Vanity: I am ridiculously vain about my hair. At 55 I have a mostly full, mostly non-grey head of wavy hair. No male pattern baldness, wasn’t prematurely grey, I can slick it back after the shower and I am good to go all day. No blowdryer, no bad hair days. Of course, vanity works in such a way that you take credit for something you have nothing to do with, I came fully equipped with these follicles. I have other genetic features I am almost as vain about. Like my ass. I can really be one.
Shame: I have been ashamed of my stomach for about 30 years. I spent my youth worried that I was too skinny to be a great sports star, when my metabolism changed, I suddenly was ashamed of myself. Even though this growth is probably genetic too, shame comes fully equipped with guilt, I have been on a diet six months a year for a quarter century. Again, I wish I could say I was a health nut, nope: just vain.
Body image is the topic today, as the father of daughters, as a big fan of the female side of the species, I have been paying attention to the stress that goes along with having an appearance (Yes, if we were invisible, none of this would be an issue.) It showed up on my radar again when an article by “plus” size model Katya Zharkova made the rounds on Facebook this week. She’s a beautiful woman, normal by any definition except the fashion industry’s and my post of this article led to the most discussion and shares I’ve had for a long time. People are rallying around this cause, the waifs are under attack.
Men are not immune, I have things about myself I don’t like, but, the advantage for me is I am up against a pretty poor field (Really guys, have you looked in the mirror? Camo pants, a Lakers tee shirt and a backwards ball cap is embarrassing for all of us). Maybe this is my sexual orientation talking, but in a crowded restaurant I see lots of beautiful flowers and a lot of thorns. The women, in case I wasn’t clear enough, are the flowers. The thorns are usually bald, fat, ill mannered, poorly dressed and homely. (And perfectly comfortable with themselves.)
Women can define themselves more by their appearance than men. (Inside guy stuff, I could get thrown out of the Frat for revealing the following:) Like a lot of men, I am a big fan, I think you are beautiful. Sure, everyone has their own taste, but this beholder can find something to admire in all of you. (Being half French and half Italian might half something to do with it!) Largely, we fall for anything you run by us: makeup, pushups, high heels, big hair, implants. We don’t care, if you are selling, pretty much, we are buying. You have us right where you want us. The scene below is true:
(“He’s in the room with a naked girl. He won the lottery.”) We don’t care.
The blame then, is only partially on men. Other suspects for this are the fashion industry itself, the media, genetics, your Mothers and your girlfriends (The girls walk by, dressed up for each other. Van Morrison). Men are supposed to gather, hunt, fish and look like we just did. You are expected to gather, hunt, fish, raise kids and look like you are ready for an orgy with Hale Berry and us at any given minute. That’s pressure. (And a little hot). Men, being the sensitive sorts that we are, aren’t much help”
“Are you ready yet? What’s taking so long?”
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
It’s very easy to say:
To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Reality makes that harder. I’ve used this analogy before: Before mass media, anyone who could sing was invited to sing. We didn’t hear music unless someone performed it, so we would entertain each other. Today, I carry the best singers and musicians in the world around in my IPhone, the bar has been set a lot higher, making it difficult for me to entertain my friends when they can just play a professional recording anywhere. With Vogue and Cosmo at the checkout line, Women of every variety on the internet and the television full of beautiful images, the bar gets set higher and it is inevitable that we will compare ourselves to others. We are measured against air brushed genetic freaks.
Self esteem stuff can be a little overdone but, in this case, it’s necessary. Until I stop being vain about my good genes and ashamed of my bad ones, I am setting myself up for “dukkah” (Pain). “Look Rick, you are purple today, why do you look purple?” someone might taunt me. “I”m not purple, you need to get your eyes checked.” I know I am not purple, so I dismiss the comment, never let it in my brain. But, if someone says, “You have some gut on you!” (that someone is usually me), I go right to shame. Going to shame is my response because, deep inside I don’t believe I am perfect.
One of the joys of social media is we get to push back on bullies like the fashion industry. We get to say, “12 is not a Plus Size!” and let Madison Avenue know that we are not getting pushed into boxes that don’t fit us anymore. So, push back, believe in you and don’t compare yourself to anyone. Rejoice if someone is attracted to you and, if no one is, know that someone will. You don’t have to be on the cover of Vogue, just in someone’s heart.