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A Search for Beauty

by Lyn Carr

I make every effort to find something beautiful in everything I see. My effort seems to work on everything and everyone but me. If I stand sideways, I see how thick my body has become and feel the loss of my once slender hips and belly. If I look in the mirror in a not-too-becoming light, I see wrinkles forming around my once smooth upper lip. There are new blonde hairs that appear to be a mustache. When I see myself there without clothes, the roll of fat over my belly hangs there like some reprimanding ghost saying, "See! Look at you. You are ugly. No one could possibly think you are beautiful or attractive!"

In reality, no one else has said this; it's what I run in my own head. When I see people for the first time in a long time, they invariably say, "You look so good. You're so relaxed and look so healthy." I say, "Thank you," but inside I push away the compliment with, "I look terrible. My hair isn't fixed. I'm so heavy and thick in the middle. Look at those arms! I remember how I'd watch my teachers in elementary school and see the skin under their upper arms swing back and forth as they wrote on the board. I swore to myself I'd never have arms like that."

I thought I had quit this negative self-talk until recently. In the last two weeks I've had my first date in four years, and met a young man online with whom I spoke about this very issue. He was talking about the movie Shrek and how he had felt everything Shrek felt as a green ogre living alone in the forest. He wrote, "Anyone who has ever been or felt like an outsider, would like this film."

My friend talked about his size when he was young. About being teased and abused every day. My heart went out to him; I experienced the same thing in junior high. I was an outsider, child of an air force sergeant in a small bedroom community outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The kids were cruel to me, called me "Scrounge" because I was so thin, and even went so far as to try to physically hurt me.

As we talked, he encouraged me to see the movie. He told me about the textures that were computer-generated, and all the attention to detail in the film. The more he talked about it, the more I wanted to see it.

The next day, I took myself to a nearby theatre. What unfolded was the story of a solitary outsider, an ogre who thinks he's ugly and stupid, lives in an enchanted forest, and speaks with a Scottish accent. It's a fairy tale about a quest for a princess held in a castle guarded by a dragon. It's a story about a friendship between a donkey and an ogre. It's funny, beautiful, touching, and reaches right into the heart of the question, "What is beauty?"<3p>

On July 4, I took a male friend to see Shrek with me. On the way out the door, he complimented me and said I looked pretty. I said, "I look terrible." He replied, "You don't. Your skin is so soft and pretty."

Later I asked him, "Do I always say something like, 'I look terrible' when you say something nice about how I look?"

He said, "Yes. Your hair looked so pretty when we went to the art museum. When it's clean, it's got a gossamer quality about it; it's so light and soft." He went on, "Any time I say something positive about your appearance, you say something demeaning or derogatory."

I realized that my being negative about my appearance is not new. I've been doing it since high school. Comparing myself to size two models and film actresses, and fairy tale princesses. Younger women who still have their youth.

As women age, the physical beauty, the lithe slender body, the soft luminescent skin begins to change. Angles take the place of curves in the face and the body often widens in the waist and hips, especially. In the last two days, it struck me that I need very much to have a different body image ? this time in my heart, not just my head.

What I have now is an inner beauty as well as outer. I'm more mature in body, mind, and spirit. I'm beginning to know who I am and what I want. I have dreams and am in the process of making them come true. My life has a rich texture, like Shrek, that comes from loving and being loved by friends, accepting diversity and being open to new experiences and people. My compassion for others is deep. I'm warm, caring and sensitive to them. I probably trust too easily and have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. My background has given me a heightened awareness of people and their ability to be honest with me and with themselves. I no longer choose people who aren't good for me to associate with. In fact, I don't even attract them. It's like living in a whole new world, but I remember the old one too.

In my teens, I worried about pimples and breasts too small when compared with the other girls. In my twenties, I thought I looked pretty good and didn't think much about my appearance. By my thirties, I was in a really unhealthy marriage, and thought I was old and droopy looking. I even wrote a poem about it.

In my early forties, I dated a younger man who thought I was gorgeous. Looking back, I realize I had gained some weight and no longer carried 120 pounds on a 5-foot-7-inch frame. I had curves and my body had filled out. Later, after the relationship ended, I thought, how could he think I was pretty? I was fat. The fashion scene was full of twiggy looking women with no curves, no meat on their bones.

About halfway through my forties my health began to deteriorate. I eventually lost weight until I was back down to the 120s. I was thin. My friends said they could feel my ribs when they hugged me; I thought I was sexy and gorgeous!

Now, in my late fifties, having gained at least fifty pounds, I am healthier, stronger, and freer to enjoy life than ever. My skin is luminous, now that I found a gentle moisturizer. I'm finally buying clothes for the person I have become, instead of for the person I once was. After reading a book called "Does This Make Me Look Fat?", I discovered there are ways to accent the parts of my body that are my most attractive, and camouflage the others. Illusion has its place.

As for my body under the clothes, I will come to know in my heart, as a friend of mine said, "You have a lot of beauty both inside and out, my dear . . . there's a very sensitive, warm, and caring person in you that is very attractive. Embrace her for who she is, and those who have any insight will do the same . . . the rest aren't worth the time."

Although I don't fully understand those words, I will learn. Embracing her is my destiny and part of my continuing search for beauty, especially in the coming winter of my life.

With a degree in Education, Lyn Carr taught for 34 years until her retirement in 1998. "I've been called a renaissance woman by a number of people because of my broad interests. I love being an entrepreneur and operating my own custom floral design business out of my home. I'm a clutterer, love people, nature, flowers and anything to do with the creative process."



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