Have you seen those silly "Real Beauty" ads that are making the FB rounds these days? Where traditionally attractive women with skewed self-image are weeping with joy to hear that in a stranger's eyes they ACTUALLY ARE traditionally attractive. Empowering....ummm...not really.
What might be empowering is hearing the strangers' takes on the REAL real beauty of these women. The beauty that is independent of facial features and body shape. Kindness, intelligence, wit, charm---what do people notice about you that you have never noticed about yourself? And would hearing about those traits change the way you see yourself?
Two examples in my life come to mind.
Once was ages ago, at a party in college. I danced with a guy---a stranger at the time---for hours. I used to love dancing back in the day and this guy was a worthy partner. At the end of the night, he told me I had endurance. That was a not a word I'd associated with myself---it sounded "sporty"---and as I'd always been slow & uncoordinated, I stayed far far away from anything resembling athletics. Yet---I was able to dance energetically for hours at a time. I DID have endurance. From then on out, I considered myself a person with endurance. Hiking? Sure, I can do that. Train for a marathon? Yes.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with a guy who was rotating through the lab. Can't quite remember the context but he said this to me: "You seem like someone who is extremely determined and focused on what you want". At the time I laughed---lately I've found myself distractable, procrastinate-y, and slow to take definitive action. Yet---I have indeed achieved some things in life through persistence and hard work. I may drift into browsing summer sandals or reading blogs when I'm supposed to be writing a pilot grant (e.g. a lot of this week), but the grant WILL get written. And when I'm actually interested in a project, I will take the necessary steps to get it off the ground. When I've come against setbacks more recently, I've remembered that statement, and its bolstered me to action. I WILL make this happen because I am determined.
Of course the opposite is also true---negative
words by strangers and loved ones alike have altered my self-perception for
years, for life. I'm trying to drown those words out and replace them with the healthier ones.
I often think cynically of friendships that don't last or the tedium of dealing with people. Yet in those chance encounters and fleeting relationships there can be life-changing moments. Connections---important even for an introverted misanthrope like me.