The Trouble with Beauty and Happiness


This post is the result of a few conversations I’ve participated in on Social Media over the past couple of days. The discussions centered on beauty, self-awareness, happiness, and one even focused on the gender battle of stereotypes and how body image is presented differently to men and women. These are my general thoughts on the matter. Feel free to dive in with any thoughts you may have as well. Just an FYI, if you’re new here, all new comments must be approved before publication.
People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing you are the beholder.
~Salma Hayek~
For most of us, we wake up in the morning, stumble to the bathroom, and take care of business before we even bother looking in the mirror. Once we do, however, we judge ourselves for what sleep has done to us. Did we get enough? Do we still have circles under our eyes? What’s that crusty stuff at the corner? Dry lips? Wrinkles? Some of us may have time to do something about it, others may have a scant moment to splash water on our faces before we are overrun with children who need our every waking second.
Our vision of ourselves fades throughout the day as we tend to life at hand. Eventually we know we should shower and maybe do something beyond a messy bun with our hair but we don’t have the time or the energy. Some may go overboard, like Decoy Mom.
I am not saying that there is anything wrong with a natural approach to appearances. Nor am I saying there is anything wrong with wanting to wear make up. Both are perfectly fine as long as you are doing it for yourself and not to please some impossible unattainable standard or to buck said unattainable standard.
Beauty is not some physical state of being. It is a mental state of being. Until we, both men and women, truly believe this and begin to live by it instead of allowing companies and others to define what is perfect, we will live in a state of “faux beauty.”
Beauty is, as Salma stated, in the eye of the beholder. It truly is freeing to realize that YOU are your own beholder. We are of course, our own worst critics. Instead of tearing yourself down about baby weight or big boobs or the size of your behind, see them as how you were meant to be formed.
We are works of art, all of us. Each of us are individual paintings, all perfect in our own ways, curves, no curves, long hair, short hair, red, blonde, brown, black hair, light skin, dark skin, brown skin… we are made the way we were meant to be made. Nothing more, nothing less.
I am full figured, have long brown hair, and while I do get frustrated with what my body can do, I have no one to blame for that beyond myself for not using it for what it was made to be used for – exercise and movement. Lazy. But you know what? I am still happy with my body because I know that it is capable of moving the way it was meant to. I just need to get my head in the right place, something I want to do for ME, not in order to become the next goddess to be worshiped. It is about being healthy not about reaching a number.
The trouble with beauty is that we allow others to define it and have allowed others to define it for far too long. Women are where life grows. Life flows from man into woman. We, all of us, are where we start. We should respect this and allow ourselves slack when it comes to judging the size of the package in which we reside.
Know what I find sexy in a partner? Intelligence, compassion, a sense of humour, a love of geeky things and sporty things. Our minds are the ones that fall in love, not our bodies. Of course physical attraction helps and it is a factor for me (and for most of us) but it is not at the top of my list. Physical beauty fades. Personality, however, is what’s under the surface and THAT’S what you’ll spend your life with….your partner’s personality. I think this is one of the reasons mental health is a struggle for people in love – because it changes your soul. If you keep communication up though, the two of you can work through anything – remembering, of course, that communication is a two way street.
“If I could just be beautiful, I would be happy….”
Beauty starts with acceptance of what we have been given. It starts on the inside, this acceptance. Helen Keller believed that “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
Helen Keller felt beauty with hear heart and soul, experienced beauty through touch, she did not see it or even hear it. She did not work to gratify her inner soul with an outer appearance, rather, she worked to achieve beauty through her works with others.
Today, take the Helen Keller approach to beauty and happiness. Choose a cause dear to your heart and do something to make a difference. Then do something else to make a difference tomorrow as well. And the next. Let your love, joy, and heart be the source of your beauty instead of a jar, a treadmill, or a scalpel. (The treadmill and scalpel, of course do not apply in cases of medical necessity – I want to make that absolutely clear. Surgery or exercise are perfectly acceptable when they are for healthy reasons.)
Go. Be beautiful. Let that light inside of you shine and allow others to see just how awesome and brightly your patina radiates. As you do so, remember these wise words: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. (Eleanor Roosevelt).
Carry these words as well, by the great Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Do not, by any means, consent to allow others to define your beauty or your happiness for they are yours and yours alone to define and achieve.

Friday Soother 01.20.12: Windows of my soul


by jashir @flickr.com

"Los anos dorados" by Jashir @flickr.com

The windows of my soul I throw
Wide open to the sun.
~John Greenleaf Whittier, My Psalm

(Original photo sourced here)

Dear #PPDChat Army: An Open Love Letter


Dear #PPDChat Army:

You are the most amazing moms in the entire world.

Your heart, your fire, your compassion, your wicked strength, your wisdom, your drive to not let anyone else suffer alone is mind-boggling.

This week, one of ours struggled publicly. You didn’t run away. You ran toward her. You held her. You listened. You reached out. For her. For yourselves.

So many of you dove into her maelstrom right along with her. You were there for her when it mattered most.

At the closing of every chat, I always say that help is only a tweet away. To use the hashtag and an army will be at your disposal.

This week?

You proved it beyond any reasonable expectation.

This week, you were an army. This week you bonded together, rallied around one of our own. This week you brought tears to my eyes. To the eyes of everyone involved. (HUGE thanks to the BAND for giving our mama a safe place to vent)

Thank YOU.

But now, now that she’s safe, in the hands of professionals and hopefully receiving the care she so desperately needs, we need to focus on ourselves. Turn the army toward ourselves.

When we support others, we often push aside our own fears. We push aside the scary, the hard, the sad, the bad. We suck it up because we don’t want the one to whom we’re reaching to think we are anything but strong.

It’s okay to exhale.

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay not to be okay right now.

It’s okay to collapse.

It’s okay to say “Hey, #PPDChat? That was hella hard and I need support.”

We will be there.

It’s what we do.

It’s who we are.

It’s how we run things.

We’re strong, each and every one of us.

We’re beautiful, each and every one of us.

But we’re fragile too.

Together though?

As an army?

We are unstoppable.

We are here.

Together.

You, just like her, are not alone.

If you feel triggered by this past week, USE the hashtag.

I promise, an ARMY will be at your side instantly.

Because that’s how we do it.

I love each and every one of you so much it hurts.

You all ROCK.

friday soother 05.20.11: e.e. cummings strolls through a tennessee forest


Photo taken at nearby nature park with my Android phone

My Premature Gift


Today, November 17th, is National Premature Birth Awareness Day.

Hello, my name is Lauren. I am the mother of a prematurely born child.

(Hello, Lauren – that’s your line. C’mon – all together now. Hello, Lauren!)

Our second daughter was born three and a half weeks early after 42 grueling hours of labor. I was not on medication during my pregnancy with her. 30 minutes after birth, the lactation consultant discovered she had a cleft palate. Within 24 hours, she was an hour away at a Children’s Hospital in the NICU while I recovered for another 48. Within 9 days, she had her first major surgery. Within 21 days, she had undergone two more surgical procedures. The first five months of her life saw a grand total of six surgeries. Since then she’s had two more. Our daughter will be four in March and has already had eight surgical procedures.

She drank from a special bottle when she was not being tube fed. I pumped exclusively for seven grueling months stopping only because my mental health depended on me making a very difficult decision. While she does not struggle with basic needs as much as she did, it still takes her longer than usual to chew because her bite is lopsided. You see, her teeth only meet when she grits them together at one pivotal side – the right side. Her speech is garbled. I can only understand 50 – 75% of my own daughter’s speech. (Ok, cue the tears) Do you hear what I am saying? Out of everything my daughter excitedly tries to share with me, I miss up to half of it most of the time.

This past spring she had additional surgery to fix her pharyngeal flap. This flap closes off the airway between her nose and throat. Speech ordered the surgery to help with her nasal emissions. It’s helped some but it’s still an uphill battle given her poorly aligned jaw and all the air it allows through when she attempts certain sounds. And she’s trained her vocal chords to compensate for the lack of a pharyngeal flap. But you know what? She can say “s” now. Perfectly. I can tell it apart from an “F.” And she can blow up a balloon, blow bubbles, and clearly say “Please Push me mommy!” Most importantly, she can now clearly tell me I am STILL her best friend.

While in the NICU she underwent genetic testing to locate a potential cause or additional factors for her isolated bilateral complete soft and hard palate (that means there was NO palate up there on either side, hard or soft. Hard is when you put your tongue straight up. Soft is when you slide it back towards your throat.) But there was no additional genetic reason. She was diagnosed with isolated Pierre Robin Sequence. This more often than not occurs in boys, not girls. We hit the jackpot.

Despite all of her hardships, all of her struggles, all of the things she will face as she grows and has to overcome new challenges and issues, Charlotte is one of the happiest people I have ever met. Her goal in life? To make us smile and laugh. All the time. For real (to steal a phrase from her).

I went through hell with her. Emotionally, physically, every kind of -ally you can think of. I was there. Gripped on for dear life. Looking back, I know I was depressed during my pregnancy with her. Weighed down with an unresolved postpartum depression from my first pregnancy. Cleft defects often happen within the first 6-8 weeks of pregnancy. Before I even knew I was pregnant our angel was already awaiting us with a huge surprise all her own.

Where am I going with all of this?

I’m filling you in on how hard it is to be a NICU parent of a premature baby. What kind of challenges we face. How it doesn’t all end when we step out of the sterile nursery where our children spent their first days, months, or possibly year. We worry when things come up – anything – about it being related to something that happened at birth – is this because of such and such? She’s got a cold. How will this affect her airway? Should I let her sleep on her back if she’s so congested? What if she stops breathing? And so the monster is fed.

But on the flip side I am truly amazed at how often I manage to deny the monster his food. How often I am able to keep a cool head and maneuver my way around the big issues. I remember time B.C. (Before Charlotte). I would watch shows filled with parents of special needs kids. Amazed I would wonder where on earth they found the emotional stamina to wake up in the morning and face another day knowing the challenges that lay in store. But they did and I do. I look forward to her giggles. I look forward to her playful eyes, her hugs, her kisses, her tantrums, her excited babbling when her bus is about to arrive. And sometimes I want to cry. But mostly I want to rejoice. God has gifted me a perfect Angel and one day, in HIS time, I will understand her perfectly.