6 Things About Beauty I Wish I’d Known at 17
Hey guys. Meet Christina. Before you read her article, know that she is a friend, a superhero, a human being, a dancer and a warrior, living in New York City. She is, like all of us, many things. But also like us, Christina has this extraordinary want to take what she is and turn that into something. Something a lot of us could use; she founded the New York City chapter of Project Heal, and has spent years making sure girls like us know just how awesome we are.
At 27, I don’t exactly have the life wisdom one might hope to receive from, say, sweet Velma on the Smucker’s jar who just turned 121. But I do have a 15-year-long battle with an eating disorder under my belt (no pun intended), which has in turn given me the gift of recovery. And this has been a sort of gift with purchase, Clinique Bonus situation if you catch my drift because along with it I have received a bunch of other gifts. Most of these have come in the form of people — people who have taught me how to love myself, how and why to be grateful, how to have empathy, and how to see beauty without a mirror or with my eyes closed. I am still learning and forever a work in progress, but one thing I know for sure is that there is so much more to life than a chance collision of atoms that is en vogue (or not) for a transient period of time. And with that being said, there are six major lessons I have learned about beauty and that I try to apply to everyday life.
Strive to be an instrument, not an ornament.
A pristine Baby Grand is cute to look at and all, but as a pianist, or an audience, if the keys don’t work or it just sits collecting dust, it is a waste of its joyful purpose (unless you’re a disgruntled neighbor). Similarly, we as people have a duty to realize our full potential, which is certainly different for everyone. But for me, the ability to read, write, speak, and think critically (and play the piano!) are gifts that not everybody has, so I try to share and use them for the greater good. There is, of course, great value in taking pride in one’s appearance, but I do not want to be a mere shell of a blonde creature in which thoughts and creativity just rot.
Remember that one person’s beauty is not the absence of your own.
Suffice to say, comparison is the thief of joy and confidence and really anything positive at all. I like to look at beauty as I do art. For instance, two of my favorite museums — the Pompidou in Paris and Musei Vaticani in Rome — could not be more different, but they both house some of the most brilliant works of art in history. There are 7 billion people in this world and focusing only on one, homogenized type of beauty is to think very narrowly and deny the countless cultural nuances and masterpieces that exist beyond our own society (which is what I tried to exemplify in the What Makes Me Beautiful campaign).
External beauty is not a free ticket to happiness.
I really began to pick up on this when I moved to New York. I was thrust into an industry full of gorgeous people, many of whom I grew up idolizing from my small town, and in some ways it was not what I had expected whatsoever. Sometimes the people so deeply revered for their beauty, wealth, and/or talent are terribly unhappy, insecure, and empty, which I believe goes to show that the pursuit for perfection is completely elusive. In Devil Wears Prada Stanley Tucci’s character Nigel goes “That’s what this multi-billion dollar industry is all about anyway, isn’t it. Inner beauty,” so I understand if what I am about to say elicits a million eyerolls, but it’s true: the happiest people I know are those who recognize that real beauty comes from within, regardless of how they look. Until a person can make peace with this, he or she will face internal struggle. And as we know, worrying can cause premature aging (I’m being somewhat facetious here), which brings me to my next point….
Beauty transcends age.
As one of my most treasured mentors has told me again and again, beauty fades. It’s meaningless. And if you really think about it, she’s right. Beauty standards shift, differ greatly from culture to culture, and can mean many different things to different people. If we are strictly talking about aesthetics, I wrestle with why American culture specifically venerates youth when in many other corners of the world, the aging process and the wisdom acquired through living a long, full, colorful life are seen of great value. Growing older is inescapable, but I think there is something really beautiful about wrinkles (I may feel differently when this happens to me, I’ll get back to you on that) and other markings of life’s embroidery, so to speak.
Find a meaningful purpose in life.
I try to remind myself of this one each day. Is my life’s purpose just to stand here looking pretty and fragile? Or is it to work hard, lift others up, get my hands dirty, and walk a path that makes life a little easier for those who trail behind? I ask myself, (sorry if this is morbid) do I, one day, want to be laid to rest as we all inevitably will be with a tombstone that simply reads, “She was pretty,” or “She was thin?” I don’t. Sure, I’m still relatively young but I do not want to waste another day at war with myself or look back on my life when I am older and see that I spent the prime of my life entirely self-absorbed.
Lastly, anyone who truly loves you doesn’t give a sh*t about what you look like, period.
They love you for YOU, not a dress size, skin color, number on the scale, bad haircut, not wearing pink on Wednesdays, wearing sweatpants more than once per week, etc. And if not, life is too short to live it for others who drown your light in Negative-Nancy energy.
Thanks, Christina! We love you.