4 reasons people try to take away your beauty (and why you shouldn’t let them). [What I wish I knew when I was 18]

by Charlotte on June 20, 2014 · 17 comments

poisonapple

Sitting cross-legged on a twin bed, giggling about cute boys while the summer evening breeze swirled around us — it had been a long time — a lifetime — since the last time I’d done this. Yet there I was on the eve of my baby sister’s graduation (am I allowed to still call her my baby sister now that she’s a legal adult?) sitting in her room and listening to my sister and her friend whisper about love and longing and uncertainty. In that golden moment I was struck by how divinely beautiful they were. And it wasn’t just the smooth skin, shiny hair and flat tummies that come with being 18. It was that magic that happens sometimes, when you see someone with their guard down, and you glimpse the beauty of an ageless soul. They were hope and talent and potential and joy and laughter and sparkling eyes and so, so beautiful.

Then it all came crashing down. (And not just because one of my boys yelled through the door that he’d clogged the toilet and while trying plunge it he’d only made is spill all over the floor. Although that did happen too. Sorry mom and dad!) As I watched, my sister and her friend began to talk about their insecurities, what they’d been told about themselves, what they believed to be true. I realized that even though I saw two gorgeous creatures, they didn’t necessarily see it in themselves.

It reminded me, desperately, of when I was 18. I wasn’t even sure what beauty was, much less if I had any of it. And so I begged people to tell me, to validate me, to re-make me in their image of beautiful. Unfortunately some obliged. For years I took that to heart – that whatever I was needed to be changed. Nothing that was intrinsically Charlotte was right. Boyfriends, bosses, friends, even strangers held more influence on my sense of self than myself.

I wanted to stop the girls conversation. To shake them by the shoulders and demand they see themselves how I saw them! Then I realized I would be doing exactly what all those others had done to me. You can’t make someone see themselves as beautiful. You can only try to teach them how to find it in themselves.

I’ve talked a lot on here about how to find beauty – in yourself, in others, in nature. But what I haven’t talked about is why we lose that ability to see it in the first place. We’re born with it yet somewhere along the way most of us lose it. But why? I had a long, long, long (17.5 hour) drive home from my parent’s house and therefore a lot of time to ponder this question. I concluded that we don’t lose it so much as we have it taken from us, bit by bit. And since I had to listen to endless Disney movies on repeat to keep the littles from rebelling and forcing me to move into a McDonald’s playland in Nebraska, I pictured this as so many poison apples. (Plus aren’t we all still princesses a little bit on the inside? Yeah, you dudes too. It’s okay, you can own it.)

This is what I wish I could have told my sister and her friend about why people will try and take your beauty (and why you shouldn’t let them). As I wrote it out I realized I wasn’t really talking to them anymore but to the 18-year-old child that still lives in me, the one who still wants to be beautiful.

Poison apple: To sell you stuff. It seems so glaringly obvious and yet it’s so effective. You’ll never buy wrinkle cream if you aren’t conditioned to think of aging as the worst thing that could ever happen to you and that you must stave off all evidence of the inevitable by any means possible. You know what they say – if you can’t find a niche to fill, create one! And advertising today has us caught at both ends as it sets beauty as a woman’s only currency and then shows her all the ways she’s lacking it.

Antidote: Knowledge is power. Even my 4-year-old is savvy enough to know when she’s being marketed to but it’s so ingrained in every aspect of our lives it can be easy to forget how many people are trying to sell us something. And the best way to do that is to make us feel less than. Don’t buy it. You are enough as you are, no purchase necessary.

Poison apple: To have power over you. I’ve talked a lot about how I got out of an abusive relationship but I don’t talk much about how I got in it in the first place. The truth is that he made me feel special and beautiful, at least at first. I think he saw I had very little self-worth and used that to manipulate me. Since I didn’t believe myself to be beautiful I relied on his definition of me. And when he decided I was “the ugliest thing he’d ever seen” unfortunately I believed him. He told me he was “just being honest” and “trying to help” me. He told me that he was the only one who would ever love someone as broken as me and I believed that too.

Antidote: Be confident in yourself and learn to recognize manipulation. It isn’t just bad boyfriends/girlfriends who will try to manipulate you and break you down by stealing your beauty. Bosses, coworkers, friends and even strangers can use low self-regard to their advantage and unfortunately many of us wear our wounds on our sleeves. But the better you know who you are, the less likely you are to believe what someone else says you are.

Poison apple: To win. Some people think of beauty as a zero sum game – if you have more then that automatically means they have less. And if they’re dead set on being the prettiest princess in the room then the only way they can win is by cutting you down.

Antidote: Don’t play. Once you realize it’s just a game it’s easier to walk away and ignore petty attempts to draw you into the competition. Resist the temptation to mock others to make yourself feel better. Recognize that beauty is exponential. The more you see, the more there is!

Poison apple: To bond with you. It sounds weird but a lot of us bond over our weaknesses. There’s nothing wrong with that on a certain level but taken too far we’re all monkeys pulling each other back down into the barrel. We live in a culture of criticism, trained by magazine covers with red circles and talking heads concern-trolling celebrities. (Don’t believe me? CNN recently declared the Pope to have gained weight.  Not even the POPE is safe from body scrutiny… Next thing you know people will be saying Mary didn’t lose the pregnancy weight fast enough after Jesus was born.) And when we’re taught to look for the negative in every situation, is it any wonder that’s what we see in ourselves too? 

Antidote: Stop being so critical. You’ll find that when you stop criticizing other people (and reading those magazines and watching those shows) that it’s a lot easier to be kinder to yourself too. Everybody wins!

In the end I think a lot of people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what beauty is. They think it’s a certain set of physical features or even perhaps a level of success or achievement. But beauty can’t be bought nor can it be earned. We’re born with it. It’s a gift. And every one of us has it.

Would knowing any of this at 18 really have changed who I am? I can’t change the past but I do think it would have made a difference. All I know now is that when I look back on pictures of then-me I wish I could take her by the shoulders, tell her how beautiful she is and make her listen. To me. Instead of to all of them. And of course, anyone reading this list would be well served to think if we do any of these things ourselves. I know I have. Especially the competition one – I can’t count how many times I’ve muttered under my breath about some other girl hoping that looking for her mistakes will make me feel better about mine. But I hope I’m outgrowing that urge. I’m trying to!

This morning as I was driving my kids to track practice, they whined, “Why are you always making us do stuff we hate?!” Track, piano, gymnastics, church, musical theater, flag football, swimming, library programs, volunteer work: I make them try it all. It isn’t because I’m trying to make them into super geniuses or pad their Ivy League college applications but rather it’s because I’ve discovered over a lifetime of hurt that there are things that heal me, things I can always return to to remember who I really am. For me that’s reading, playing the piano, praying, yoga, hiking. For them? I don’t know and neither do they which is why I drag them to different activities.

“I’m trying to help you find what you love. So that when life hurts you will have some inner reserves to carry you through it,” I answered.

“Why? Will life hurt us?” my third son asked, genuinely perplexed as to how whining about running track turned into an existential debate.

It will, so much more than you know, I wanted to say. But I couldn’t. So instead I said simply, “Always remember I love you enough to make you do things you hate.”

Just because someone hands you a poison apple and tells you to eat it doesn’t mean you have to take a bite.

Have you ever had anyone try to make you forget you’re beautiful? What do you wish you could tell your 18-yr-old self?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Brooke June 20, 2014 at 4:39 am

That was really deep (and pretty life altering to be honest)! And your writing style is amazing but, normally where I’d notice little imperfections or flaws in the writing technique, I only noticed that as I was reading I was constantly going “Oh my god, she’s right!” or “I really do wish I was beautiful”. This was an amazing text, amazing!

Reply

Amy June 20, 2014 at 5:23 am

Lovely! My mission as a parent is to instill the antidotes to these “apples”. One you didn’t directly mention is that beauty is subjective and it’s not your job to fill every person’s perception of it. It’s so important to know that some people will appreciate you and some just won’t, no matter what you do. And that it’s no reflection on you as long as you’re not hurting anyone and you’re happy. Unfortunately as much as you try to teach, some lessons are only learned thriugh years and wisdom. But

Reply

Amy June 20, 2014 at 5:25 am

Ugh tablet wouldn’t let me edit… just spell check that last “through” and delete the last “but”. You get the idea! :)

Reply

GM June 20, 2014 at 6:17 am

A few days ago I found your blog while at work (productive day for me, evidently).

Immediately I was consumed by the thoughts and experiences of all the people commenting, and of, especially, YOU. I’ve been stressing about all sorts of health and body image concerns for a few months now, which seemingly appeared out of the blue. It took me a while to realise that one of the people to whom I am closest (my father) unintentionally ignited something in me that made me question my perception of myself.

I’ve never had crippling self-confidence issues growing up. One of the things about which I was most proud was the fact that I was so completely and unwaveringly firm in my head that if someone didn’t like me or an aspect of me, then they didn’t have to, because I like and love EVERY part of me. And if they didn’t like me or any part of me, then they were always more than welcome to remove themselves from my company – I don’t need poison like that in my life.

This firm and confident perception of myself can be primarily attributed to my father and how he contributed to how I was raised. He was – and is – such a rational and logical person who always showered me with unconditional love and only criticised if it was constructive… and only ever by taking the role of a friend. This meant and still means a lot to me.

So I don’t know why or how it changed. I don’t know what snapped in my head when the one day he said to me that I needed to be careful of my sugar consumption (caring parent), because he noticed I had put on about 2 pounds (which I lost soon after). That was it. No negative comments afterwards, no critical tone to his voice. Yet somehow I was worried that I had disappointed him or that he wasn’t as proud of me as he used to be.

Never in my entire life has he ever made me feel that way. I don’t know what did it this time round when it seemed so harmless (the only thing I could possibly attribute it to was the sensitivity I was feeling because of constant comments from a colleague about how she viewed people who weren’t underweight as *insert negative and completely untrue words here*)).

Anyway, long story short, finding this blog and reading these posts and comments have helped me start to realign my head the way it was before this change in my thinking took over a few months ago.

Thank you. Thank you to all of you. You have helped me confront and speak up about these worries, and have given valuable and logical advice that has stopped me from falling down a self-destructive rabbit-hole. Hopefully I will right myself soon.

(On a side note, I hope I haven’t offended anyone with this post. I know this is a sensitive topic, so I’m hoping I come across as appreciative as I am).

Reply

Darwin June 21, 2014 at 8:59 am

GM Quoting you: “(the only thing I could possibly attribute it to was the sensitivity I was feeling because of constant comments from a colleague about how she viewed people who weren’t underweight as *insert negative and completely untrue words here*)).”

You hit the nail on the head!

“completely untrue words”

I always equate such words with statements I KNOW to be untrue. I place them in the same category as…

…the world is flat…

…the sun orbits around the moon…

…NO politician EVER lies.

You never fear THOSE statements might secretly be true.

So by lumping them with the “constant comments from a colleague about how she viewed people who weren’t underweight as *insert negative and completely untrue words here*)).”…

…then those negative and completely untrue words ALSO lose their power.

Reply

Aine June 20, 2014 at 8:53 am

Love this article! You make so many great points.

Reply

Darwin June 20, 2014 at 9:53 am

Quote Charlotte: (Plus aren’t we all still princesses a little bit on the inside? Yeah, you dudes too. It’s okay, you can own it.)

*laughs*

Have to disagree…in my case anyway.

My goal from when I was little was to be Prince Charming.

And to figure out how that is done.

As I believe we are all children of God, then that makes ALL of us of royal birth.

ALL of us are Princes and Princesses respectively..

This is the key to my own self-worth: I exist. Therefore I have value.

And I can increase my value by serving others.

(This was YEARS before I became LDS, by the way. I discovered many truths on my own and through my family.)

So I worked on what struck me as the obvious as a kid: Protector; rescuer; hero; and being physically able…strong enough, fast enough, skilled enough, intelligent enough.

Being kind and loving and considerate and…chivalrous…which meant more to me than just being kind and caring…but also sacrificing for other people.

This focuses the mental and emotional gears towards building up rather than tearing down. And having greater patience.

That often…takes time.

And experience.

My early childhood experience outside my family in the school system was that because I existed as half-Indian OTHER people did not believe I had value. I was attacked and beaten daily by others…

…but the worst?

I was usually saved by the teachers. One day, a couple of teachers came around the corner, and they saw that I was being beaten…

…and then they turned around and walked away.

THAT was the BIGGEST “Darwin you have NO worth” moment in my life at that time.

But since MY core knowledge was that I exist, there fore I have value, even the teachers “telling me” I had no value did not sway my firm resolve that I did.

So I turned to the five grinning guys who were so smug that the teachers approved of them beating on me, and I knocked them all on their backsides…

…decisively and painfully…

…and I walked off to ponder…and renew my resolve.

Quote from Rocky Balboa:

“Let me tell you something you already know…the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are…it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You. Me or Nobody….is gonna hit as hard as life.

But it ain’t about how hard YOU hit…

It’s about how hard you can GET HIT…and KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

How much you can TAKE…and KEEP MOVING FORWARD…

…That’s how WINNING is done.”

This has been a running theme in my life….

…while trying to be a Prince.

Have any of you ever seen a TV show or movie where they cast an Indian as a Prince?

Me neither.

It’s the same in life.

No matter how spiritual, heroic, intelligent, skilled, strong, tough , loving or sacrificing I am…people don’t see me that way.

I have saved people’s lives and not even gotten a thank-you. (I kind of got the feeling that they…almost…would rather have drowned/died/whatever…than be saved by me.)

My lovely ex-wife…

…no other single LDS guy would look her way.

If you look at Charlotte’s post: EVERY BODY IS A BIKINI BODY – from June 6 2014, the picture with the four plus size models standing in the surf in the black bathing suits…my ex-wife was the exact same body type as the one second from the right.

Beautiful, right?

Other guys saw her as overweight.

And they saw her as recovering alcoholic who had two kids, gave one up for adoption and was no longer a virgin and NOT worth their time.

She had low self-esteem issues and anger issues.

I took the time to get to know her.

I did not do this to have “control over her”.

I could have married her when she was extremely vulnerable and needy. She wanted to marry me within two weeks of meeting me.

Her low self-esteem caused to her to get naked and ambush me…more than once, and as you can see from that compared picture in Charlotte’s bikini body post…she had some…*ahem*…Double-D distractions.

But every guy she ever met only wanted her for sex.

Even one of her brothers.

So I was determined to show her that she was loved …and not just lusted. So I never succumbed.

I took seven years to get to know her, and provide a healing environment.

Her self-esteem grew.

Other guys saw her value beyond sex and wanted her.

She decided that she no longer needed me.

Because to her, I had no worth.

I have worth, because I exist.

Reply

Emily June 20, 2014 at 11:50 am

This post is incredible. You are such a gifted thinker and writer, Charlotte. I have loved your writing for so long and this is my favorite thing you’ve done so far. I second the commenter who said this is life-altering.

Reply

Saskia June 20, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Good post. But it took me some time to get past the first part where you mentioned the shiny hair, smooth skin, and flat tummy that comes with being 18. Well, a lot of us never had that experience. I’ve never been skinny or conventionally beautiful or been a golden girl. Not the point of your post at all, I know.

Reply

Diane June 20, 2014 at 5:59 pm

It’s so hard not to believe what society as a whole says about you. I’ve been thin (14% body fat) and more than 100 lbs overweight (yes I have issues). When I am obese, I am invisible or mocked. When I am thin people talk to me, hold doors open for me. I am always the same core person but I often have on different shells. I just want to be me…whatever me is and not judged by my looks.

Reply

Nasca June 20, 2014 at 9:34 pm

So amazingly true & well said. Yes, unfortunately had people I love & am related to be the only ones in my life that have told me I was ugly & horrible. Fortunately iv had a loving husband and sister like friends who have reminded me I am a daughter of God who is beautiful inside & out. Iv always (well growing up) thought Of myself as homely & untalented, it took great friendships & faith in a loving Heavenly Father to teach me otherwise. Hey the older ive gotten the wiser I become. Beauty is all around us. Beauty is in every moment. Beauty is in us. Thank you Char!!!!

Reply

Jody - Fit at 56 June 21, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Great read Charlotte!!! Many bloggers & writers say it is our fault for not believing in ourselves but I agree with the statement that it is taken thru media of all forms & has since I was young… When you grow up from an early age ingrained with this plus you may have had moms or others that also did not feel good about themselves, it is tough…. I am glad more women are trying to help the children of today realize they are enough.

I honestly don’t feel anything is wrong with creams & stuff like that to make the face better with age if a person is OK with it.. I think it is when it gets obsessive & also the crazy plastic surgery that goes beyond just a little of this & that & becomes too much.

Reply

Sagan June 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I was in a relationship with a guy many years ago, and we had SO MANY discussions and arguments over the power issue – him saying things, and me responding with “you are manipulating me!” – but so much of it, for me, was just an underlying frustration, because even though I KNEW it was happening, I couldn’t get beyond it until I just got out of that toxic relationship.

It’s interesting what you’ve said here about the bonding part, too. I have a great group of girlfriends who I see about once a month or once every other month, and inevitably, at some point, one of us will bring up something about beauty and body image issues. Again, most of it is about the underlying “I know I *shouldn’t* feel this way but I can’t help it!”, and we end up having really great, SUPPORTIVE conversations stemming from it. That’s one of the best things about no longer being 18: even if we still feel as though our beauty is being “taken away,” at least we can understand that it is happening, and discuss it together, and try to get it through it. And I think that this can only come with time and experience.

Reply

Jeffrey Dumonte June 23, 2014 at 1:43 pm

So much truth. Yes I’m a guy (obviously) but I can relate. And I know quite a few young women in my family who can learn valuable lessons from this post. I’ll be sure to pass it on.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: