Beauty Through Motion

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.

Me on C&O

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.

Felkerino and me, bike tour Idaho

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.

17 thoughts on “Beauty Through Motion

  1. So good to have come to an acceptance of how good you must be, rather than possibly trying to live up to your perception of what the world expects. I think it’s probably easier for most men. I don’t look in mirrors much and am lucky to be at peace with my visage. I feel the bombardment by false air-brushed images doesn’t do folk much good.

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  2. I read your post last night before I went to bed and started to comment. Then, I decided I wanted to think about it a bit before posting any sort of thoughts. It wasn’t that I had anything negative to say, but rather that I sometimes feel the urge to blurt something out and then rethink it later, believing I should’ve kept my mouth (or in this case, fingers) shut (and I may still think that at some point, but here I go anyway).

    I guess your post was a bit interesting to me (though it shouldn’t be shocking, because as you pointed out, many women have some form of a body or beauty issue they deal with). I would never guess you to be an individual who thinks anything negative about herself. I’ve noticed over the last few months an increase in your self-portraits on Flickr and I tend to look through most of them at some point. I don’t think I’ve seen one photo that I thought anything negative about you or your body or anything about you. It’s easy to get caught up in our own perception or ideas, but I know I’ve thought more than once, “Man, if only I had those legs!” or “What a great smile MG has!” My point: You always look happy, fit, and as though you’re enjoying life.

    As someone who has spent a lifetime hating her body, I have tried so hard to learn that we all have different genetics and different strengths and weaknesses, but I do believe there is beauty in all of our differences. We don’t all have “runners bodies” just as we can’t all have bodies that build muscle like crazy. I’ve always told people that I won’t be the first to cross the finish line, but I will get there. I’m not at all saying that these are your issues, but simply that I think there are many who can identify with your thoughts as they relate to themselves.

    I have complexes about my face because my grandmother used to constantly tell me that I am a “homely girl.” Not exactly what any pre-pubescent or teenager wants to hear. I hear her words repeated in my head even to this day – and it’s difficult to escape. How could I not think that I’m unattractive if my own family thinks of me in this way?

    I so rarely wear makeup anymore. I reached a point that I started wondering what I was hiding from. I have nothing against wearing it and I do on occasion if it helps me feel better about the way I look, but I realized several years ago that my skin actually often looks better without it. I break out far less, my skin has its own glow, and so on.

    I’m not sure where I’m really going with all of this, but I definitely agree with your thoughts that I feel at my best and I think I look my best when I’m engaging in an activity I enjoy. It doesn’t matter if I’m dripping in sweat or covered in mud, being able to be active is a huge part of life now. It may not have always been the case, but it’s amazing how keeping our bodies moving can change (at least a bit) our perceptions of self.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, G.E. I started taking the self-portraits because I wanted to understand more about the disconnect between my body and my thoughts about my body. Why was/am I so mean to myself about how I look and why does appearance matter so much? It takes away energy I should be spending on other, more important issues!

      I know that much of this stems from social pressures, my own socializing and experiences growing up, as well as the way that companies market to our insecurities in order that we buy stuff from these companies to address insecurities we didn’t even know we had. But if I know all that, then why can’t I find a way to separate myself from it or move beyond it?

      I’m still figuring out the why’s of why I’m so unnecessarily harsh about my appearance, but at least taking the pictures over the last months has helped me see that my mind’s eye is one to question. And as you said, being active has a powerful effect on self-perception.

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      1. I’m very glad to read that the photos have helped you. As was stated below, you are nothing but beautiful… no reason to think anything otherwise. 🙂

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    1. Your comment reminded me of Roald Dahl’s book, The Twits, where he writes “… if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

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  3. This is an interesting post, and a little surprising. I never thought of you as anything but beautiful. Women who are active, take pleasure in adventure, and committed to cycling the way you are, are extremely attractive. I’m pleased you are happy with the way you look but to some of us, it matters less than you think.

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  4. Thank you MG for all the insightful and enjoyable comments. I really appreciate all your time and effort it takes to share your thoughts with the world of riders out there. I am not sure exactly why we women have such a tendency to be so self critical sometimes. I know I have done it to myself as well and find it is not the least connected to reality for the most part. It has taken me(still does) some effort not to waste my energy on such things. Instead I have the found the bike to be excellent therapy for such nonsense “talk”. I really enjoyed the posts and photos of your Idaho tour! Thanks again for sharing.

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  5. Nothing is more perfect than a woman on a bicycle. Even if she is a little frumpy, seeing a smiling face on a woman who is pedaling makes me happy as a little boy. I rarely see any one in the city of Chicago who isn’t smiling when they are riding. The exception to that is when we get cut off in traffic by imbeciles. I struggle with self acceptance as well, but that all melts away when I start pedaling. Then I feel like I am perfectly imperfect on my beat up 30 year old Fuji. Thanks for blogging.

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  6. Almost all of my favorite pictures of myself are taken in the middle of races or long training days where I’m sweaty and dirty and probably tired. I like myself best in motion and doing something challenging.

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  7. Wow what an interesting thread. First of all looking at your photos through the eyes of a happily married grandfather of three gorgeous grandsons you look smashing so please don’t think otherwise. As someone as already said the ageing process is far more difficult for females than it is for us males. Having said that having once been accused of having a ” baby face ” now aged 64 I definely avoid mirrors now I have receding grey hair and a desperate need for too expensive dental implants. I do think that as we all age that we can take comfort from knowing that at least we can still do what we want to unlike many who have debilitating illnesses.

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