i’ve been stopped several times for things having to do with my appearance. once, while living in southern california, i stopped at a shop to look for an outfit in which i could defend my dissertation. i was hoping for something to make me look smart and feel confident. between my car and the door, a brilliantly handsome man stopped me and introduced himself as a talent scout. “you really need to do something about those eyebrows,” he said. “if you did them right you could be beautiful!”
as a blonde by genetics my eyebrows are light. crazily so. having never considered this as an unsightly problem, i immediately felt ridiculous. “of course my eyebrows make me hideous!” i thought and added light eyebrows to the list of things that made me unattractive. the other stories are similar: the scar on my nose left from constant sunburns attained while on swim team as a fair skinned finn in outdoor pools in central california, the large jagged scar on my shoulder left from the removal of precancerous cells, my posture...all have been commented upon in less than glorious manners. usually loudly and in public. the eyebrow incident, however, stuck unlike others.
and so, at times, i find myself overly aware of eyebrows. mine. and those of others. understandably so. of the myriad of things that the world would see as “wrong” with me, it’s one of the only things i can actually affect. i can’t make myself inherently smarter. my height isn’t alterable. it’s near impossible to adjust my sense of humor. my general “shape” is unlikely to change. my eyebrows, however, are within my control and so i walk around wondering how everyone else has such seemingly perfect ones and what i might try to alter my own.
it seems that i am not alone.
research published this week found that we compare ourselves to others when we view the photos and status updates of our friends on facebook. in fact, just over half of the study’s 600 participants reported that looking at facebook photos increased their body consciousness. while these findings aren’t exactly shocking it’s helpful to have science formally acknowledge a trend i’ve been speculating about (out loud and in public) for the past several years. it may just be scientifically sound to say that time spent observing one dimensional, self selected clips from the lives of others might contribute to our own sense of discontentment.
in the same week that this research hit the main stream press, the american society of plastic surgeons reported that chin implant procedures are up 71% in the last 12 months. surveys of physicians and patients suggest that seeing onesself from the perspective of a webcam frequently spurs the recognition of a “weak” jawline, motivating surgical means of enhancement. in reading the research i can’t help but wonder if another factor might be the simple fact that we are all flooded with images of ourselves in ways we never have been in the past. cameras are everywhere and photos are posted instantly. there is no shortage of opportunity to notice our flaws. as well as those of others.
which brings me to my point. we are so adept at noticing that which is wrong. once noticed, we seem driven to respond. with our own flaws, we work to fix, change, resolve, or distract attention away from. with others, too often, we work to expose, capitalize upon, exploit, or use them to feel better about ourselves. in so doing, what are we missing?
i wonder what life might be like if we gave up this immediate awareness of what is wrong in deference to a commitment to noticing that which is right. what might change? how might our self talk become grace filled and our interactions with others reflect that change? if i rocked my light eyebrows i could simply thank the talent scout for his input and then genuinely wish him well rather than giving him power to name me unattractive and giving my own day over to resentment, embarrassment, and the establishment of a whole new way of seeing myself as ugly/unworthy.
and so i ask you, what is right?
about your insides and your outsides?
how can you gently begin to shift your attention from that which is wrong to that which is truly good and beautiful?
how about with those you encounter and those to whom you are connected? what about them is deeply right?
it just might be, that in shifting our focus’ to the inside and away from the outside, to our souls and away from our facebook timelines, to the meaningful and real and genuine and beautiful flawedness of ourselves and others, that we get it most fully right.