Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dangerous Compliments and other Legacies of Childhood

My new scanning skills have definitely changed the focus of my blogging over the past weeks. I was looking back through old photos again, this time to put together the story of my wedding kimono, when I came upon a small album of my favorite pictures from my childhood. There are only about a dozen or so that I bothered to take with me from home. I’m particular about pictures, and there are phases of my life I’d rather not have memorialized in visual form. But these photos made the cut, times I do want to remember.

The first photo above with my father was taken when I was starting the second grade at age 6, and yes, I was a pale blonde at the time, rather like my own youngest (my older son is inexplicably swarthy, and no, I didn’t have a fling with the mailman, although he was a very nice guy).


This next photo was taken in the summer of 1971, two and a half years later, when I was nine. You’ll note that my expression has lost its childish innocence—I’m self-conscious, even at that tender age. I’m also wearing a bit of make-up and dressed “sexy” in my oldest sister’s flapper costume that she wore for a dance recital, my costume for a float my father and I designed for a Humane Society dog show. This picture always takes me by surprise. “Oh, I was sort of cute back then,” says a little voice in my head and then I pause, an old sadness bubbling up in my chest, mixed with a pang of fear.

That’s because it feels dangerous to say such things about myself, even the little girl that I was. It’s stuck-up. Prideful. Bragging. I know I’ll be punished for my sin in some way, if not immediately then somewhere down the line, because “having a big head” and thinking highly of yourself is the worst thing that can happen to a child. It was certainly dangerous for my parents to “get above themselves,” an aspect of Depression-era North American culture that Alice Munro portrays well in her fiction. Compliments and "big heads" may indeed have been dangerous for my parents' generation.


And then there’s the fact that any cuteness of feature in me was totally cancelled out by my body, which you may observe from the next photo was…well, not blubberously fat, but not at all thin. And even back then, thin was in.

Why do I see my generous thighs first instead of that miraculous Eiffel Tower my father built to my design, gluing tiny pieces of balsa wood together for hours in the basement? Why do I second-guess my looks instead of admiring the “Belle of France” lettering in crepe paper, a trick I learned from a library book on creating your own float? Why does the solid flesh trump the creative deed every time? Eventually I do see these things and most importantly of all my father’s love in helping me create this stage for a can-can girl and her poodle (named, I'm embarrassed to admit, “Boofy” of all things, AKC name “Mimi’s Bouffant”).

But I’m still a little sad because I know that little girl will spend the rest of her life doubting and wondering—am I worthy? Was I pretty? Or do I just pathetically wish I were?

I just finished an interesting book called The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, which argues that men pay a deadly price for gender inequality (fascinating for a mother of sons). But what I want to quote here is the author’s contention that women enter a beauty pageant every day of their lives. As a corporate workshop facilitator, Farrell would put executives through a roleplay where they would be selected for a job promotion based on their looks. Apparently this exercise worked wonders in helping men feel what it was like to live in a woman’s body, because it wasn’t just about sex, it was about self-worth. Those who didn’t make the finals felt rejected, lesser than. Those who did wondered if they were being appreciated for the wrong reasons.

And that’s exactly what it’s like to be a woman.

My situation was complicated by the fact that my much older sisters were willowy thin and lovely. The oldest was a total guy magnet, with suitors in constant attendance. My middle sister was not asmuch the car-stopper, but she had a flair for the dramatic, and I have many memories of her holding court with tables of guys, charming and teasing them. In my novel, Amorous Woman, my protagonist Lydia describes her widowed mother and the power she held over the men who came to pick her up for dates, power that Lydia longed to claim for herself one day. I realize now that I was thinking of my older sisters as I wrote that, a nine-year-old watching from a distance the power a pretty woman could have. But I wasn’t the pretty one. I got the good grades. I performed. But that was never enough.

My parents were loving people, but they didn’t believe in compliments. Compliments on my looks would have to come from strangers. I remember the first time this happened. I was ten and my parents and I had just moved to Albany, New York—my sisters were in college in other states at the time. We were eating out at a fancy restaurant and the waiter, a man from the Middle East, took it upon himself to pay me lavish attention. He called me a young beauty, a princess. Every time he came to pour water, he poured compliments as well. Frankly, it made me shy and uncomfortable. And it further helped shape my attitude toward such treatment when my father commented under his breath, “Guess he’s looking for a big tip.”

Which he probably was. But that link between compliments in exchange for something that put me at a disadvantage continued in adolescence. Simply put, boys said you were pretty when they wanted sex—whether it was true or not had no bearing--and so such things were not to be trusted.

I’m not sure if my self-esteem would be stronger if my parents had been more forthcoming with compliments. I may not have trusted them either and consumer capitalism is certainly invested in making all of its citizens feel lesser than so they will buy, buy, buy. But I do try to compliment my kids, sincerely, whenever I can. I tell them they are handsome (they are) and smart and hard-working.

The other day after my son presented his oral history project and we were safely in the car, he said, “So, are you going to tell me how great I did?” He rolled his eyes a bit, but I could tell he liked it anyway.

Okay, I’m predictable, but at least I don’t have to worry he’ll get a big head, because was born with a large skull anyway!

So, how to conclude these illustrated, painful yet prideful ramblings? Compliment your kids, sincerely, whenever you can. It can’t hurt—while the opposite surely can. That I believe.

41 comments:

Emerald said...

You are such a PRECIOUS nine-year-old in that picture — I seriously wanted to give you a hug, even before I read what you wrote.

Interestingly, age 8 or 9 has often been the age my breathworker has referenced when she has talked about my inner child and attending to and caring for her (in a way that didn't necessarily happen when I was actually that age). When I looked at that picture and then read that that was what age you were, I actually teared up. (To be honest, I teared up a number of times reading this.)

While I didn't have the same experience as far as compliments specifically with my parents, I do remember that I felt considerable denigration from my older sister on a consistent basis when I was growing up. I understand much more now about why she may have acted this way about which I was clueless then, but I remember thinking at some point that I would "get" to treat my little sister like that at some point too and perhaps I would glean satisfaction from that.

That lasted about a day. Literally. Feeling pleasure as a result of denigrating someone (I will qualify here that my older sister may quite likely not have been motivated by pleasure but rather something that simply wasn't functioning in me the same way, which would be why I didn't feel the drive to act that particular way in the first place and felt uncomfortable when I did) simply seemed to make me cringe, and the answer in me seemed to go right to the other extreme and bombard my baby sister with compliments (lol). It did seem to get to the point where she has felt a bit like you did in response to the restaurant server sometimes, but I seemed to be reacting so much to how I had felt treated by my older sister that I just wanted to do the complete opposite (extremes have been a historical tendency in the psychic structure in me).

Thank you for sharing this.

One more thing: "that little girl will spend the rest of her life doubting and wondering"

So far. The historical patterns of the psychic structure in us are not all (or who) we are, as "natural" and even invariable as they may seem. Having experienced yourself in this manner thus far does not mean that that will always be the case.

Namaste.

SusanD said...

Aw, Donna. What a post. FWIW, I think you're a lovely and sexy woman, and I don't want anything from you.

Erobintica said...

Donna - there is so much to think about in this post - and I think about what I think and feel when looking at old pictures - which is so different from my kids looking at their childhood pictures. I tend to see negativity in mine, whereas they get all nostalgic.

I'll keep this short right now - it's late - but I have to say something that Emerald also said about - One more thing: "that little girl will spend the rest of her life doubting and wondering"

it is possible to get to a place where the doubting and wondering begin to fade away - but to do that requires the hard work of looking in the first place - you seem to be doing that.

I'll probably be back tomorrow with more to say.

(((hugs)))

EllaRegina said...

I would have hugged you then and I want to hug you now.

xo

Nikki Magennis said...

Fabulous post, Donna. A daily beauty pageant - yes, even in my sensible shoes and my fuck-it jogging bottoms and my self-cut hair I feel the push and pull of that. It aches, doesn't it?

Sometimes I try to reject the whole notion of beauty to quash that swingeing power set-up. But that doesn't quite work either. I love the quote - Tolstoy, I think:

"It's amazing how complete the delusion that beauty is goodness".

We were weaned on beautiful princesses, eh?

Sending you and your gorgeous wee 8 year old self a hug.

Craig Sorensen said...

I want to tell that eight year old girl how beautiful she is, not because she needs it, but because it is true.

Then the contrast of the over complimentary waiter capped off by the side handed comment from her father. Wrenching stuff.

You're a brave soul to explore these feelings in such depth.

I learned a lesson in perceptions and beauty early on (I was probably around 8 too.) One of my older brothers decided to try his hand at panning for gold. I knelt down by the river and pointed out some shiny stuff. "Is this some?"

"No, that's fools gold. Mica."

He had to work hard to get a little tiny bit of gold; it isn't easy to identify, that's why you need a pan!

I learned that true beauty is not in the obvious. It's sad how many people are wowed by mica and watch the gold wash by.

neve black said...

Donna,
Your post here is sending my mind reeling and spinning. I haven't been feeling too red-hot these past few days, but I'm headed for a walk with your fascinating thoughts - I'll be back later to contribute.

Before I go though, I'm chiming in with everyone else: I would hug you then and now. Big smile!

Erobintica said...

I'm back. Been thinking about the whole self-perception thing. I have some pictures when I was a young woman - 18, 22 - and Iook at those now and think "and back then I thought I was fat and ugly?" - because I did.

Because I didn't look like whatever it was I wanted to look like. I wanted to be taller (I'm short), thinner, and not just thinner - a different body shape altogether. Oh, and I wore glasses (still do, can't stand to even think about the contact thing).

But I look at those photos now and feel very sad for that young woman. My kids commented when I brought those photos home - after retrieving them when my father died - because they'd always heard me talk about myself as having "never been thin" - when they saw the pictures - they couldn't believe it - that wasn't what they were expecting from my descriptions of myself. And the one picture - the jeans I was wearing I saved (there was a lot of embroidery on them) and my oldest daughter wore them (she of the always skinny) when in high school and talk about a mind trip - there was visual evidence right in front of me that proved my perception of myself was wrong. So much to think about.

And as parents we try so hard to not burden our children with some of the things we're burdened with - all the while fearing we're burdening them with something else.

Donna, you've hit a chord in this post that won't quit vibrating. I know it's hard to write about this stuff, but it's good.

And I want to hug you then and now.

Donna said...

WOW, everyone, thanks so much for commenting! I was seriously regretting doing it last night--it was too self-pitying, too vulnerable, etc, but I told myself, well, surely most/all of the women will find something familiar in this and that's what writing and blogging is all about. Connection. Feeling less alone. Going beyond the surface.

So, it was such an overwhelming delight to get your thoughtful feedback and your hugs this morning. I--and the little girl (who oddly doesn't even seem like me)--give you big hugs back. Thank you for listening. And now I'm going to pull you each over into the corner and respond personally, cause this has given me so much more to think about, too :-).

Donna said...

So interesting, Emerald, that 8-9 is the age of the "inner child." That feels about right, it's old enough to be self-conscious and start internalizing the hurts the world hands out. Are you the middle sister of three? I was the youngest, so I had three mothers, but you got to experience both roles, older and younger. It's not surprising that you would transform that power into something positive for your younger sister. My middle sister gave me both--crits and compliments and I was never sure what would come. And I'm sure your younger sister did secretly thrive on your positive energy, no matter what she said at any given time!

And definitely, I'm all for changing the pattern. Wisdom, at least a bit of it, does come with age and I'm trying to work toward it.

Donna said...

Susan, your comment made me laugh out loud! I send the same right back at you, except I do want something from you. I want you to keep writing your witty, gritty stories and blog posts that always share your beauty and wit and truly cool sensibility with the world. 'Kay?

Donna said...

Robin, I truly appreciate both of your posts and again feel a connection with everything you say. And isn't it wonderful that your kids get nostalgic when they look at their childhood photos. That means you've done a great job as a mom--and I don't mean to make this into an evaluation, just that it's a good sign, no? As a parent, I do try to..."undo" some of the messages I got. I compliment often and I apologize when I'm wrong or lose my temper (my parents never apologized, I think they thought it would weaken their authority), but I'm surely burdening them, or rather keeping therapist employed, with something else, lol.

Also interesting that your kids' view of your photos helped provide some perspective for you, just as your reactions to my post are shoring up my resolve to see the positive then and now!

More to say--maybe over wine in August?

Donna said...

Thanks, ER, appreciate your stopping by--I think we need a picture of you in your Girl Scout uniform so we can photoshop it to show us giving each other a big hug :-).

Donna said...

Hey Nikki, beauty=goodness, yep that's the message we get--even centuries back it seems! And for most of my adult life I have taken the fuck-it approach--rarely wear makeup or jewelry or sexy clothes. When I do it's over the top, and I feel like a drag queen, if that's possible for a woman, lol.

I know that I reject the most obvious images of beauty--models and actors, especially male actors. Those pretty boys seriously turn me off. Although some don't and the difference is in their eyes. If there's intelligence and humor there, then they are attractive to me. Same with eyes that glow with a genuine interest in me. That's what's beautiful, but it's not something you can ever sell or mass market, so other things have to fill in.

Anyway, thank you and hugs back at you!

Donna said...

Speaking of brave, quite courageous to step into this "woman's discussion," Mr. Sorensen! I promise you won't have to one of those beauty pageant role-playing games, lol. That's cause you already learned the important lesson:

I learned that true beauty is not in the obvious. It's sad how many people are wowed by mica and watch the gold wash by.

The perfect analogy--funny that the seed was planted at 8 for you.

And thank you for speaking "the truth" so convincingly. I actually believe you ;-).

Donna said...

Hey Neve, I hope you're feeling better soon (whether the chill is physical or just life's stresses)! Would love to hear your thoughts when you get the chance... again thanks everyone, you've made my day :-).

Alana said...

Donna,

This. Is. Amazing.

You and my friend, Will, you're both killing me this week with thoughtful, thought provoking posts. One of the most important pieces of writing I've read in a long time, this post, thank you.

Peace,
A

Jeremy Edwards said...

It sounds like you're an awesome parent, Donna. Talk about making a better world than the one you came from!

I've heard other accounts about growing up in a praise-starved environment, and I know how challenging it can be for people to overcome the shadow of such a history in their adult lives.

neve black said...

Okay, anti-biotics are kicking in and I'm in less pain now, so I can respond to this wonderful and thought-provoking piece. Donna, thank you for your brevity in posting this. Old pictures do conjure up old memories.

I've started and re-started this post, because I seriously think I could write an essay on this subject, Donna. I won't and I'll try and be brief: :-)

I grew in a beachy, rather care-free world, where natural beauty was King and Queen. I was the skinny, flat-chested girl, that had to put SPF-100 on, while other more voluptuous girls turned berry-brown and beautiful; getting all the attention from the boys. I remember wishing I looked more like them.

I think that's when I started getting into sports. I was one of the few girls that surfed (this was back in the day). I surfed with all the boys (smart move). I was consumed with that perfection, b/c that provided me with acceptance.

It wasn't until later, when I got older when strangers told me I was pretty. In our house, we did not focus on looks at all. Not because we were the family of toothless wonders, but my parents wanted us to focus on our studies and athletic ability; they were thinking college, not Hollywood. Here was the mantra: "pretty is as pretty does." I think those are words to live by.

We're all fooling ourselves if we think that we don't live in a society that concentrates on looks. We do. We do on level we may not even recognize. It's a balance though. Too much of one and not enough of the other = not good.

Personally, I like people for who they are, not for what they look like. I have a friend whose friendship I struggle with, b/c we have less and less in common. We used to be avid runners. This friend felt compelled to have a boob job recently, for reasons of vanity. *crickets chirping*. No offense to anyone. There are men that fawn over her and her new set of chi-chi's though. It's funny, b/c I have no interest whatsoever in those men and I find her to be increasingly boring. Her scale is dipped too far over to the looks side, and not enough in the interesting. Make sense?

Here's my point to this lengthy monologue: we all have certain things that we're good at. For those of us that were not blessed looking like Rachel Welch, naturally, not altered with plastics, then we find masacra, a great shade of lipstick and focus on other things.

As far as the author's research goes...hmmm....I've seen smarts win over good looks on more than one occassion. Now, if both candidates are equally smart and one is more attractive - society will choose the more attractive candidate. Nature is cruel.

Donna, you my friend are the whole package -

Scarlett Greyson(formerly JM Stone) said...

Wow, Donna. Very thought provoking!

My husband is still trying to undo the damage society did to my self esteem. He does try hard however!

I should try to dig out some of my childhood photos.

I learned early on that I wasn't a "pretty" girl. So I threw myself in the opposite direction. No one could say I was "failing" at being pretty if I wasn't trying to be, right? So I was a tomboy, through and through. Up trees, in the mud, wrestling with the boys, that was my way of combating the fact that I wouldn't get those compliments.

I was always the plain friend, even through high school and college. You know the one, right? That one friend that every "pretty" girl had that everyone wondered "why does she keep her around?"

Well, I was the foil.

Beside me, they looked even prettier. I didn't wear makeup, I rarely did more than pull my hair back in a ponytail, I was never wearing the "in" thing until it had been "out" for months.

Now. Well, now,I'll concede I'm not ugly. And I'm not plain. But I don't know that I would ever say I'm pretty. My husband says I'm beautiful, gorgeous, even, on occasion. I think he's wearing love's glasses, but I've learned to accept the compliments nonetheless.

And unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, women will be pigeon-holed by adjectives:pretty, plain, skinny, chunky, fat, etc. And all we can do is try to accept the truth that we are who we are, we are people, souls, individuals, lovers, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends.

It's hard to learn to define yourself by roles, concepts, beliefs, truths, instead of adjectives.

And here's a big hug to both the 9yr old and you, Donna. (squeeeeeeeze). Thank you for a thought provoking discussion.

Donna said...

Hey, Alana, I'd love to read Will's post, too. Provoking thought is the greatest gift anyone can give! I'm really touched you found this post worthwhile. It is important stuff and yet there's that other nagging voice--get over it, it's so self-indulgent. But maybe that's another way of keeping the status quo, belittling the protest, lol.

Donna said...

You know, Jeremy, my parents weren't so bad really--it was more like Neve relates. They thought praising looks was superficial and my inner self was more important. I hope it's true, but when society gives you other messages, not to mention, for half of my teenage years I was "overweight" and thus repulsive to all males, I do have some issues to get over, lol. And I'm doing that right here, fortunately in very supportive company :-).

Donna said...

Neve, thanks so much for your essay--I'd love for you to expand further! It's empowering to hear about others' experiences and it's so funny, this looks game is like a fill in the blank exercise. I was too (fat, thin, pale, dark, boyish, busty) to get the perfect 10 in looks. Everyone fails or fails eventually when the perfect younger candidate comes along. But I agree with you also that the whole package is really what matters. What's interesting about Internet relationships is that you do get to know someone through their writing. Dangerous for dating, maybe cause a man's smell is key for me, lol, but for friendship, we're getting the "inner beauty" first. And Neve, you are the total package, too!

Donna said...

Scarlett, I have the same therapist--my husband! I seriously divide my life between before and after, and he feels the same (or so he says--or does he just want a big tip ;-)?

And I definitely relate to the refusal to play the game at all as a way to avoid "failing." Although a part of me genuinely did not believe in it. Like Neve's friend--who wants a guy who is more interested in fake big breasts? Talk about issues, lol!

But circling back around again, it is what we do that matters, what we make of our lives, and that energy does show through in a person's face and expression. It's a deeper beauty and we earn it.

Wow, well, thanks for your thought-provoking comment! Hard to take in all the treasure really :-).

hddgs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
EllaRegina said...

Whatta husband!

I'm crying again.

Alana said...

Donna,

Wow. How many times have I told myself Get Over It?

Our Girlhood Traumas.

The bruises. The blood. The angst and anger. We must get angry.

Anyway, writing about something, over and over again even, because I wish to examine life changing expereinces from different angles, does feel repetitive sometimes but insightful.

I'm fascinated by my own demons. And stare them in the face quite often.

You don't strike me as the least bit self indulgent, Donna. I appreciate this piece of writing as a commentary on self identity and self worth. I think you could push a lot harder. The number of comments your post has inspired, and the depth in which some of your readers goes, tells me this is an Important Piece of Writing. Very universal. Very human.

Peace,
A

Alana said...

I love it!

Did I say that?

:-)

Donna said...

Thank you, Alana.

Back when I was going through all of those traumas and feeling angry and helpless with nowhere to express it but eating disorders, lol, another way I sought solace was reading feminist cultural analysis. I found it so soothing to read other angry women saying smart, insightful things. Articulating and understanding the pain was immensely liberating. So, yes, it can be repetitive and self-absorbed, but if it results in some kind of enlightment--literally in terms of easing a burden--then it's all for the good.

And what writer, good ones, too, isn't repetitive in terms of favorite themes? In confronting your demons you help me and other readers confront theirs!

Emerald said...

Alana, your comment about "staring [your demons] in the face" felt stirring to me. This is such a deeply challenging and potentially transformative thing to do, and indeed doing so does support others in doing so as well. Thank you and, as odd as the word may be in this context, congratulations.

Donna said,
"But maybe that's another way of keeping the status quo"

Maintaining the status quo is almost certainly exactly what the part of you that is saying that is interested in. In the psycho-spiritual Work in which I have been engaged for a few years, this involves terms like superego and ego, but here is a quote about it I like from a book called I Know I'm in There Somewhere that states it a little more accessibly it seems to me:

"If you are filled with strongly critical, attacking thoughts in your mind, then by definition, no matter how accurate those attacks may seem, what you're 'hearing' is not your inner voice."

I feel like the importance of this can hardly be overstated.

Donna said...

Excellent point about the true inner voice, Emerald! Words to remember.

wow, this has been such an amazing offering of ideas. I'm still trying to take it all in, but it's very nourishing for all of us, I hope!

Erobintica said...

Wow. What an amazing conversation. I agree with Alana about staring our demons in the face. It's incredibly painful at the time, but I don't regret a minute of it. And it is fascinating.

Glad I came back here to read more.

oh, and I love hddgs's phone comment. :-)

Alana said...

Donna,

Jesus. You've struggled with eating disorders? Me too.

Hugs,
A

Alana said...

Emerald,

Thank you, sweet lady. Take care of yourself.

A

Donna said...

Yep, Alana, I suspect we'd have some more company in that fine club if we decided to travel down that road! I'd say it's a miracle if a young woman doesn't have an eating disorder of some kind in our culture. Sad, isn't it?

Alana said...

Donna, well, it's uncomfortable subject matter, eating disorders, and so many women deny the sort of self loathing, need for control, and distorted image of body we experience in the throes of an eating disorder. Perhaps it's not polite conversation? Perhaps it's humiliating? Perhaps it sounds better to say "I love myself the way I am and pay no attention to images thrown at me by the media and fashion industry." That sounds strong, self assured, maybe even superior to other women. I don't know.

I wrote a "What It's Like" poem about bulimia once and posted it on my blog, a former one, and I got zero responses to it, nothing, crickets chirping, silence, and of course my thought was, "I've just grossed everyone out."

Regardless, it was a difficult poem to write, and I really felt quite ugly and petty and ashamed of myself confronting the issue, the whole I do this for control, I do this because I'm vain, I do this because I'm terrified of my father calling me fat.

Fat, fat, fat. It was like a swear word in our house.

Sorry, ranting, rambling, whatnot.

What do you think of joining me in a "What It's Like to Have An Eating Disorder" poetry exploration?

Peace,
A

Donna said...

Alana, as I've said many times, your courage just shines through in everything you do and the bulimia poem is yet another example. I'd guess many people who didn't respond weren't ready to say "me, too." But I'm sure it affected them and it was definitely worth it for you to take the chance to write it and share it.

So, okay, I'll take your challenge. Problem is the poetry part of it is scarier than the revelation about the eating disorder, lol! Maybe a broader topic like "appetite and food" might draw in writers who wouldn't necessarily identify with the "disorder" part, although I'd say all women are disordered if they live in our culture!

Scarlett said...

I'll take up that challenge, if it's an appetite and food one.

I ate to drug myself - high carbs, simple sugars, the whole nine. Overweight was what I struggled with, and have only once weighed less that I did in high school(though I'm trying to get back there).

Eating was. . .is still, actually, the crutch that I struggle not to lean on.

Donna said...

Let's do it, Scarlett. We all have our individual story, but the fundamentals strike me as very much the same. I think this would be a very interesting thing to explore further.

Isabel Kerr said...

Wow. I'm playing catch up here, but I never will because this is much too significant a subject for my limited articulations to take on in such a short time and space. You have all done a beautiful job at articulating what it is/was like.

Let me tell you this from my vantage
point (age : ) ) . You all were/are much more beautiful outside and in than you may ever realize, although I hope you do.

I'm experiencing a culture, more than just Italian because there are many nationalities here, which has a very different notion of beauty. This and experience (eh hem age) have opened my eyes to what constitutes beauty and several of you have hit on it in the sense that there is so much more to beauty than meets the eye.

A favorite narrative theme of mine is that certain something intriguing about someone which is alluring and like a magnet or secret passage entices you into their soul and you fall in love with that. In addition, I've explored (because I have experienced it so many times) the plain jane which on further examination develops into the most beautiful person (male or female) you've ever known for internal qualities or the standard of beauty applied becomes irrelevant because there is one or more striking qualities.

Those studies also often say that the attractive person gets the job but, two things, doesn't always live up to it, and the expectations of the performance from an attractive person are higher and they sometimes disappoint.

What, as a culture, we need to develop is a much broader and deeper definition of what is beautiful or attractive. I think as writers we can have an impact in the way in which we explore what it is that we love about that person which makes them beautiful and it may have nothing to do with what they look like, a smile, an exotic eye color (not until recently did I realize that I had not plain brown, as I'd always thought, but tobacco leaf green eyes all my life.) So look carefully and internalize that lovely exotic part of you which makes you unique.

Sorry to ramble on, but this is a great subject Donna, thank you for putting yourself, your absolutely adorable and rich deep self out there for us to see.

Donna said...

No apologies necessary, Isabel! You're adding a wonderful element to the discussion. In fact the "European" way of looking at this, is the way I've come to look at it with maturity. It's almost as if the culture is more mature than ours, isn't it ;-)? True beauty lies beyond the superficial. I think eyes are the quickest route to that knowledge. I've known "beautiful" people with flat, shallow eyes and those with uneven features or whatever whose eyes are so full of humor and intelligence it's mesmerizing. It's also interesting that getting to know someone through words, as in blogland, you get more of their inner self right away, with little of the distractions we deal with in the flesh.

So much more to discuss, but thanks for stopping by!