Like many women, I struggle with notions of beauty and self-acceptance, especially when it comes to physical appearance. I look in the mirror and immediately see all the ways I’m lacking. If I shaved off a few pounds, and toned up this area here, and then put on a little makeup, I’d look so much better.
The rather mean messages my mind regularly communicates led me to start taking fairly regular self-portraits with my cell phone, mostly before and after work. The camera doesn’t have the same critical nature. It just shoots whatever is in front of it. I wondered what the camera would see.
The camera was generally kinder to me than I was. On days when I felt frumpy, a photo captured elegance. Other days when I was criticising my lack of physical condition, the camera showed a fairly lean and fit person.
There were also a few moments when I felt beautiful from the inside out, and I stopped to take self-portraits then, too. Two times stand out.
The first is a photo I took during a spontaneous trip down the C&O after a full day in a work training. The brevets were in full swing, and my legs felt awesome, like I could ride forever.
The C&O was fairly quiet, except for families of geese with newborn goslings and the occasional commuter. It was a hot day, and my makeup was long melted away. I wore a basic wool t-shirt and pair of shorts. Hair thrown in a ponytail. I felt sexy and beautiful.
The second is a self-portrait snapped in North Fork, during our Idaho tour. Felkerino and I had spent the day following the path of the Salmon River for 82 miles. We were on the third day of our 12-day tour, and I was luxuriating in the terrain we had traveled with our tandem under the bright Idaho sun.
I was proud of us for choosing a different path this year. Instead of a prescribed tour or event, we went to a place we had never ridden before.
I took this photo after we had showered and eaten a dinner that included a delicious piece of cobbler a la mode. Again, I felt beautiful, and like my C&O ride, there was no makeup in sight and I was wearing Sidis.
After taking these photos, particular the last two I mention and have shown here, I figured out a couple things. First, I am too mean to myself. I should try being nicer because taking such a critical stance about my appearance does not benefit or motivate me much.
It really only tears me down, and doesn’t allow me to see the good or beautiful inside. And it is there, I’m sure. I just have a lot of resistance to letting myself glimpse it.
My second takeaway from all these self-portraits is that true beauty extends beyond appearance. I would dare to say that true beauty is not appearance.
The times I have experienced beauty are when I have been in motion, physically active. I wear no makeup, no fancy clothes, and my hair is pulled back or falls totally undone. I give no thought to where I’m toned and where I’m not.
I believe I am beautiful when I’m appreciating all that my body can do, and the ways it has shown its endurance, health, and strength. That, I think, is powerful and true beauty.