Beauty of a Woman Blogfest

I Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Pictures

This is the new picture I'll be using online.

This is the new picture I’ll be using online.

By Marcy Kennedy (@marcykennedy)

Turns out I have a love-hate relationship with pictures.

I love them because they grab important moments and help keep memories alive. I find great joy in looking back at pictures from times past. I hate them because, in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed I look older in them than I once did.

I know, right? That shouldn’t have come as a surprise. People grow old. But I’m a person who has always struggled to be comfortable with her appearance, and a photo shoot for my new website/online photos just over a week ago drudged up a lot of old insecurities I’d thought I’d put to rest. When I’m held still in an image, all the imperfections that I trick myself into thinking people don’t notice in real life can’t be hidden anymore.

I needed to replace my current photo because it was nearly eight years old. I didn’t want to replace that photo because the truth is the thirty-three-year-old me doesn’t look as good as the twenty-five-year-old me did. And as time goes on, that will get worse, not better. I won’t ever be able to go back to that girl’s face or her body.

I found myself wishing I could have a picture like Dorian Gray’s that would grow old for me. And as I thought that, I remembered a post I’d written a few years ago for August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman blogfest. At the time, I wrote it because a lot of women around me were struggling with the turning-thirty hurdle. Now I’m dragging it back out because I need to remind myself of those lessons.

Dorian is the title character in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian is an extremely handsome man, so handsome an artist friend has asked to paint him.

On the day the artist will finish the painting, Dorian waits with a much older gentleman named Lord Henry. Lord Henry tells Dorian he should enjoy his youth and beauty while he has them because those are the only things that matter.

“You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully,” Lord Henry says. “When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats.” (Chapter 2, page 26)

Dorian can’t shake Lord Henry’s words, and when he sees his picture, he’s filled with despair because the beauty in the picture will last, but his own won’t.

“When one loses one’s good looks,” Dorian says, “whatever they may be, one loses everything.”

He claims he would trade his soul in order to have the picture grow old in his place.

Lord Henry’s lie—and it is a lie—is the same one society feeds us.

It sells us Botox, liposuction, anti-aging creams, and Spanx. It tells us wrinkles and grey hairs are things to cover up. It glorifies youth and irresponsibility and marginalizes the elderly, with all their wisdom. It believes a woman should never admit to her age.

And if we buy into the lie, it puts us at peril of the same fate as Dorian.

Because of the trade he made, Dorian stays young and beautiful, while his picture ages and grows grotesque with every year that passes and every evil Dorian commits. His outside stays beautiful at the expense of his inner growth and beauty.

Eventually, overcome with guilt for the murders, suicides, and other sins he’s been part of, Dorian stabs his picture, thinking that will free him. Instead, the picture returns to youthful beauty and Dorian, in death, becomes a withered, disgusting corpse.

Like Dorian, when we buy into the lie, we start to focus more of our time and energy and money on trying to match the unrealistic standard of beauty our society holds up for us to worship. We focus less on trying to cultivate the beauty we have inside.

And in the end, we’ll never win the battle against age. We’ll all die, and most of us will die old and wrinkly, saggy and age-spotted.

Instead of dreading it, fearing it, we should rejoice in it. The most beautiful woman is one who’s lived a full life.

I’m going to wear each new crinkle in the corners of my eyes as a badge of honor speaking to the hours I’ve spent laughing with friends.

I’m going to remember that my no-longer-perfectly-flat belly is because I’ve chosen to enjoy pizza nights with my husband, eat birthday cake and ice cream with my each of my elderly grandparents, and bake cookies for my parents.  

I’m going to treasure the dark circles under my eyes (the part of my age I hate the most) because it speaks to how deeply I love, to the nights spent lying awake trying to think of ways to help hurting friends or crying over deceased loved ones and pets. Deep love leaves deep marks.

So as much as I’d still like to have a picture like Dorian Gray’s, I’d never want to be like Dorian Gray.

Because external beauty is not the most important thing, at least not to me.

Do you struggle with growing older? Do you love having your picture taken or do you hate it?

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What Would You Trade to Look Young Forever?

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2013By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In the movie 13 Going on 30, all the women were “thirty and flirty and proud,” but in real life, every woman I know has a meltdown when they approach the big 3-0. One of my cousins even launched a blog where she cataloged her attempt to do all the crazy things she felt she needed to do before 30. Thirty was old.

I’d never dwelled on my age before because I didn’t feel old, but lately so many people close to me have fretted over being a 30-something, I couldn’t help myself. As I stared at my face in the mirror after each of those conversations, I knew.

In a way, they were right.

The truth is the thirty-one-year-old me doesn’t look as good as the twenty-one-year-old me did. And as time goes on, that will get worse, not better. I won’t ever be able to go back to that girl’s face or her body.

I found myself wishing I could have a picture like Dorian Gray’s that would grow old for me.

Dorian is the title character in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian is an extremely handsome man, so handsome an artist friend has asked to paint him.

On the day the artist will finish the painting, Dorian waits with a much older gentleman named Lord Henry. Lord Henry tells Dorian he should enjoy his youth and beauty while he has them because those are the only things that matter.

“You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully,” Lord Henry says. “When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats.” (Chapter 2, page 26)

Dorian can’t shake Lord Henry’s words, and when he sees his picture, he’s filled with despair because the beauty in the picture will last, but his own won’t.

“When one loses one’s good looks,” Dorian says, “whatever they may be, one loses everything.”

He claims he would trade his soul in order to have the picture grow old in his place.

Lord Henry’s lie—and it is a lie—is the same one society feeds us.

It sells us Botox, liposuction, anti-aging creams, and Spanx. It tells us wrinkles and grey hairs are things to cover up. It glorifies youth and irresponsibility and marginalizes the elderly, with all their wisdom. It believes a woman should never admit to her age.

And if we buy into the lie, it puts us at peril of the same fate as Dorian.

Because of the trade he made, Dorian stays young and beautiful, while his picture ages and grows grotesque with every year that passes and every evil Dorian commits. His outside stays beautiful at the expense of his inner growth and beauty.

Eventually, overcome with guilt for the murders, suicides, and other sins he’s been part of, Dorian stabs his picture, thinking that will free him. Instead, the picture returns to youthful beauty and Dorian, in death, becomes a withered, disgusting corpse.

Like Dorian, when we buy into the lie, we start to focus more of our time and energy and money on trying to match the unrealistic standard of beauty our society holds up for us to worship. We focus less on trying to cultivate the beauty we have inside.

And in the end, we’ll never win the battle against age. We’ll all die, and most of us will die old and wrinkly, saggy and age-spotted.

Instead of dreading it, fearing it, we should rejoice in it. The most beautiful woman is one who’s lived a full life.

I’m going to wear each new crinkle in the corners of my eyes as a badge of honor speaking to the hours I’ve spent laughing with friends.

I’m going to remember that my no-longer-perfectly-flat belly is because I’ve chosen to enjoy pizza nights with my husband, eat birthday cake and ice cream with my each of my elderly grandparents, and bake cookies for my parents.  

I’m going to treasure the dark circles under my eyes (the part of my age I hate the most) because it speaks to how deeply I love, to the nights spent lying awake trying to think of ways to help hurting friends or crying over deceased loved ones and pets. Deep love leaves deep marks.

So as much as I’d still like to have a picture like Dorian Gray’s, I’d never want to be like Dorian Gray.

Because external beauty is not the most important thing, at least not to me.

How far do you believe is too far to go in the pursuit of external beauty?

This post was written as part of the Beauty of a Woman blogfest being hosted by the truly beautiful August McLaughlin. Visit her blog tomorrow (Friday, February 22nd) to read a bunch of inspiring stories. My post for last year’s BOAW blogfest was The Lie of Helen of Troy.

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The Lie of Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy for BOAW Blogfest by Marcy KennedyThe dental hygienist peered into my mouth at the gap where my front tooth used to be. “How did it happen?” she asked. “Did you fall?”

“I bit a piece of soft caraway-rye bread.”

“Oh.”

It started when a previous dentist botched a simple filling. I returned to him four times to have it fixed, and on the final visit, he hit my root, so I needed a root canal. During the root canal, he compromised the integrity of my tooth enough that I had to have my tooth ground down to a peg and a cap placed on. No surprise that, instead of lasting ten years, the peg snapped after three, breaking off at the gum line.

And so there I sat in the office of my new dentist, a hole in my mouth, with two important flute performances (one of which was my brother’s wedding) scheduled, and my own wedding day less than six months away, and asked, “What are my options?”

My dentist adjusted my x-rays on the 8”-by-11” illuminated screen. “You could have a bridge put in, but that would mean destroying the healthy teeth on the sides.”

Ruining two more teeth? No thanks. “What else?”

“We could try to drive a peg into what remains of the tooth pulp, but there’s not much left and we can’t guarantee how long it’ll last.”

“So I’d lose my tooth again at some undefined time in the future?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Are there any other options?”

“An implant.”

“How long does that take?”

“Usually eight months to a year.”

And my wedding was in . . .

That night, when I got onto webcams with my fiancé (now my husband), I didn’t even want to look at my image on the screen. Not only did I have no front tooth, but my eyes were puffy from crying and ringed in black from a lack of sleep.

And maybe that shouldn’t have mattered. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so devastated. It was just a tooth.

But I’d bought into the Helen of Troy lie. In Greek mythology, Helen was a demigod, the daughter of Zeus and the queen of Sparta. When Helen reached marriageable age, anywhere from 11 to 36 suitors (depending on the source you read) competed for her hand because she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Reports differ on how Helen later ended up with the Trojan prince Paris, but the Greek poet Sappo says she simply deserted her husband and nine-year-old daughter to go with him to Troy. Her husband wanted her back, and put together an army to attack Troy. Unfortunately, the ships they were to travel on couldn’t sail because there wasn’t any wind.

Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to get wind. For Helen.

Iphigenia’s mother (who was also Helen’s sister) argued with Agamemnon, telling him he was “buying what we most detest with what we hold most dear” (Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis, 1170). She called her sister a “wicked woman,” but to no avail. Iphigenia died. Troy fell. Helen abandoned Paris and later betrayed to death the man she took as a lover after him. When her husband went to kill her for her infidelity, she dropped her robe and her beauty stayed his hand.

They didn’t compete for her, fight for her, kill and die for her because she was loyal or intelligent or brave. They did it because she was beautiful. Her beauty made her the most desirable and valued woman in the Greek world.

The lie of Helen of Troy is that beauty is purely physical and that it matters more than character, more than honor, more than intelligence. The lie of Helen of Troy drove me to starve myself and work out for four hours or more a day to try to become beautiful.

The lie of Helen of Troy made me actually worry that my fiancé might stop loving me if I wasn’t pretty on the outside.

But he knew that without me ever having to tell him because he knew me. When our webcams turned on, he called me beautiful, but then told me what made me beautiful to him.

It wasn’t my eyes. It was the things we had in common. It wasn’t whether or not I had wrinkles (or a tooth). It was my brain. It wasn’t anything physical at all. What I looked like was just a bonus, he said. What made me beautiful was who I was inside and the things I did.

I’ve never felt more beautiful than when I saw myself through his eyes. And thanks to him, I’m starting to see the lie of Helen of Troy for what it is—just a lie.

When have you bought into the lie of Helen of Troy? What helped you see it for a lie?

This post was written as part of the Beauty of a Woman blogfest being hosted by the truly beautiful August McLaughlin. Visit her blog tomorrow (Friday, February 10th) to read a bunch of inspiring stories and for chances to win awesome prizes, including a Kindle Touch or a $99 Amazon gift card, body image coaching, BOAW mugs, and more.

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