Growing up I was often affectionately referred to as a bean pole or a length of cotton with knots in. As these descriptions imply, I was a tall, gangly child; angular with spindly limbs and lots of straight edges. I eventually filled out but the filling brought more angles in the form of asymmetric hips (and shoulders)! I have a long face with a straight but not overly long nose, large eyes framed by fair lashes and brows. My lips also happen to be asymmetric, thin at the top, fuller at the bottom and my skin is exceptionally pale with a random sprinkling of small freckles.
As a teen I considered myself rather unusual looking, a strange sub-species of the classical beauty found in women like Audrey Hepburn, Diana Rigg or Grace Kelly. I always thought my friends were far prettier, more evenly proportioned and further in keeping with ideals of conventional beauty. I was rarely unhappy about my alien appearance in spite of the superfluous angles, spikey joints and long lines but from time to time my height was a source of strife. I was a good head taller than my best friends and a fair bit taller than many of the boys throughout our school years. Tall meant there was no easy way to blend into the background and when you’re a kid invisibility is sometimes helpful. For me it would have been especially useful in history class.
As I grew older I stopped thinking about physical dimensions and features and thought instead about what really makes us beautiful. I have many theories but I’m not sure there’s one definitive answer. I do know that I’d rather devote my time learning to become beautiful inside than spend big bucks shoring up the outside. External renovation is such a thankless task; the outside will inevitably suffer wear and tear over the years so my wrinkles don’t bother me. They signpost that I smile more than I frown and I believe that’s a good thing.
For a short time this year I did encounter a more stubborn little wrinkle as I’m sure many women do. Even with the best reconstruction in the world mastectomy throws up the same kind of body image angst that almost all teenagers go through. It took me a while to take a look at what had gone on there. I’m not sure there’s a simple way to overcome the confusion and uncertainty of such a sudden change but as soon as I turned my attention from the scar to enjoying my life the angst melted away. Now I treat the scar in just the same was as the wrinkles round my eyes. I don’t care about it anymore. It’s on the outside and it marks a skirmish that happened a while back but the feisty redhead won that round.
For all that goes on outside, I’m inclined to think the best kind of beauty stems from within. As Rosalind Russell so nicely puts it, “taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.”