“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” ~Sophia Loren
Even though I got Joey McIntyre from The New Kids on the Block to sign my scoliosis back brace in the sixth grade, I still felt ugly wearing it.
I didn’t realize the irony back then, but in retrospect it seems a little funny that I grew crooked considering I convinced myself I was wilting in my sister’s shadow. (I also had braces and headgear, but that’s another story.)
I was a kid who wanted to be beautiful, but more desperately wanted to feel loved. My self-esteem increased through the years, but I never quite shook the sneaking suspicion I’d never be beautiful enough. Or maybe lovable enough.
It would be easy to blame it all on society and the Kate Moss era of modeling, but I think it’s more than that. I just never learned to notice and appreciate all the beautiful things about myself. The stuff that had nothing to do with my waistline, skin tone, or eye lashes and everything to do with who I am.
I never learned to give myself the credit for all the good I do in the world. I was too busy cataloging my weaknesses, mistakes, and flaws to recognize it.
It seems like such a cliché to say that pretty is as pretty does, but the truth is, physical beauty is subjective. And even if someone perfectly matches your ideal of physical perfection, their looks will eventually fade. What endure are the qualities, passions, and habits we nurture.
That’s what makes us beautiful—and believe me when I say there is something beautiful in everyone. If you’ve done any of the following lately, you are absolutely beautiful:
1. Smile. As the quote goes, “I’ve never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.”
2. Be there for someone who needs you even if there’s nothing in it for you—give without expectations.
3. Make a sacrifice for someone you love.
4. Admit a mistake, even if it’s hard to say you’re wrong, and work to make amends.
5. Share your struggles, putting your ego aside, to make someone else feel less alone.
6. Create something that helps people. A song, a blog, a support group, a non-profit—anything that inspires.
7. Help a child feel good about him or herself.
8. Tell someone what you appreciate about them, even if you feel vulnerable.
9. Forgive someone without needing to hear the words, “I’m sorry.”
10. Create positive energy around you by thinking positive thoughts and acting with positive intentions.
11. Sit with reality without judging anyone or anything.
12. Accept someone for who they are instead of trying to change them to who you want them to be.
14. Notice something simple but beautiful in the world around you.
15. Acknowledge the beauty in others instead of feeling threatened or competing with other people.
16. Be the change you want to see in the world, as per Gandhi’s suggestion.
17. Tap into your personal power and do something that makes a difference in the world.
18. Find strength in a challenging moment. It’s not easy to do, and you deserve credit for it.
19. Talk kindly about the world around you instead of gossiping or complaining.
20. Forget yourself for a minute and do nothing but listen to someone who needs it.
21. Measure a person by their best moments, not their worst.
22. Give yourself the same courtesy—focus on the good you’ve done, not the mistakes you’ve made.
23. Take the high road when someone hurts you instead if being cruel or catty.
24. Make someone laugh. A smile can literally melt stress and pain away. How beautiful of you to do that for someone else!
25. Make someone cry—tears of joy that is. People want to feel moved, inspired, motivated. Never underestimate the power of touching someone’s heart.
26. Keep an open mind instead of sticking with a judgment or assumption.
27. Love what you’re tempted to fear.
28. Be the voice of optimism when the people around you need it badly.
29. Show humility when your accomplishments would make it easy to stand above people.
30. Handle rejection or failure with grace. It’s far more easily said than done—and it sounds so cheesy and cliche—but accepting loss gracefully makes you a true winner.
31. Show unbridled enthusiasm for something that excites you. All children are beautiful, and I think their unadulterated joy has a lot to do with it.
32. Hear what someone means, not just what they say. Anyone can nitpick. Not everyone actively works to be understanding.
33. Imagine a world where people know peace, and do one small thing to create it.
34. Honor the values that matter to you. Showing integrity is the first step to feeling good about yourself.
35. Accept and love yourself, just as you are in this moment.
And now a disclaimer: some days you may not do anything written above—in fact, you might do the exact opposite. On those days you are still beautiful.
There are times when, like Alexander, I’m having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Times when it seems like I might get swept into the tornado of chaos around me. Times when the voice in my head is unkind, and I interpret everything that happens through a negative filter. When I think the worst of people and complain about it; when I expect the worst of my day and lament it.
This admission might seem like the biggest possible acknowledgment of hypocrisy, but I have nothing to give if not my honesty. And the reality is I am imperfect. We all are. We all have moments of weakness—but they’ll only define us if they far surpass moments of kindness, compassion, love, and strength.
Being beautiful doesn’t mean adhering to some picture-perfect fantasy, or living every moment that way. It means realizing this moment is a new opportunity to be who you want to be, and making the effort to seize it.
How will you be beautiful today?
Photo here. This was originally published in 2011.