Submitted by Mel Ness, Volunteer
What does it mean?
My experience with defining the word beauty has been a process, a journey, a conflict, and an everyday battle that I still fight to win.
I never really thought too deeply about my body until I went to college. And then, all of a sudden, I was surrounded by girls.
My dorm was an all-girl dorm. I ate every meal with girls. I went to the bathroom and showered in the same bathroom as other girls.
I put on my makeup and did my hair with girls. And as all girls do when they gather in groups, we swapped clothes and tried on outfits together. I saw girls whose bodies were perfect. Or at least what I thought was perfect.
Perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect skin.
I was surrounded by perfection.
For those of you who have gone to college, summer camp, or the mall, I’m sure you can relate.
But these girls were not just any girls. My college was in an extremely Dutch town – an extremely Dutch town that attracted other Dutch folks from other Dutch towns. Very tall and very skinny Dutch folks – something that was kind of hard for a girl who is 5’2 not to notice.
Without even realizing it, my mindset began to change. I don’t think I truly realized it until a couple of years ago. I didn’t even realize it in the beginning, but sub-consciously, beauty became something that had nothing to do with being fit and healthy.
It had nothing to do with being focused on your job, your career, or your family.
It had nothing to do with being an honorable, smart, or well-rounded woman.
It had nothing to do with being humble, caring, and giving to those around you.
It had nothing to do with being of sound mind.
It has nothing to do with growing, being challenged, and allowing your mind to form strong opinions about the world and life.
This word beauty somehow shifted in my mind and became centered on this idea of being skinny.
Thin. Slender. Small. “Toned.” No fat. Zero imperfections. Perfect. At-least-as-skinny-as-the-next-girl. Without flaw. You fill in the blank.
By the winter of my freshman year, I had dropped significant weight, I was eating only certain foods, and was exercising to excess.
I didn’t think it was an issue. It’s funny how you always realize the reality of situations in hindsight. I went home over Christmas Break and listened to comments from people who love me.
“You’re looking very thin…”
“Are you eating enough?”
“Have you lost weight?”
In my mind, these were all affirmations. I didn’t hear the concern in their tone or the wary look in their eyes. I only heard their words.
My roommate told me later that she noticed how much I would sleep during the day. I would get back to my room after class and sleep until I’d workout. I never had energy to do anything, I just wanted to sleep. I was depleting my body in order to keep up with all of the other girls and not filling it back up with what it needed.
I’m not sure how it happened or why I didn’t end up slipping further in to the mindset I was in. I’m simply grateful that it didn’t end up going farther than it did.
My roommate and I decided to start working out together because we thought it would be good accountability and something to do together.
My roommate was a talented athlete in high school and was big into lifting weights and running, so we started doing those things together. We not only got to spend more time together, but we were also able to push each other to be stronger, faster, and more disciplined. Naturally, my appetite went through the roof and I had to start eating a more balanced diet in order to keep up with the way I was working out. More importantly than the improvement of my eating habits was the way my mindset began to change the more I spent time with my roommate.
I began to notice that my roommate was in great shape. She was confident – not because she was skinny, but because she was strong.
And I wanted that, too. She didn’t focus on the things that she hated about her body, and I saw that she looked up to other women for who they were and what they did – not how they looked or how thin they were.
Slowly, I began to change from being this skinny girl with no strength, to strong and more confident about myself and my body.
Beauty gradually transformed into this word that portrayed strength – physically, spiritually, and mentally – not skinniness.
I started to realize that beauty isn’t really defined by having a perfect body.
It’s not defined by having it together all the time or never making a mistake.
It’s not defined by never gaining weight.
It’s not defined by competing to be skinnier than the rest of your friends.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines beauty as: “The quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit: loveliness.”
I find it interesting that it talks about “the qualities or aggregate of qualities IN a person or thing,” not “the OUTWARD quality or aggregate of qualities of a person or thing …”
The beautiful thing about beauty is that it is defined by so many things – there isn’t one definition of beauty that tells you you’ve failed if you can’t be described in that one particular way.
I’m not saying that I’m completely past this trap of being perfect. I still struggle with negative thoughts about my body.
I have to decide on a daily basis not to focus on the one part of my body that I dislike, or how “fat I feel today.” But, I’ve slowly learned that beauty has nothing to do with the external, but rather the internal.
Beauty is defined by the way you use your body to work hard and achieve your goals.
Beauty is defined by the way you use your body and soul to serve, give and love on others.
Beauty is defined by the strength of your mind and the growing of yourself, by way of struggles and joys.
Beauty is defined by the person you are, your character.
Beauty is defined by the way in which you decide to treat others.
Beauty is defined by the way you use your life to send a message to the world.
The definition of beauty is you.