A few weeks ago, eBay posted a photo series on their “Style Stories” blog titled “What Makes You Feel Beautiful?” Photographers Viola Gaskell and Alison Luntz approached people “strolling the streets” of New York City and Seattle and asked them one simple question: “What makes you feel beautiful?” The result is a collection of beautiful portraits with answers ranging from “Hanging out with my dog” to “My beautiful wife” to “Good sneakers” to “The specific shade of my skin.” It’s a montage that is both sweet and inspiring and definitely worth your time to check out.
As I perused the photographs and responses, it got me thinking what I would say if someone asked me that question. The first thing I thought of was “laughing.” I always think that’s when I’m at my prettiest and (forgive my earnestness) it’s probably because I’m happy on the inside, a feeling I think makes me more attractive and also can spread to others and make them happier as well. I mean, they say, “Laughter is the best medicine” for a reason and it’s not just because if you do it hard enough, it can be a good ab workout.
I started asking my friends the question though and I realized that “beautiful” is much more loaded of a word than I was really acknowledging. I’m not actually sure I ever really feel “beautiful.” It’s just so big. Super models are beautiful. Disney princesses are beautiful. Actresses and athletes are beautiful. But just regular ol’ me? It’s simply not possible.
Beautiful, in my world, has always been reserved for a select elite few. Beautiful is something you are born into, not something you can achieve by hard work and desire. I’ve always seen being called beautiful as one of the highest compliments because it’s so rarely handed out.
The concept of being “beautiful” has also always been separate from the concept of “beauty” for me. Ideally we see beauty in all sorts of people and things. But, at least in my world, that doesn’t necessarily also make that person “beautiful.” Certainly, in my world, it never makes me “beautiful.”
I do love the idea, however, that someone can feel beautiful simply because there is something in her life or about herself that makes her feel that way. I think that’s a pretty amazing way to think about the concept -- as something that pleases us and who gives a damn what anyone else thinks.
I’m not personally there yet, but thinking about it did make me realize that perhaps there are more things that are beautiful about me than I ever took the time to notice. And perhaps I should spend a little more time reflecting on what those things are. Because feeling beautiful is so much more important than having someone tell me that I am. And in times like this, when the world seems like it’s all falling apart, we could all stand to remember that whatever it is that makes us feel beautiful, we should keep it close because that’s a feeling worth holding onto.
In the spirit of the exercise, here are what some of my friends said makes them feel beautiful. Please share what makes you feel beautiful in the comments.
"I felt the most beautiful I think I have ever felt when I posted a photo of myself without any makeup the day I got a clean skin exam from my dermatologist after having skin cancer cut out between my nose and my lip three years earlier. I LOVE wearing makeup, but that day I felt so pretty to just be young and healthy (for at least another 6-months). When I posted that picture on Facebook, I got more likes and responses than anything I have ever shared. It made me feel like I might be pretty after all...or that a lot of people are happy that I don't have cancer this semester. Either way, I have never felt more beautiful than that."
"Putting on lipstick. I went and had a custom lipstick made at Bite Beauty in Soho. They made a color specifically for me. People always compliment me when I wear it so it’s a small thing that puts a spring in my step. (And a wiggle in my ass.)
"When the person I'm dating looks at me and smiles whenever I walk into a room. My one ex -- no matter what he was doing: playing video games, talking with people at a party, drinking beers with his dad... Whenever I walked into a room he was in, he would look at me and smile this big goofy smile. It made me feel beautiful and loved."
"My freckles, especially the ones on my toes."
"Well, I will be honest and say the first couple things that came to mind were: when I get new clothes,shoes, or a haircut. But that sounds shallow, yeah? Digging a little deeper, I would say, it is when I feel powerful, that I feel beautiful. When I have been working out, despite my abhorrence of exercise, and I notice a bit of muscle definition that wasn't there before, that makes me feel beautiful. Oh hell, and also my Louboutins. Whatever. I am shallow. Muscles and heels. Pow!"
"I rarely feel beautiful, very rarely. So much of my true beauty is masked by Parkinson's Disease. But I feel beautiful when I see the love in my family's eyes!"
"I feel beautiful when I sing! Even if its in the car, and badly."
"I once went on a night out in my PJs with my hair up in a messy bun and no makeup. For some reason I've never felt more relaxed and pretty on a night out. Maybe because I was just me. Wysiwyg. I didn't have to pretend I was pretty, like I sometimes feel I do with makeup and "fancy" clothes. It felt empowering."
"Yoga pants, finishing the rough draft of a poem, being in my classroom with my kids, really bad Zac Brown Band songs my higher self scolds me for liking, family, sweating, after I get my eyebrows waxed, I dare say sex, my teeth, inexplicably Jennifer Lopez movies, Ralph Lauren Blue, wearing bracelets my niece and nephew make, and perhaps most embarrassingly: when someone tells me I am."
"When I'm doing something I love or that is challenging in a fun way. I think it's because I feel most beautiful when I'm happy. And when I'm focusing on something other than myself. I catch myself in a moment with a huge smile on my face and I think to myself, 'I must look beautiful right now.' Which is weird to say, but I really do think it."
"When I wear overalls! I'm not sure if it's because my belly hangs out freely, because I'm so comfortable, or because no one ever wears them anymore and I could care less, but I love wearing them. They make me feel sexy and confident!"
"Being the best person I can with whatever I set out to accomplish. When I am successful and I look in the mirror I feel beautiful inside and out. Of course going to get my hair did makes me feel pretty as well."
"I used to be the kind of girl that needed a full face of makeup and my hair done perfectly in order to feel beautiful. However, the older I get, the more comfortable I am in my own skin... and I've learned to accept my body for the way it is for the most part. I know I can control my own happiness with my body and appearance by working out and taking care of myself in a healthy way, so I honestly feel the most beautiful when I'm super sweaty and exhausted dafter a really great workout. When I'm in that state I feel strong, powerful, and sexy."
"Beauty begins in a person's heart and what makes me feel beautiful is when somebody tells me I have the most amazing heart. I thrive off of love and being able to share my love with everyone in my life. When my love and God given heart can make others feel good about themselves, I feel beautiful in my soul and that illuminates my outer beauty more than anything. Anyone that knows me, knows I love hair, makeup and the highest heels ever and, yes, that makes me feel pretty, but beautiful...that is something that comes from within and is centered around loving yourself and everyone around you."