We all know that beauty can be on the surface and shallow. So, we say, let this New Year be a celebration of beauty that’s less obvious and more the kind that lurks beneath the surface. During this holiday season, it feels right to remind ourselves of the loveliness within all of us. In fact, as our mothers told us years ago, true beauty shines from within.
We are not hothouse flowers. No one is perfect looking, and most of us are beautifully imperfect. We are born with big noses, large foreheads, awkwardly coltish legs or short squat ones, squished mouths, small beady close-set eyes or ones that pop aka “Betty Davis,” and ears that protrude outward like those of the next Crown—Prince Charles.
And as we age, our beauty tends to change or even diminish to a degree. All the cosmetics, trappings of jewelry, clothing, makeup, procedures and surgery provide superficial beauty enhancers. And that’s important to many who partake of them. We’re not here to criticize anybody’s choices.
But real beauty, we believe, radiates from within. An example is Michele Obama who is not classically beautiful. However, by exuding warmth, humor, intelligence and compassion, and showing that a person can be complex, multifaceted, cool, confident, smart and a little edgy, she comes across to us as a beautiful human being and a role model for many. She reminds us of the adage: Beauty is as beauty does. She did wonderful things for our country and the world when she was First Lady and continues to do so.
In this context, let’s resolve to work more on our insides. What we do or say is so important. Strive for self-improvement at every opportunity. Let’s not just take ourselves to the makeup counter, plastic surgeon or gym, but to another place, our psyches, cleansing them, restoring them and changing how we think about places and people. Let’s try to avoid being bothered with pointless worries, certain obligations or the frivolous opinions and criticisms of others—stuff we cannot control. Instead, let’s indulge in greater spontaneity, persistence and heart to change what’s within each of us that may need some tweaking.
We can start by trying to change one thing about ourselves rather than many. Maybe, we try to become more decent, capable, well-liked people, or go-getters who use our passion for something as action to make the world a better place or even our block or neighborhood or building. Start small and then go big!
And let us stress that we are not suggesting we let ourselves go on the outside and become the dowdiest person we know. Rather, we are saying that it’s important to work on both our external and internal selves. Because of the media, we know how to enhance our outside beauty. Here are some tips on ways to boost our inner beauty as well:
- Nix the jealously. Try not to compare yourself to others. We each have our strengths and it’s time to play them up. Perhaps, you’re a math whiz or you are talented at doing hair, you’re handy, artistic, poetic, a great cook or amateur musician. Use your gifts or strengths for your own edification or to enrich the lives of others. Take pride in knowing that what you do matters, and it’s the only thing you have control over. Be happy for your peers’ successes for they do not take away from you with their accomplishments-- unless you let that happen. Rejoice in their successes, which is the real test of showing joy for others.
- Write down what you like about yourself and each day add one more thing to the list. This is also called gratitude. Learn to love yourself and accept yourself for what and who you are and not for what you think—or someone else thinks--you should be. We’re not all brilliant or talented musicians or Olympic swimmers. Perhaps, you’re a kind person, a great friend or compassionate listener. Each of us is special in some way, and we can consciously focus on that and rejoice in that inner skill or talent and share it.
- Be authentic; be yourself. If you put on a mask each day to go out in public and play a role, your life will be empty. Being authentic doesn’t give you license to be brutally honest and say whatever is on your mind. Learn how to say things kindly by thinking about them first. Keep that filter a bit intact and walk in another person’s shoes first before speaking or advising. There are books which help with this or even therapy might. Most important, be true to yourself. Do work that you really enjoy—or at least most of the time. No job is perfect. Fall in love with a person and find friends who make you feel good about yourself. You don’t need ones who take you to task for things you do wrong unless you’ve been unkind. And give yourself permission to shed friends or take a break from those who put us down; we don’t have to keep everyone in our close circle.
- Be positive. People like to be around those with positive energy—so surround yourself with positive people and share your positive energy, too. Negative people pull you down to their level if you’re around them too much. Don’t let them engage you and don’t get defensive if they do. Some negative people can be needy and suck your time and all the air out of the room. It’s not your job to rescue them, either. Listen and set boundaries. And send your positive energy into the universe.
- Be kind and give back. It’s important to get outside yourself and do something for others. Give of your time to help kids or seniors, donate to feed the hungry, serve meals on wheels or holiday food to the homeless. There are countless opportunities to do acts of kindness especially during the holiday season. (See our blog, “Small Kindnesses: It’s Free, Takes Little Time & There’s a Payoff” Nov. 15, 2019). And we believe doing is far more important than just writing a check; that’s easy or relatively easy.
- Learn to laugh with others and at yourself. Nothing is more cleansing than a deep belly laugh. Laughing releases feel-good brain chemicals, which also relieves pain. And try to see the humor in situations rather than the doom and gloom. Margaret’s son told her when she had a plumbing problem recently, that it wasn’t the end of the world. By looking at the situation with humor, we’re talking gallows humor, her son helped diffuse Margaret’s upset. Don’t let these kinds of problems control you and stress you out. There are solutions to most problems. Good ways to get your funny bones going is to watch a funny movie or TV show.
- Live in the now. Focus on the present and what you can control today. Worrying about what may happen or what has already occurred are wasted emotions. It may keep you up at night which can be detrimental to your health. Worries will also eventually cause gray hair, wrinkles and mounds of sadness to engulf you. You can’t change the past and who knows what the future portends. We never dreamed we’d lose our spouses but both of us crafted new lives for ourselves doing it day by day, step by step (read our last book, Suddenly Single after 50, Rowman & Littlefield).
- Make time for your hobbies and passions. This is for you and you only. Barbara began painting again, something she had done years ago but dropped when she became a journalist and mother. She took it up again a few years ago and is finding it adds great joy when she attends her weekly class. You can check out her watercolors on her new website, barbaraballingerpaintings.com.
- Work on your manners. Nothing makes you seem more beautiful than knowing the right thing to do—or say--at the right time. It also helps to make those around you feel valued. Barbara recently was getting together with a friend; another friend of hers who knew the other person joined them, and afterward the second friend gently informed her that that the two others had left her out of the conversation by talking about topics she couldn’t engage in. Barbara apologized profusely and knows she will work harder to be more inclusive by not repeating that show of bad manners.
- Be confident and carry yourself that way. Work on your posture. Sit up straight. Don’t slouch. If someone gives you a compliment, accept it with a simple, “thank you.” If a task seems difficult or even insurmountable, try, try again. It is unattractive to complain constantly, “I can’t do this.” Be resourceful. Know what you don’t know and reach out for the right help. Ask with a smile, and maybe here laugh at yourself.
When we try to create the perfect anything to achieve outward beauty, we often end up stripping away the shaggier bits of ourselves that may contain the spontaneous, real, personal, one of a kind and thus, the truly beautiful us within. Consider these thoughts as a wish from us to you for a bright, happier New Year. And here’s the big payoff. When we are beautiful inside, we glow outside, sound happier and are more delightful to be around!