Beautiful Woman


Who or what have you allowed to define "beauty" for you?

For weeks now I have agonized over a former lover’s rejection of my body.

“I wish I could take you out and buy you some clothes,” he had said, eyeing my half-clad body, carelessly wrapped in a bath towel. “You could look so beautiful.”

I’d stared at him. Droplets of bath water fell from my long, golden hair onto the wooden floor, beads that could have been tears had my heart been beating. The words still shock me. Could be beautiful? And what was wrong with me the way I was?

“I mean, you could wear short skirts, not really short, just up to here,” he’d said, sketching a line with his hand about 10 inches above my knee.

Why did his words cut so deeply, I wondered. Hadn’t I learned to love my body, to stop the agonized wishing that I could weigh 125 pounds like every 5 foot 11 inch model parading through the pages of Vogue magazine?

So, when had I begun the quest for beauty, the search for the holy plastic grail? I joined the “World of Beauty” club at age 12, thinking I would discover beauty in the box of products that was to arrive each month, but I canceled my membership after two months. The Nail Strengthener, fluorescent blue eye shadow, and under-eye cover-up brought me no closer to the Grail.

I started wearing a bra when I was in the fourth grade, the first girl in my class to don her training gear. The other kids taunted my fledgling signs of puberty. At 11 and 12 they jeered again when I chose not to wear a bra, a show of defiance as I joined my older sisters who were proclaiming their full breasted freedom to swing and bounce uninhibited.

I shaved my legs a couple of times during the fourth grade, again before the other girls in my class did. That summer, my next door neighbor’s brother made a big point of complaining when the newly re-sprouted hairs brushed against his bushy legs. Later, when all the other girls were scraping the hair off their legs and underarms, I discarded my razor – out of sync again.

The summer of my 13th year, one of my favorite camp counselors cornered me on the archery range. “When are you going to cut down those fur trees?” he asked, pointing at my legs.

I looked at the soft, golden down on my legs and flinched. Without a word, I went back to the cabin and borrowed my sister’s razor. I escaped to the shower room, soaped my legs, and began to drag the blade over my skin. I accidentally gashed my lower shin, leaving a scar that remains to this day, a reminder of the self-mutilating ritual that I have never again repeated.

Always I have been too early or too late, too bold or too tame, never meeting someone else’s elusive definition of beauty. I remember a summer romance with a mathematics professor it Indiana University, and his unfailing shock that I wasn’t involved with some hot-testicled college male. “You’re so beautiful,” he told me. “You must be putting out a message that you don’t want to be involved with anyone.”

And perhaps I was. I was recovering from a heart rent by my ex-fiance who had left me for a bassoonist, a full bodied woman with dark hair, shaped by the inherited refrains of Mediterranean sunlight in her blood. She, too, was everything I was not.

I am coming to the inescapable conclusion that beauty must be internally defined if it is to mean anything, yet somehow, that definition has been culturally influenced. Almost everyone gasps at the same moment in response to a particular image projected on the screen. We all have similar lenses, ground by the constant cultural grist of media exposure.

Those lenses are modified by religious and academic training, by the passing fancies of magazine editors and fashion designers, by the co-option (and thereby trivialization) of grassroots counter-movements. As Annie Dillard notes, the one-celled organism, lacking the complex neural functions that create cultural lenses, probably sees the world most purely.

In the end, though, beauty is more than pure seeing. Beauty comes from seeing with loving eyes, from placing oneself in relationship with the object of one’s gaze.

All of my lovers have been beautiful to me. Some were fat, some had straggly hair, some had furry backs, some were drop-dead handsome, but all were beautiful.

Love is blind, the cynic declares. Love to me, though, refocuses the eye. When I see with loving eyes, I witness beauty that otherwise lies dormant, perhaps hidden to the casual observer.

In love, I am not blind. I see the divine in the disheveled, the grace amidst the grit, the elegance in the aged. Love opens my eyes to celebrate beauty in the overlooked, the angular, and the unexpected. Love transforms my eyes.

Dr. Judith Boice, ND,  LAc, FABNO supports patients in creating their vision of health through her medical concierge practice (local OR virtual, so you can work with her wherever you live.) This essay is featured in Dr. Boice's book, Soul Medicine: A Physician's Reflections on Life, Love, Death and Healing, Lorian Press, 2016. For a free discovery session to clarify your vision of health and next steps, contact Dr. Boice.

This article was originally published at Dr. Judith Boice. Reprinted with permission from the author.