"Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt” (Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so). – " Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Philosopher and Poet, "On Friendship", 44 BCE
Esse quam videri: To be rather than to seem.
I had yet another of those short (they can never be long enough) but sweet Facebook message exchanges with a friend of long standing last night. The discussion rambled, but eventually the phrase "beauty sleep" came up.
A quick sketch of, let's call her Elizabeth: she's highly successful by several measures, driven, and insanely busy. Sleep to her is a waste of time, and time is (of course) for accomplishing things.
My gentle rejoinder that self-care is an accomplishment, often a vital one worth spending considerable time on, was received with warm distraction. Absolutely teeming with inner qualities--and also being one of three woman in my circle of friends who could grace the cover of any fashion magazine you'd care to name, today, right this instant--it's that latter that seems to mean the most to her. In other words, as thoroughly atypical as Elizabeth is...she's a typical woman.
She said something to me I've heard you don't want to know how many times before. "I don't see myself as you see me". To hear it coming from her of all people...well, it put me in mind of one of my closest male friends, we'll call him George.
George, too, is astonishingly successful, by material measures easily the richest of my friends, and one of the reasons we're still close despite the vast class gap is because he never let his success (to be clear, borne of hard work that often only LOOKED like shit luck) go to his head. He's never once looked down on me, especially when I got into the nasty habit of looking down on myself, and his friendship is highly, highly valued.
George's life has always looked, from the outside, to be charmed. Looks can, of course, be deceiving: he's fine now, but he once referred to himself as Richard Cory, from a poem we both took in school. It alarmed me to no end: Cory looked for all the world like a glittering success, and he went home one night and put a bullet through his head.
Elizabeth is not a Ricarda Cory, to be clear. She's as full of life and verve as anyone I know, and fuller than most. But, like Cory, she has a vision of herself that is at odds with the way most anyone would see her.
It's not that Elizabeth thinks she's ugly. What an enormous relief it was to glean that from her words, because trying to convince someone that what they see as black is really white...that's the work of a lifetime. I'm already engaged in that work on two fronts, and have neither the time nor the emotional energy for a third.
No, Elizabeth at least, and unlike the vast majority of women I have known, recognizes she is beautiful...but like virtually every woman I have known, she pins that beauty on physical appearance. Which means, in her mind, it is fragile.
Beauty is not fragile.
Beauty, like love, ENDURES.
Elizabeth doesn't think so. She's fighting a war against Time, seeking to maintain what she thinks of as her beauty. It's a war we all lose in the end, unless the worms (or flames) raise a tribute to the beautiful corpse before they devour us.
Elizabeth happens to fit one of the the (male, needless to say) definitions of female beauty like a glove. Her closest friends, Marie and Louise, do not...and yet I find all three of them beautiful beyond measure. Elizabeth's outward layer--likewise that of Marie, or Louise, or any of us) is the least remarkable thing about her, at least in my eyes. What's more remarkable about her is that she doesn't feel the all-consuming feminine need to don a mask.
The concept of beauty as the world defines it is ephemeral. It is also, often, a seeming thing: hence "don't judge a book by its cover", vulgarized by men to "don't stick your dick in crazy" (the "crazy" woman is, of course, conventionally attractive on the surface). To maintain appearances, a woman in our world is all but required to resort to ENDLESS, EXPENSIVE cosmetic flimflammery. Which in my eyes is seeming rather than being.
There is, of course, an argument to be made that self-confidence, if not self-esteem itself, is the result of donning that mask. Many women feel better about themselves if they are painted up: one young lady I know--yet another whom anyone with eyes would call beautiful--refuses to be seen unless she's "made up".
I do know other women--I'm very close to three of them, one of them is in fact "Marie"--who place a greater value on authenticity and who feel comfortable in their own skin. What a tremendously liberating feeling that is. It's emotionally liberating because there's NOTHING more attractive than a woman whose beauty is allowed to penetrate the skin from within; it's financially liberating because the average American woman spends $300,000 JUST ON HER FACE over her lifetime. $300,000. That will still buy you a house here. Or a lifetime's supply of serviceable cars, or God alone knows how many experiences.
Just think if you could summon the self-confidence to BE, rather than SEEM. How would you go about that?
By practicing the other epigram above daily, if not hourly. BELIEVING IS SEEING.
That too is not how the world conditions us to think. We live in a distrustful world that needs to see to believe. That leaves us vulnerable to visual deceptions of all kinds--again, judging the book by its cover. I'm telling you to look inside the cover to what REALLY matters. Is the person loving? Does he treat you with respect? Is she intelligent, compassionate and caring? Do they make you laugh? Are they, above all, kind? Because THAT makes a person beautiful. No matter what they look like. BELIEVE those things--if they are true--and you will SEE the beauty. Inside and out. And that beauty is eternal.
It's easier to do this with others. Many of us, myself included, are seemingly much better equipped to see the beauty in others than we are to see it in us. However, if you have the empathy to see beauty beneath the skin of others, you can turn it around. Start by acknowledging the qualities others acknowledge in you. Actually believe the good things they tell you. Not to do so is questioning the judgment of the friends and loves who care about you...you don't like it when your judgment is questioned, do you?
So actually believe these things. Believe the beauty others see in you and you will see it, too. Encourage those others to believe what you see in them. And simply be beautiful...don't merely seem it.