“Her glasses are gone and her pupils look like they are full of milk, but strangely they do not unnerve him. He remembers a phrase of Frau Elena: Belle Laide, Beautiful Ugly”
What you just read was an extract from the book “All the light we cannot see” by Anthony Doerr. The story was amazing, the characters whole but what remained with me was this phrase.
I found myself trying to decipher the meaning of this phrase for quite a few days in a blurry state of mind halfway between being asleep and awake which, now that I come to think of, seems to be my permanent state of mind this semester.
Does this phrase refer to unconventional beauty? Or does it mean to search for beauty in the grim, the ugly and the miserable? Or does it simply state that love is what makes appearances beautiful and perfect in all forms?
Leaving rhetoric questions aside, a beautiful face, as per science seems to be the superposition of all faces ever seen. In a way, the most average of faces is most universally defined as “Beautiful”. This explains why actors, actresses, models and famous celebrities are often held as examples for people to follow and aspire to become. Since we are surrounded by media propagating the “thinner is better” mentality, we perceive thin people to be more visually acceptable while calling out a slightly dumpy kid in class for having an extra layer of fat to lecture them about healthy living and the importance of exercise.
How I hated that word. Exercise. Green vegetables. Less ice-cream. No sugar. Carrots.
Yes, I was that kid. Squinting at the blackboard from the third seat in 5th std, struggling to see my name on the list my class teacher was writing on the board. The list of students who would be extra-closely monitored during PT Period and made to run extra laps after morning assembly. I sat there and wondered when I literally outgrew being called “skinny and too weak”.
In the days that followed, I was given a merry tour of a 10year old’s worst nightmare. Extra laps were run, knees were scraped, flexibility exercises were taught and we returned home battered, with eyes like soggy cornflakes. Twelve slightly overweight, “too healthy” 10 to 15year olds were made to jog alongside each other, thus uniting them against a common enemy they called “Fat”. Little did any of us know, that it wasn’t the adipose around our bellies but the idea that only thin is pretty was the real enemy we all should’ve fought against. Still, I ran. And proceeded to double my junk food intake thinking I certainly deserved that second ice-cream with extra chocolate after a hectic day at school. Back then, my parents were posted in different places and I lived with my dad who had to travel to and put in over 8 hours of work leaving very little time for his overweight, myopic little splodge of a human being daughter and eating, was my way of coping.
I managed to pull through however after few more long years of enduring being called fat and now, find myself rolling my eyes when someone I love calls me beautiful.
So when I see you, worrying about the extra calories that you just can’t seem to burn, the belly that stands out when you wear a nice dress making you look like a pregnant sea-horse, I just want you to know that no matter what you look like, you are beautiful. I like sea-horses.
Don’t believe me? Do your insecurities still hold you back and have you let standards set by others let you down? Fine. You know what? Maybe you are not beautiful. If it means to fit in and conform, then maybe yes, you are not pretty. You are the stuff of legend here to stand out, tall and proud. Hold your scars to the light, with your adipose raised to the sky as you yell to the world that you don’t care and it will never, not even for one second own you or your body. For no one should be in control of your brain, your amazing brain rising from years of natural selection hard at work just to create you. The pinnacle of evolution on earth. And there you go forgetting to eat.
Understand, that you are literally created of star stuff. The molecules that now make you up once made up dinosaurs. The very molecules that were formed when the first things ever to be came into existence.
There are a billion neurons in your brain, a gazillion cells in your body working day and night, figuring out complicated biochemistry all by themselves just to keep you going. And there you are, looking in a mirror, pouting, applying layers and layers of paste on your flaws, sucking in your breath to flatten your tummy to fit inside that shirt, oblivious to the wonderful chemistry going on inside of you.
So, I may never be able to attain a perfect winged eyeliner, heck, I don’t even know the difference between eyeliner and kajaal but I think I have figured out at-least one aspect of what this whole concept of beauty is. Somewhere, it means to find yourself in a sea of humans surrounding you. Perhaps it means to one day, truly love yourself and smile the next time your boyfriend/girlfriend calls you beautiful.
PS- This is my Toastmaster’s CC2 speech. I wanted it to be witty and humorous but it turned out to be pretty sensitive which is totally NOT my usual style.