“The thing about beauty, though”, said my neighbour, “is we don’t want to think of ourselves as being beautiful. We have no problem thinking about other people as being beautiful. But of ourselves, pffft – never. Unless, of course, we know we are beautiful, or have been told we are beautiful, or have seen the effect of our own beauty on others. Then it is not necessary to think about it – because it is just there.”
We were sitting having a sundowner on her stoep – the deep shady veranda that people who live in incredibly hot places build onto the front of their houses to try keep the cool inside. We had discussing a woman we both know who dresses exactly as she pleases. Who favours light breezy baskets over handbags and who has one in each colour to go with her outfits. The woman is well into her seventies and has a remarkable bosom, which she still displays – proudly.
To be honest – all that mature boob-acreage can be a bit disconcerting. And I had watched sofa mother and Aunty Mo eyeing the lady out at our local market – obviously not too sure how they felt about her ‘get-up’. A “bit too youthful” perhaps, and “revealing”, without a doubt. “But”, they concluded on our walk back up the hill: “she feels beautiful, so there you are”.
I recounted this to Tash and she agreed. “Ja, I think when she looks in the mirror, she does see herself as being beautiful. And that’s good – so she doesn’t care what other people think.”
“But do you know”, she continued, “that most people have never looked themselves in the mirror and said – ‘hey, I’m beautiful’. They just can’t. And when you ask them to, most of them, they cry.” She went on to describe a talk she had recently seen by Louise Hay that dealt with our assumptions around beauty. And how those assumptions can infect our every day unless we counteract them. T has Multiple Sclerosis and is interested in the use of affirmations in healing her body. In keeping her moving forward. Hay, is a firm believer in mind over matter.
I sipped my gin and tried to remember if I had ever used those two words about myself. In any interpretation. Probably not. I tell Jack and the kids they are beautiful all the time. And I know they love it. And believe me. I have a pal in London, Paul McGhie who always greets his girlfriends with the words: “Hello Gorgeous”. His smile underlines that he means it. I’ve noticed we always feel a bit more beautiful when he’s around.
The conversation moved on but the idea stuck with me. Maybe there was something in it. What if I did try it? Would I get teary? Would I believe myself? Would it have any effect? Would be interesting to see. That night before I went to sleep I decided: starting tomorrow – I will tell myself I am beautiful every day. And see how that pans out.
Wasn’t that easy. Saying the actual word proved harder than I imagined. I actually couldn’t get it word out. I felt awkward as hell. And a bit stupid. But I was determined – and everything is a process. So I started gently:
“You are an ok sort, you know that?”
…. mostly said in cheeky-chappy-faux-gangster accent to take the edge off. I didn’t get teary – but I did make myself smile. Even though the actual words were different – they still reminded me of the point of the exercise. And it worked. I am not saying I walk around thinking I resemble Giselle Bundchen, but rather that the acknowledgement of myself every morning reminds me of my various value to the world and people around me. And to myself. They’re mental nod, a subconscious wink. A recognition. I see me.
Try it. Step up to the mirror – look yourself in the eye and say: “you know what, you are beautiful.” Or whatever version of that works for you. If it makes you cry – that’s ok. Don’t even ask yourself why. Whatever is blocking the words will shake down eventually. You can deal with it when it does. Then do it again tomorrow. And the day after that.
I plan for 2015 to be a year in which I use what I have to hand. Rework what is already in the cupboards, reconfigure what is in the brain, rejig what is in the environment. And the mirror seems as good place as any to start.