Yesterday I read something that was unsettling. In a very courageous and unvarnished blog post, Sarah Houghton, aka Librarian in Black, described the various means by which she has been harassed and/or stalked over the years. This post is disturbing and should be read and considered on its own merits. Harassment and stalking have nothing whatsoever to do with beauty and/or attractiveness, as one very astute reader pointed out in comment #32. And although what I’m going to write here has nothing to do with the subject of Sarah Houghton’s post, per se, it is the genesis of my words for one reason–some of the comments on this thread offer a sad commentary on how women perceive their own beauty, attractiveness, or lack of it. More than one reader referred to themselves as “old”, “fat”, or “ugly.” While I guess it’s hard to argue against the truth that some people are old and/or fat, it’s that word “ugly” that stops me in my tracks.

Much in the same way as the Occupy Wall Street movement uses the slogan, “We are the 99%,” I would venture to guess that the women who feel self-conscious about their appearance are part of the “99%” of women who have the same insecurities. In fact, I bet 1% is a high estimate for the number of women who are totally secure about how they look. And before you men cry foul let me just say this: I’m sorry I can’t include you here, in this particular discussion, but I can’t get into your psyche, so I don’t know how you may feel about this or how you’re affected by it.

I do think I know this, though–at some point, most women have questioned whether they are young enough, thin enough, fit enough, pretty enough, curvaceous enough, fashionable enough, tall enough, petite enough, sexy enough. Wondered whether their bodies are too big or too small, or both in all the wrong places. Examined themselves up close and personal in a mirror, not liking what they see–not liking their skin, hair, wrinkles, ripples, lines, cheekbones, noses, freckles, moles, droops, or sags. Considered changing something, permanently, or at least wishing they could. Wondered how others saw them, perceived them, defined them in terms of beauty–were they considered average, above average, cute, attractive, pretty, beautiful, gorgeous, exotic, handsome, ugly, unattractive, unappealing, plain, or just okay? Most women have felt ugly at one time or another. Or maybe all the time.

Should any woman (anybody) ever be labeled as ugly? According to who? By what standards? Ugly is an ugly word. How unfortunate that we place such a high value on the outside when the really interesting part is behind the facade. It is only by sheer luck that one is born to be conventionally attractive or not. And who gets to say what’s “conventionally beautiful?” Why should anyone be acclaimed for physical beauty when no one earns it? Sure, you can improve your appearance if you want to through diet, exercise, a beauty regiment, whatever, but you can’t change the essence of the appearance you were given at birth, unless you do that surgically and not even then really. And yet we seem to hold that against so many people. Shouldn’t we be wondering instead if we’re strong enough, brave enough, adventurous enough, smart enough, kind enough, considerate or compassionate enough?

Respecting your body enough to take care of yourself is one thing. But striving for some unattainable level of “good enough” is futile. You’ll only be good enough when you, yourself believe that you are more than enough.

Like many, I care way too much about how I look. And the truth is that even the conventionally beautiful will lose their conventional beauty eventually. That young, thin, gorgeous, stunning woman will one day be an old, wrinkled, senior citizen. More beautiful than ever before in the way that time gives you wisdom, self-understanding, and self-acceptance, but trapped beneath an exterior that is simply dismissed out of hand.

I know the reality is that the outside will always matter. It’s naïve to believe otherwise because we’re all judged every day by someone based on how we look. I guess the trick is to stop judging ourselves by how we look. You can’t see your true reflection in a mirror or in anyone else’s eyes. All you see is yourself looking at yourself. Use your mind’s eye to see yourself. It’s a lot more forgiving. And I try to remember this: it’s the ugliness that can’t be seen that should be offensive to all of us. Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is wherever you choose to see it.