Thursday, November 7, 2013

Beautiful, like a Monet

       Lately I’ve been thinking about how we, as the human race, constantly look towards other peoples’ lives in order to gauge our own. Why do we do that? In Social Psychology, we learn that it’s a common behavior- something most people do and probably always will. But why? Why are we so focused on how we are perceived and what other people think of us? Why do we care? It is so ingrained into who we are that we hardly even realize that we are doing it. It's a classic Nature vs. Nurture question: is it a learned behavior or is it simply in our DNA to believe other peoples’ opinion are above our own? This got me thinking.

I'd been pondering the idea for a while now, and hadn’t come up with anything meaningful. Remembering what I learned in Social Psych, I know that this is an issue that weaves its fingers into most cultures, if not all of them. If it’s not just our culture, is it part of who we are? I thought about all those times I didn’t do what I wanted to do because I thought of what others may think about it. All those times I could’ve been happy but wasn’t because I thought of others’ opinions before my own. And not even just friends or family or acquaintances, but strangers!  People I didn’t even know! Why should I care about what people think of me, when I don’t even know them? This idea was startling when I actually realized how far the ripple extends. 

As women, I think we do this way too often. In fact, I was talking about this at church with some friends and I realized how true it is- even worse, how aware we are, yet unable to stop, this type of thinking. Is it because women are held to such high standards in our culture? We [women] are expected to be thin, beautiful, smart (but not too smart), successful in business but also mom-of-the-year. We're expected to be head of the PTA, nurture our children and at the same time put in 40 hours+ at work a week, all while still having time to be athletic, cook meals for our family, budget the household income, do the laundry and the cleaning...and of course while simultaneously landing that huge project/client. Now, I am not a wife or a mother, or head of a company, but still, women like me who work full time and go to school full time (or even just one of those!) are held to extremely standards. And you can bet that the world will let you know as soon as you fail to meet it's requirements.  In fact, the world will constantly remind you of your failures. 

We always think other peoples’ lives are better than ours. As women, I think we commit this offense more often than men. We compare ourselves to each other in ways that only cause us emotional and psychological harm. But the problem is, we set other people on pedestals, many times over glorifying them and then never see our own strengths or beauty or worth. Why are we so quick to see only the good in others and only the bad in ourselves? 

I am surrounded by so many fantastic women. Women who I look up to and admire. Women who are great and don't even realize the difference they make in the world. And I come from a lineage of wonderful women. Women who inspire me to be like them one day- who I desire to be the kind of mothers and grandmothers that they are. I have sisters who are so smart, loyal and supportive, and friends whose compassion and integrity make me want to be a better person. These women are amazing. To think that they don't see themselves the way I do is crushing.

We've all had this conversation with our girlfriends' before. It's so hard to sit in front of a dear friend, who you think is an all-around amazing and beautiful person, and hear them talk badly about themselves. In those moments, it actually pains us (maybe even enrages us) that they'd say such horrible things about someone we care so much about. And we do our best to convince them and show them they're wrong, but that's not enough. Unfortunately, the change in how a person thinks about themselves can only come from them. I feel like this happens all the time. And all I want to do is shake them until they see what I see, until they see the beautiful, strong, intelligent person that they are. Upon reflection of these instances, I realized how hypocritical that is- to do my darnedest to show them how wonderful they are and then to turn around and think badly about myself? If I reversed the roles and thought of myself as I do one of my friends, would I let myself say and think such horrible things or would I try to change it? I know I'd definitely not allow it! So why don't we treat ourselves with the same respect that we treat our best friends?

I have always loved art. I have a small collection of art books that I’ve accumulated since I was about twelve years old. One of the books, The Works of Monet, was given to me by my best friend for my birthday when I was an early teen. The other day I was cleaning out part of my closet (that I’ve stored things in for what feels like hundreds of years) and I stumbled upon this book. I sat down on my bed, opened the perfectly preserved pages, and started to look through his life’s work. I have always loved Monet; I tend to gravitate toward art that depicts scenes in nature. I have seen his work hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but for some reason, this time I was just in the right frame of mind to be inspired a certain way. While looking at his artwork, I found a particular piece that really moved me and brought the book closer to my eyes to admire the colors and brush strokes. It was beautiful from far away, but as I looked at it up close, the image had been blurred into something almost unrecognizable, and even more beautiful. The thing about a Monet painting is that it’s sort of messy looking up close- the colors are muddled together and sometimes there are not distinct lines or shapes. Up close, it might look chaotic or ridiculous or even hard to understand. Up close you might not even be able to tell what it is, but from a distance, it’s a beautiful garden, a sunset, a vase of flowers or perhaps even a woman with a parasol. But that’s what makes them beautiful. That’s what makes them a Monet. I think that’s the way we see other people; from a distance their life or who they are look perfect. And we immediately compare ourselves to that. We never take the time to look closely enough to see that they have flaws or imperfections or suffer disappointments, just like we do.  And we’re all beautiful too, even up close, when you can see the chaos or our muddled colors or the lack of shape and lines. Those imperfections are what make us beautiful. And we are, just like a Monet. 

It’s about time we started to think about ourselves that way.

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