"Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart." - Kahil Gibran
Saying I’m nervous would be an understatement. I’m getting ready to meet someone new. It’s a date. I think that means the same for most of us, we want to prepare and look our best. I’ve been in the gym every morning with my trainer for about a year now, and although I’m closer to where I want to be, I still feel like I’m not quite satisfied with what I see in my mirror. Ahh the mirror!!! Most days I ignore my reflection and just hope for the best. Today is not that day. I’m actually going to iron my clothes instead of tossing them in the dryer. Ah clothes! What in the world am I going to wear? Almost everything I own is black, will they like black? Should I throw a pop of color in? Do I wear something I really like? Should I wear something they would like? I’m not wearing anything tucked in, I’m not a tucker. Do I show a tuft of chest hair or button all the way up? —I don’t want to look easy. Black T, jeans and boots it is. I’ve always been obsessed with clothes but the older I get I just want to be comfortable and limit my choices.
Now to shower and shave. I miss having hair to fix but sometimes it takes as much effort to get a nice clean shave on this bald head and not cut myself (for real, when I do, I look like Carrie in the shower). Then I’ll add the soothing, calming, anti reddening lotion all over my head and neck. I feel nice and clean and ready to go, no wait theres so much more to do. I guess I’ll look in the mirror to make sure I didn’t overlook something (like the times I miss a strip of hair on the back of my head and everyone has to point it out, I mean thanks but what am I going to do about it now?) Let me have one day I think my grooming was a success right? Anyway, I need to add this new eye cream I got at Sephora, its good stuff, reduces the puffiness and dark circles, wait is that another freckle? Geez. Oh, and beautiful-another break out on my nose. Cant.get.no.breaks. I’m going to cancel, I should probably cancel right? I mean, thats the first thing they are going to see, talk about on the nose! Too late now, I’ll just go with it. Contact or glasses? I should probably wear my glasses so I can see the menu (old people problems) but if I do I’ll look like Moby (one time I changed my Facebook profile pic to Moby and no one but my Mom caught on). I’ll just keep my contacts in and order chicken, every place has chicken. One last thing and I’m ready to go—fragrance. Most people have a signature scent, not me, I have something for every day of the year. For real, there is so much cologne in my house its embarrassing. Im going with the Tom Ford (you know, in case they ask what I’m wearing I’ll sound all bougie). Thats it, I’m ready. I arrive right on time, walk to their front door and knock. You got this, you’ve prepared all evening. You’re not Chris Hemsworth but you’ve done your best. They open their door and you realize they can’t see you. No, they really can’t see you. They have no eye sight, they’re blind.
Ok sorry, so I didn’t have a date but I’ve imagined this scenario a couple of times. How would I have handled that? Would I be upset that I put that much effort, stress and worry about how I looked for nothing? Would I have regretted spending that time focused on my outward appearance and not actually the excitement, hope and joy of communicating and connecting with someone new? Or would I be relieved that I could really be myself and I’m not solely depending on the skin that I’m in? You would be more drawn to my voice and the words that spilled out would be easy for you to detect what’s in my heart. I’m very expressive and animated, I talk with my hands, I roll my eyes, I have a gestured reaction for everything. My face never betrays what I’m feeling inside (I hate that) which means I can’t lie very well, and my ears turn blood red when I’m angry (I’m giving away all my secrets today). But my heart holds all the important parts of me. My memories, experiences, lessons, feelings, opinions, hopes, dreams and love. I wish I knew ways of dressing it up. I wished I spent more time in my heart getting ready for a date than I did my body. I wished I would prepare it for what it could possibly go through and strengthen it. All the time spent on lotions and sprays and creams, all the color and fabric options on clothes, the minutes wasted on all of my outward, unattractive flaws that could potentially turn everyone away. I could have encouraged my heart that it was my best feature. I mean it always needs work, but I think its in pretty good shape (better than my dadbod). I think thats what we all want, for someone to see deeper than the surface, to dig deeper and see what really makes us who we are. Not just someone you could be interested in romantically, but in all of your relationships—bosses, friends, cousins, you name it, we want to be seen for who we really are. That is, unless your heart is up to no good.
Now to the man who is featured in my header photo—take another look at him, what are your thoughts? You may already be familiar with the photo as it looks like it was taken yesterday and posted on Instagram. But it was not. In 2010 I decided I was ready to go back to school and finish my education and studied Art History and Graphic Design—I was also starting my photography business around this time. I was thrilled with all of my classes, especially diving into the early history of photographs. I came across this aforementioned photograph of a man I would learn to be named Lewis Powell. I’m a visual person, as I’m sure many of you are, so this photo jumped out at me. I was like whoa, thats a beautiful man. He’s striking, he caught my attention. What was it about him? He has an effortless sense of beauty—the lazy way his hair lays, his perfect cheekbones, clean shaven face and youthful air. He’s the perfect guy you’d want to photograph, he looks natural, seemingly unaware of the obtrusive camera lens in his space. Then I began to notice his hands…are those shackles? Ok, I better read the words now. Wow, the inside definitely does not match up to his outside. I had an assignment to choose a photograph from that chapter in the book that stood out to me and express what my initial reactions were. I wrote my first thoughts about it, did some more research on his story and showed his photo to other people to get their reactions to it. I thought he was attractive, and although beauty is subjective, everyones response matched mine. He was beautiful—until you found out who he really is.
Lewis Powell’s name might not ring a bell but John Wilkes Booth probably does. Powell was a co conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln along with George Atzerodt, a plan masterminded by Booth taking out Lincoln, Atzerodt killing Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Powell killing Secretary of State William Steward. Only Booth was successful in murdering his target, George Atzerodt lost his nerve with the Vice President, and although Powell tried his best, breaking in his home, terrorizing and attacking his family, Secretary of State Steward survived Powell’s numerous and vicious stabs to his body. He inflicted tremendous suffering to the Steward family that night, he had a murderous heart and was a racist—he was definitely not beautiful. All villains are ugly right? John Wilkes Booth was a popular stage actor in his time and was considered the handsomest man in America. A real life movie playing out in time with men possessing looks good enough for Hollywood to let them play themselves. By taking out the President and his immediate successors their attempt would send the country into confusion and disaster. These three men were vehemently opposed to the abolition of slavery, they were not beautiful people.
So this photo of Powell was taken in 1865 aboard the U.S. Saugus on his way to be executed for hanging. It was taken by a Scottish Photographer named Alexander Gardner (this particular photo I included was colorized by a modern artist), the story goes that Powell initially resisted having his photograph taken but after being reprimanded resigned himself to allow his image to be captured. Whats so fascinating is the impact these photographs have had over the years. Gardner also photographed the other conspirators but only copyrighted the few that he took of Powell. Did he realize what was happening in his photograph stood out from the other early 19th century images and would appear modern forever? Photographs at that time took hours and hours because of the exposure process, subjects always looked stoic and unhappy, angry even. Try telling a Dad today that his family session would take 7 hours and he would have to sit there and like it and miss all the ballgames (lol). Part of the allure of this photo, at least for me was how casual and relaxed he appeared, but “beautiful” people always look relaxed and confident don’t they? But…..he was on his way to die. Did the photographer recognize the juxtaposition of this mans attractiveness and his evil deed?
We can spend our time only focused on the outward appearance and be completely blinded by what makes up the inside - for ourselves and each other. Outward beauty will ALWAYS be subjective. What one finds attractive another may not and it could be about a person, something in your home or out in nature. I follow an Instagram blog that only features green pieces of furniture and I love everything I see posted. All shades of green and you may hate them all. I could mention my current celebrity crush and you would say Ew! What do you see in them? To each their own. What do you find beautiful? What things stick out to you? I’ve started journaling heavily within the past year and one of the things I update is things I find appealing, I write down what I think it is that stands out to me, anything from people, to furniture, art, rooms, etc. Everyone has a personal aesthetic and I think its interesting to see where that comes from and if there is a unique, personal science to it. Blondes or brunettes? Beards? Long legs? Muscles? Dimples? Everyone has something. Are we as settled about what our heart looks like or what we are looking for in someone else’s? Do we give it the same energy and attention? It takes time to look deeper but we could save ourselves from the many consequences of merely skimming the surface. Of course spending time on our outward appearance and physical body is very important. Working out for our health AND to feel better about how we look is great. I’ve made personal body goals and have been working on them. All of the prep stuff I mentioned for my pretend date—I would still do them. I would want to look and feel my best. We’ve been given one body and we need to take care of it. Grooming is very important umkay? I will always love clothes and shoes (and jackets), and will probably always worry about how I look, BUT, I want it to come into balance with the same attention to detail to the essence of me, which is my heart. It’s not my body, thats not who I am. It’s the vessel that houses who I really am. My body and my clothes may give you clues about who I really am, but you have to search deeper.
We can get out of balance being consumed with our physical appearance that we create unsettling and unreal expectations for ourselves and the people who enter our space. If only the physical part of ourselves matter, thats the only part we will take care of. Thats all people will see, and that’s all you will ever have to offer. I’m not saying its wrong in how you’re attracted to someone, you like what you like, I’m just saying to take it all in. Romantically speaking, take a minute or two and jot down the qualities you find attractive in a mate (go ahead, I’ll wait). I did the same and without thinking guess what? Nothing on my list was physical. Im almost willing to bet yours wasn’t either. I find humor extremely attractive in someone, I want to be able to laugh with you and not take everything so seriously. I’m also attracted to empathy, compassion, loyalty & faithfulness. I want to see those things present in you otherwise its, congratulations about your face. It’s the things on the outside that are subject to so much scrutiny, judgement, stress, worry and competition. Who’s the prettiest? Who’s the strongest? The heart doesn’t usually acquire those superlatives and it doesn’t need to. The heart and his other “inside” friends like humor, honesty, kindness, faithful—they aren’t in competition with each other, if you’ve worked on them. If in the real world, if we only acted with the strong, good heart we've worked on, would we still try to outdo each other? Would we want to show those qualities off? Look, I'm the most faithful! I'm the kindest! What would those pictures look like? They need the same amount of work too, because it can also get ugly in there (thats another blog post). This post is strictly about balance. You can appear conventionally beautiful on the outside and be all ugly as you know what on the inside—or to most people you may not be what they’re looking for on the outside but your inside shines—you can also be equally as ugly on all sides. The balance? Be your best, take care of yourself, inside and out— consider it all.
What makes these photos of Lewis Powell so appealing to apparently most people who have viewed them? As it turns out in the many decades this photo has been around, it had nothing at all to do with the the subject himself, but in how each generation has perceived him. We objectified him. What’s really sad about the photo is our fractured subjectivity - it’s essentially a mugshot. I’m on Instagram many times through the day - mainly for my work, but again I’m a visual person so I just love scrolling through pictures (and I rarely ever read the captions, don’t judge). Most of my feed consists of green furniture, fashion designers, photographers, bathrooms I’ll never be able to afford, and all these random “pretty” people. Sometimes I’m like, who is this, why did I follow them? Am I just following them for their looks? Yep, thats exactly what I’ve done. There’s nothing wrong with looking, and I haven’t unfollowed anyone because of it, just making an observation. Does it help me or hurt me? Would I have “liked” the photo of Lewis Powell if I scrolled past it? It’s easy to romanticize people, places and things on social media, the trouble is it flows into your real life as well. Recognizing your personal brand of what you find attractive is not the problem. Just be balanced with it and take time to walk all the way around it, lift up its sides, open every door, do your research.
If you couldn’t see me, would you think I were beautiful? How would you measure it? Beauty has nothing to do with our looks, but in how you present yourself. Its how you treat other people, its how you make other people feel about themselves. It’s about telling other people how beautiful they are, just as they are. It’s smiling at a stranger and meaning it. It’s forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it. Its showing grace to someone who needs it. Its spilling words of comfort and hope and reassurance. There’s no pressure to put on , it feels comfortable, it feels like home.
If I couldn’t see you, would I find you beautiful?