They have personal trainers and chefs who cook high protein meals for them to assist in quick weight loss.

Young women with eating disorders have these problems for many reasons. First and foremost because of their distorted self-image. They might weigh 98 pounds, but when they look in the mirror, if they can pinch even a tiny bit of flesh between their fingers, then they feel fat and ugly. And then there are the fashion magazines, and every other advertisement is for a new diet or weight-loss pill or regimen. Commercials in the evening promote exercise machines and diet plans. Even women who don’t need to lose weight feel pressured to look like Heidi Klum and Angelina Jolie, neither of whom look like they have borne children, or Kiera Knightly, who has never seen cellulite in her life.

Skinny and beautiful sell. Anything over 150 pounds is considered obese. I am not immune to this societal obsession with weight, and skinny women, and perfect bodies. Everyday when I look in the mirror I see a fat sausage, and what makes me the maddest, is that I actually feel this way, that I cannot be happy with myself the way that I am. But I know that my low self-esteem comes from years of negative comments from someone in my family. You cannot escape that history easily. You cannot  jump an ingrained hurdle without a great deal of confidence to fight, which unfortunately, I do not possess.

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it” ~ Confucius

And then there is the matter of  cosmetic surgery. MaureenJ and I were discussing this overwhelming need our society has today for cosmetic surgery: everything from Botox to complete face lifts to butt lifts to nose reconstructions to thigh reductions. If it’s part of your body, it can be fine-tuned. Personally, I’m not big on cosmetic surgery, although I may have to get my chins lifted one day simply because my mother has given me crap about that since I was a teenager, and I am very, very sensitive about it.

But the truth about cosmetic surgery, I believe, is that the people who get it again and again are very insecure about themselves. My mother has had a lot of plastic surgery, and she is never happy with the results. She had her first face lift about 20 years ago. My theory about my mom is that she is very insecure about her own personal beauty, so she tries to compensate through surgery.

That’s my theory about most people who have cosmetic surgery: They are insecure about themselves, so they try to fix something that is wrong on the inside by fixing something on the outside.

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart” ~ Helen Keller

The old quote about beauty being in the eye of the beholder is probably truer than most people realize. Quite often, one man’s beauty is another man’s fodder.  How often is it that two people standing in front of the same painting will walk away with two completely different impressions? One man’s Escher is another man’s Monet. It’s a matter of preference, a matter of taste.

Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

But if you put ten women in a room together, how many of them will agree on what the standard of beauty should be by picking out the same pictures depicted in models? Long legs, big eyes, pert breasts, possibly bordering on larger round breasts, flat stomachs, firm buttocks, high cheekbones, beautiful hair, nice arms—the total package.

How many of us do not really believe our husbands when they tell us that they think that we are beautiful? We think, “oh, how sweet. But he doesn’t really mean it.” Yet psychologists will tell you again and again that beauty is determined by the heart, not the eyes. Yet at the same time, do we tell our significant others that we think that they look nice in that grey sweater? That we like those pants? Do we mean it? Then why can’t they?

“What is lovely never dies, But passes into other loveliness, Star-dust, or sea-foam, flower or winged air” ~ Thomas Baily Aldrich

AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODELSo let me close with these two images of beauty. The first is a statue that I have always loved. It’s called “Undine Rising From the Water” and it was created by Chauncey Ives. One of the most incredible features of this statue is that the marble is so thin and shiny in some place that when the statue is placed in direct sunlight, the marble looks wet and almost transparent. That is quite a feat to attain with marble. Because her drape is so clingy, her body is revealed beneath the wet garment. I have always viewed this statue as incredibly sensuous and beautiful.

Undine is an immortal water nymph who is drawn to the man she loves, even though loving him will make her mortal. Once she becomes mortal, she begins to age, and her love no longer stays true. Undine slays her love for failing to remain true, and she returns to the water.

In comparison is the other image of beauty: America’s Next Top Model from cycle 8 (2007), 20-year-old Jaslene. This young woman is definitely beautiful, but again, her body, which is being held up as something young women should strive for as being idyllic, is in direct contrast to what I would call a realistic woman. Few women can achieve a body like this without starving themselves. Granted, there are people who are naturally very thin, but most of the time, that is an anomaly.

Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

I chose this particular picture of Jaslene* because it is so reminiscent of the Undine statue, with the long flowing dress being reminiscent of the water pooling at Undine’s feet, and Jaslene’s arms above her head being similar to Undine’s arms reaching upwards. Both women have their eyes closed as if they are in a dream-like state. And Jaslene could definitely be compared to a water goddess.

In the end, we must define beauty not by what we see in a person, but by what that person makes us feel. Does this individual bring beauty into our lives in some way, through their songs? their poems? their words? Does this individual bring beauty into our lives in the way that she gives so much of herself in everything that she does? Does this person bring beauty in our lives by being genuine and passionate in everything that she does? Does this person reflect beauty in her kindness to others? Is this person someone you are glad to share time with?

Beauty of the soul is a gift. Physical beauty is nothing more than mascara, blush and lip gloss applied with some finesse to heighten something you naturally have. It cannot hide all of the ugliness on the inside, ugliness that calls someone ugly names just because they don’t happen to weigh 105 pounds.

More later. Peace.

*Photo of Jaslene by Jim DeYonker/CW