10/29/2012 05:42 EDT | Updated 12/28/2012 05:12 EST

What's Your Definition of Beauty


As I attempted to retrieve my phone from my dashing toddler the other day, a rather disturbing self-portrait was captured. I looked hot. Like whoa-hawt! This does not represent the typical daily picture of me. Trust.

When I showed my husband, he asked "who's that?" Thanks dear.

The result of this accidental capture was some deep pondering about "real beauty."

Is it merely a conclusion based on the visual aspect, or impact of a subject?

No, that cannot be entirely right. I use the word beautiful to describe many things: a sunset, a piece of music, the decadent smoothness of chocolate truffles, the smell of a newborn snuggled close, the soft feel of cashmere. Thus beauty is not just confined to our eyes -- our entire senses intake, reflect and report back.

However, a close inspection of the over-sexed Halloween costume aisle, suggests to me our interpretation of reality is based largely on the physical realm. So, are we hardwired towards a specific ideal?

They did a study with babies where they were shown images of what we generally perceive to be attractive and unattractive people. The babies stared longer at the faces considered to be beautiful, and actually turned their heads away from those images labelled as ugly. This fascinates me. It seems to suggest that yes -- we are hard-wired in some biological way to respond to a measured quality of beauty. Still I wonder: a young baby has no outside influence, no frame of reference; so what is that response based upon, and can it be influenced?

Babies eventually grow up to be subjected to all manner of stimulation that could alter their perceptions. As babes, their reaction was purely innate, but as a 13-year-old boy who has found daddy's Playboy??? What becomes of his perception of beauty now?

Or a six-year-old girl all dressed up in her ultra mini dress/candy stripper/Lady Gaga mock up while mama curls her hair, eyelashes, and applies makeup that will prohibit any attempt to accurately guess the child's age. What message is she receiving about beauty? And more importantly, how is her own self worth determined by such a shallow definition?

As our world shrinks ever smaller, it seems that we are heading towards a more global view of beauty. If I could trust the world to focus on qualities not found on the photo-shopped cover of a magazine, determined by some reality show, or half-starved vacant-eyed starlet who'd attend the opening of a paper bag: I might have some small measure of confidence in this global ideal of beauty.

Sadly, I know this ideal will be determined not by where our innate goodness resides, or by any desire for a mutually loving, respect for humanity; it will be determined by where we lay our wallets. It is judged based upon what we stare at in that 72" Plasma box. And it will focus on telling us what image we must obtain in order to be loved and adored; and not actually how to love and adore ourselves.

But you know, I get it. I want to feel attractive; sexy even, too. If money were no object, I'd be tempted to be the first hypocrite prone on the tummy tuck table. Yet, despite what the beauty industry mandates as the necessary arsenal for a 40ish woman such as myself, to achieve that younger, toner, tanner, taller, slimmer and sexier look: I am saying: "Enough." I will not forego a mortgage payment to purchase your miracle wrinkle cream. I will not rub that caffeine-laced lotion onto my backside for the rest of my life to keep cellulite at bay. I prefer my caffeine strong and in my favourite mug. I have a more pressing need to keep the crankies at bay.

Despite my own weaknesses, in my "mature" years, I have realized something. This strict definition of beauty that would have me feel bad about myself, actually attacks what is most precious to me! Indeed, my proudest accomplishment: I have three beautiful children and my body did that. This body. The one that would never, ever grace the cover of a magazine. It is wonderfully made.

All those years of joys, sorrows, victories and many failures; my body is the road map which records that history. It is not a story of fortune and glory. Rather a simple tale which boasts beauty can be found in the mundane. This simple life that I give my all to every day. This noble pursuit of raising children -- there is beauty in that. You just have to know where to look. Or, see with better eyes.

And therein lies the problem. We've accepted that strict definition of beauty thrust upon us; and now caught and bound we twist in misery as it inevitably slips from our aging grasp.

No. Just. No.

I have two little girls watching everything I do. Hearing my self-critique at the bathroom vanity. I do not want my legacy to be one which suggests the distorted perception: the only valuable quality of themselves, is the external one. It starts with me. I can choose to be the one who teaches my daughters to embrace the beauty within themselves. My legacy might just then be that they could be loving and accepting of their own unique beauty. Grow to be confident and comfortable in their own skin: long before the age of 40.

Now that would be a beautiful thing.