Health Magazine

Beauty, Part IV

By Melissa Boles @_mboles

Emily Virtue, an English professor at Western Carolina University (where I finished my graduate degree), is the fourth person that will be sharing their perspective on beauty this week.  Emily and I met over Twitter just before she moved to North Carolina to start working at Western, and I’m so excited for you to hear her perspective.

 What does the word “beauty” mean to you?

While I hate to admit it, when I hear the word “beauty” I automatically think of physical attractiveness (and the expectations brought on by American media).  This doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with the standards put before us, but  I do at least acknowledge (begrudgingly) what those expectations are and what we’re told is “beautiful.”  Ideally, “beauty” means self-confidence and honesty (with yourself and those around you) but “beauty”, at least my in experience is not usually interpreted or accepted in this way.

What is your first memory of understanding beauty?

At a very young age I became aware of what it was to make yourself look “pretty” (which in this context is the same as “beautiful” to me).  The notion that I could play dress up and become something better than myself, to look more beautiful by altering myself in some way, was apparent.  Even at the age of five or six, my friends and I would play dress up, give one another makeovers, or conduct “photo shoots” (yes, with real film which we waited days to have developed).

What do you know about beauty now that you didn’t know in your teens/twenties? 

I don’t think I “know” anything new but I think my perspective of beauty has changed.  I’d say this is due in large part to becoming a mother.  I think I am less critical of myself and others because I know my body is capable of so much more than just “being pretty.”  (I’ve always been aware of this, but I think I appreciate what my body is capable of now and consider it more beautiful than it ever was before).

What do you wish you could change about the way beauty is portrayed?

I wish that people focused more on what is beautiful about another in an every day sort of way.  Sure, we can all gussy ourselves up for a night out or special occasion (and that’s fun, don’t get me wrong) but I think we all (especially women) should acknowledge that we are beautiful all the time.  Even if my hair hasn’t been washed in days there is beauty in it.  If there is one thing I want to impart to my daughter about beauty it is that everyone is beautiful in his or her own way and just because we don’t see it does not mean it does not exist.  We can define beauty however we wish but neverat  the expense of others.

If you could tell your younger self one thing about beauty, what would it be?

I struggled with anorexia for years as a teen, so I would tell myself that thin does not equal beauty.  I have no idea how I could convince my younger self that there is a healthy approach to eating and exercising that is so much more fulfilling than the ability to fit into size 0 jeans but I wish I could.  It comes down to self-worth, which clearly I didn’t have a sense of at that age.  I’d also tell myself to lay off the popular magazines because it’s just trash under the guise of beauty “tips” that end up doing more harm than good.

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