So many of us spend most of our lives being someone we are not. We behave in ways that go against the grain because we try to meet the expectations of others, try to be who we think people want us to be (often mistakenly so because who they really want is actually who we are!), we even study, work or participate in activities we are not really interested in because we want to be accepted by – and please – the crowd. And in terms of how we look, we spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to live up to our World’s definition of what “beauty” is.
A recent major trauma, losing Maria, my partner of 17 years, to cancer has resulted in a period of change for me, during which I’ve found myself questioning just about every aspect of life – including who I really am. I realised that Maria was the only person I have ever been true to myself with, in all my dimensions.
That may have been because Maria is the only person who ever made me feel beautiful. And she was the most beautiful person I have ever met. When I say beautiful in this context, I don’t mean how I look, I really do mean who I am.
Maria was hands down the most authentic person I ever knew. She was who she was and she didn’t care what anyone else thought. If she didn’t want to do something, go somewhere, like something, say something or wear something, she didn’t. She was completely natural, completely comfortable in her own skin.
I absolutely adored that about her. And everyone else adored her too. Lucky for me, in that authenticity, she was also loving, kind, considerate, gentle, intelligent, generous and funny. When she told me I was beautiful, which she did often, I knew she meant the whole of me. And that was the case when I told her the same thing.
Neither of us felt the need to dress up, wear make up, make ourselves look anything other than we felt like being. If we wanted to do any of those things, we did it for ourselves, or for each other, but not because it was what the other needed. We were happy together just being who we were, however that happened to be.
My more recent experiences of the term “beautiful” have put that part of my relationship with Maria in perspective, not only for me and how I feel about myself, but also in terms of relationship dynamics.
First of all, being “ginger” – I prefer to call it orange – has it’s own challenges in terms of self-perception. Like all people who are “different” in some form of minority way, it usually results in childhood experiences that in part inform who you become, particularly in respect of how you feel about yourself. I have spent most of my life feeling that I am unattractive because that’s what I heard as a child from other kids – and it doesn’t matter if people now tell me otherwise (although it’s a delightful surprise if they do), I still can’t look in a mirror and see how I look as beautiful in the visual sense of that word. But it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think I am beautiful at all, I think I am, I just have a different definition of what that means. That’s not just because of my experience as a child, but also because the world in which I’ve lived, the media, the fashion world, has defined what beauty is supposed to be; and I don’t fit.
Finally – and thankfully, it is no longer of significance to me what others see in me from that surface perspective, whether that be positive or negative – in fact I don’t want anyone to make any judgement about me based on how I look, how old I am, my body shape or any other frivolous aspect of the bundle that is me. Because the other aspects of who I am are way more important. I also now prefer and embrace being different. Not fitting is a good thing. Because if you fit, all the other interesting things about you rarely get the attention they deserve. The surface is just the beginning, it’s way more interesting to find out what’s going on underneath, isn’t it?
So similarly, when someone is beautiful to me, it is about the person they really are. Everyone sees beauty in a different way, but though aesthetics can be pleasing and I can appreciate looks as a visual stimulant, I don’t find beauty in that. I can’t define it very well, but my more recent experiences have put this connection to authenticity into perspective.
In relationship terms, it’s pretty (excuse the pun) obvious that beauty has to be way more than skin deep. If you engage with someone just for the way they look then your relationship is likely to be as deep as their skin. But what is far worse, is when someone tries to change themselves to be something they think you want them to be; if they create a person they think you want that is not true to themselves, visually or otherwise, then it will be a recipe for disaster. You fall in love with an illusion. And since the other person cannot possibly maintain a self that is not true to who they really are for very long, the person you fell in love will quite quickly disappear, to be replaced by someone you may not be able to connect with at all. And you will be left to grieve the person you have lost, even though they were never actually real.
Being true to yourself, being authentic whatever the circumstances you find yourself in, can have such a massively positive impact on your life. It seems obvious, but so many people don’t get that if you want to be happier and more fulfilled and lead a more productive and successful life, just be who you are. Not only will you enjoy more of what you do and feel less anxious about pleasing others, but you are far more likely to connect with people who you really identify with – and given what I had with Maria, you can trust me when I say that your close relationships will be more enjoyable, successful and lasting as a result.
Maria and I connected at the deepest level – heart and soul. We always wore our hearts openly with each other. I do that now more than ever, but in a much wider way. I am ok about being vulnerable because I now recognise it as a strength not a weakness – and I am probably more consistently “me” than I have been since I was tiny – though I am still a work in progress on that score. I guess we all are and always will be.
Maybe for some of you, it’s time to take a look at yourself and find out if rediscovering (or even discovering for the first time) some aspects of yourself that you have hidden or suppressed or masked by the need to conform could help you lead a happier and more fulfilled life. Maybe it’s time to recognise that it’s good to be different, because it’s the differences that make us more interesting. Maybe it’s time to accept the opportunity to DFYnorm because actually there is no norm. That being uniquely you is what makes you truly beautiful. Maybe it’s time to wear your heart and just be who you really are.