I can’t pinpoint when in my childhood it was that I thought that beautiful had only one definition. Maybe it was after I became awestruck by Disney princesses’ alabaster skin, golden hair and ruby lips. Perhaps it was this formidable Smirnoff ad that was all limbs and skin. Or those 90s print ads featuring the newly-crowned, emerald-eyed beauty queen, Aishwarya Rai. They all had a cumulative effect on shaping what I thought beauty was. I also take blame because I have perfectionist tendencies and, in my mind, if you didn’t look like Miss World, you weren’t beautiful. How black and white!
Of course now I realise this is stupid and unachievable but this epiphany didn’t happen until very, very recently. I mean, I’ve carried this for more than 20 years. That’s a bloody long time that I spent being unhappy with myself. Not tall enough, too dark-skinned, too fat, too ethnic, too high pitched, too hairy. So I applied tubes of Fair & Lovely, plucked my eyebrows and seriously considered limb lengthening surgery among myriad other things just to be what I thought was beautiful. None of it worked and you are not surprised.
Yesterday, I saw a beautiful woman. She was probably in her forties, tall, smooth broad bones, dressed unconventionally in printed flared pants, a cold-shoulder top and big hair. Not a hint of contour, giant eyelashes or acrylic nails. Yes, she was wearing some makeup and looked like she took pride in her appearance. But nothing about her look was expected. And it made me take notice, stare even. She was absolutely fabulous in all her quirky glory. What struck me about her the most was her confidence. It wasn’t a loud self-assuredness. It was a quiet comfort with herself. She didn’t need to be conventional. Just herself.
And the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that the most beautiful and attractive people I can think of are the ones who do their own thing. They don’t imitate or emulate. They don’t follow trends, they set them. They own their looks, their bodies and their style. And most importantly they don’t need external validation. Their confidence doesn’t come from a compliment, a look from a passing stranger or the latest designer handbag.
Later in the morning, I watched a couple of women walk into the café where I was. They were young, slim, well-dressed and, by all counts, beautiful. But I could not tell you one thing that was extraordinary. They looked like a lot of other beautiful women out there. And I thought to myself then that perhaps what I had been chasing so long is not what I want after all. Being different is perhaps a wonderful thing when so many of us are starting to look the same.
There are plenty of self-love and empowerment articles and messages out there and mine is just one voice in a sea of many. But if you’re reading this, I hope you are a confident person because that is beautiful. And if you’re not there yet, ask yourself why? Are you measuring yourself against someone else’s yardstick?
I didn’t know who Mindy Kaling was until earlier today but I learned something valuable from reading an article she wrote: confidence has to be earned and you will only deserve it if you work for it. And when you’ve slogged for it, it stays with you, unshakeable.
It’s not about a comely appearance. It’s about the charisma that exudes from confidence.
You got this. Go own it!