The most beautiful person that I have ever laid my eyes on worked in this tea shop that my brother and I frequented on lazy autumn Sunday afternoons several years ago. Her hair strands fell into dark curls and framed her fair face. And she spoke in a rhythm that only hummingbirds could replicate. Her eyes were enchanting, almost alluring with its enigmatic pull. I don't know what it is about her that I found so blissfully grand as she is probably just as common as I and the next girl. My brother would often tease me that I had a girl-crush on her though he fully knows my wild attraction for the male species. Beauty has no gender, I retorted.
Growing up, I have always been just a little too something — a little too tall, a little too pale, a little too fat, a little too ungraceful, a little too awkward. I never knew how to place myself because I was always just a little too much. I never thought of myself as pretty or beautiful as those words only belonged to the thin, slender and elegant. And I always had short hair. It would get snipped the minute the length touched my chin. I somehow acquired the idea that only those girls with long hair could be called beautiful and deserved happy endings. As a matter of fact, all the princesses and damsels in fairytales had long hair. This was how I preferred Snow White over the others. She had short black hair and not ostensibly beautiful; nonetheless ended up with Prince Charming. Maybe, just maybe, the norm could be broken.
I bloomed, as they say, later on in life. Perhaps a tad too late, because I didn't know what to do with myself. My hair grew for the first time as I needed something to protect my neck from the biting Bostonian winters. I couldn't afford the regular maintenance of a bob so I had to learn to like my long hair. I shed the baby fat due to the absence of a regular meal structure, and I got rid of the acne plaguing my skin, many thanks to advanced medicine. Braces came off and the insides of my mouth boasted of a perfect set of teeth capped with porcelain. I slowly managed my independence, grew a spine and all of a sudden, owned my own opinions. Well, I always have but this time, I actually feel no reluctance in letting them known. For a long time, I was a work under progress.
I knew when I was growing up that I wasn't a pretty face and though I had curves, they weren't the right ones. I banked on my intellect, my caustic personality and my wit to charm people. I thought that maybe, if I continued to be funny, I wouldn't have to worry about people not liking me. After all, didn't everyone love laughing? The only catch is that people would have to get to know me first before they can decide whether they liked me or not. I operated like this for many years.
Springtime in my life finally came through when I noticed for the first time that a guy was sizing me up. I was in a restaurant with my friends when I saw him looking over. I looked behind me to make sure he wasn't looking at anyone else. I felt terribly self-conscious and it's almost shameful that I didn't know what to do. I did what I thought best, absolutely nothing. The butterflies in the stomach stayed though and I felt a warm glow on my cheeks. So this was how it must feel being on the other side of the fence. It felt bloody great.
The next few years flew by and I had to learn to take care of myself — I was a woman now (and how odd it felt to think that). I looked to my older sister and other friends to learn the ropes. Make-up, hair, skin care, perfumes, nails, any more? I found the regiment quite exhausting but I was told that was unfortunately necessary. And I obliged. I thought, this must be how insecurities are born.
However, I slowly realized that I didn't like having to fuss over physical beauty. Exhausting, isn't it? For some people, it came easier than others. I was one of those others. My hair never looked endearingly tousled when I wake up in the morning, my skin was never perfect enough for me to walk out my door without make-up, and my nails always looked like claws without a manicure. Why couldn't being funny and clever be enough? Why couldn't being an enjoyable companion do the trick? And why did we all have to feel the need to get people's validations that we are indeed attractive enough to be seen with them?
I decided that I liked it more that people were drawn to me because of how I am rather than how I looked. That gave me a better sense of affirmation that I'm on the right track. I focused more on being myself than creating an intricate exterior. I wanted to believe that I had enough inner radiance to take care of the front. Admittedly, I still don't know if I do up until this day, but my change in outlook increased my confidence and boosted my self-esteem. I realized which parts in life essentially mattered — and which of them are the most beautiful. My sister's words always resonated in my head, “If you think you're beautiful, other people will think so as well.” Mind over matter.
Nobody isn't perfect and life isn't ideal, no big secrets right there. But instead of focusing on making things perfect, it may be worth our whiles to actually look at the imperfections and see how they actually make us more perfect than we think. And looking closely, we will see that we are all masterpieces of unique artworks and designs.
To that lady whom I think is of pure beauty, I thank you for making me realize that it's possible to be gorgeous wearing an apron, with disheveled hair, and smudged mascara. And that true beauty cannot be bought over the counters (though they help).