There but for the Grace of God...

March 19, 2010


You're so beautiful, you don't have to worry about your figure.

When she said these words to me, what I heard was:

You're fat.

This hit a little hard, because I have been working hard to lose weight and get in shape.  Going to the gym 4-5 days a week.  Working out at home on the off days.  Watching my fat intake.  Counting my calories.  I'm making progress, slowly but surely.  Those ten pound weights are feeling a little lighter.  I'm overcoming my hatred of the elliptical machine.  I'm down two pant sizes.  I'm getting there.  But still, what I heard was:

You're not good enough.

Now, the thing is, she really does think I'm beautiful.  She comes from the Philippines.  A culture that admires fair skin and European features.  She hates that her skin is brown.  That her hair is black.  That she's short.  She referred to her pregnancy as her "ugly time", as her mother before her did, because her skin darkened and her belly enlarged.  The first time we met, she showered me with compliments extolling my light skin, my blue eyes, my red hair.  She has considered cosmetic surgery, skin whitening treatments and hair dye to look more like me.  Not me specifically, but the standard I represent.

In her culture, the women greatly out number the men.  The men are not faithful.  Women there are obsessed with staying thin and looking young, because they fear that any imperfection will send their men scurrying to someone else's bed.  It's not uncommon for men to divorce their wives because they gain too much weight, and once divorced, their chances of finding another partner are slim, because men there won't consider marrying a woman who has children.

She's married to an American man now.  A military man.  He adores her.  He loves her for her differences.  Her dark almond eyes.  Her gentle nature.  But still, she clings to the fears of her culture.  She wears a size 3, but longs for the days she wore a 0.  She has lustrous long black hair, but believes that blonde hair would be beautiful, once she gets her skin light enough, that is.

Her notion of beauty is so far removed from the reality of herself that she'll never attain it.  My heart breaks for her a little, because she is truly beautiful and can't see it.  But I wonder at times:

Am I any different? 

To her my red hair and fair skin define my beauty.  My weight has no meaning in the beauty equation.  Fat or thin or somewhere in between, I will always be beautiful.  To me, weight is the deciding factor in the equation.  I berate myself because I'm not a size 3, let alone a 0.  I see women in advertisements and magazines who are thin and sexy and think:

I'll never be beautiful like that. 

We make quite the pair, she and I.  Neither of us able to fully recognize the beauty in ourselves, but instead spending too much time thinking of ways to change ourselves to match our idea of beauty.

Here's the part that I keep getting hung up on, though.  I know, as in believe with my whole heart, that she sees me and sees beauty, even if I can't see it.  I know that when I look at her, I see beauty, even though she doesn't recognize it in herself.  So here's my new plan.  I'm going to trust my friend.  I'm going to believe her when she tells me I'm beautiful.  I'm going to embrace the things that make me beautiful in her eyes, and it's going to be good enough.  Because the next time she says:

You're so beautiful, you don't have to worry about your figure.

I only want to hear:

You're beautiful. 

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