“So pretty, what a waste,” he said with a smile on his face.
An older gentleman approached me at a gathering recently and started a conversation with those words. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment.
I mean, SERIOUSLY?
While I have control over the way I care for myself, I do not have control over the face I was born with, or my hair, or the bones and cartilage that give shape to my skin. These parts of my being are nothing to take pride in because I did nothing to “earn” them.
The man who made the comment knows me.
He knows I've been a teacher of Spanish and theology.
He knows I’ve traveled the world and taught English in India and Palestine.
He knows I’ve been a human rights defender in Palestine.
He knows that I now speak and write about my experiences.
He knows I sing well. To be clear, I did not “earn” my voice either, but I have trained it and I make the choice to sing. My singing seems to bring joy or solace or peace to people. It would be a waste not to use that gift. All of us have been given talents that we may choose to develop; let us not squander them.
I have made many life choices that I feel good about, choices that I know have benefited me and I believe have also, in a very small way, benefited the world.
The way I look has never entered into my decisions or ability to do any of those things.
I have also made choices that likely would not have even been options if I were married and/or had children. While there are times when I have longed for those things, it would be ungracious of me to deny the richness that my life has offered, and continues to offer, because I am single. It would be ungracious to deny the profound impact of the people who have entered, and sometimes also exited, my life. I believe I have also had an impact on the lives of others.
But apparently, in the mind of this gentleman, because I am, by his standards, “pretty” and also not married, somehow my life is wasted. The other implication, that people who, by his standards, aren't pretty have little to offer a marriage, is equally insulting. So... No.
My looks are not the best I have to offer. I did not work for them. They don't make me any more capable of being in any relationship in a fruitful way. And I will not always have them.
Regardless of how I look, I am proud that I am trying to live according to my values (with varying degrees of success). I will always have the fact that I am trying to live a life of integrity.
I will always have the memories of my time in El Salvador and Guatemala and India and Palestine, at home, and in so many other places. If I had chosen not to take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves in my life, that would be a waste. All of us have been given opportunities that we may choose to take; let us not squander them.
When I look at the people I know, I am astounded by the breadth and depth of their care for me, for others, for our world. These people have helped shape who I am and they continue to support me as I walk my path. I will always have those connections and relationships.
To the best of my knowledge, none of those relationships are or were based on my looks: whether I am “pretty” or not, whether I wear make-up or tweeze my eyebrows or dye my graying hair or shave my legs. To the best of my knowledge, none of those things are the reason that I am single, either. If those are the primary factors someone wants to judge me by, then no thank you. And if marital status is the only relationship that someone thinks validates my worth, then no thank you. I am valuable simply because I am.
Dear women and girls, whether YOU choose to wear make-up or tweeze or dye or shave is completely up to you, but please know that doing – or not doing – any of those things does not make you any more worthy of care or respect. Anyone who can’t see your value beyond your natural looks or the way you choose to present yourself is not worth your time. Whether you choose single life or married life or some other kind of life is up to you. Anyone who judges your value based on only one particular relationship (or lack thereof) is not worth your time.
Dear men and boys, whether the women and girls you know choose to wear make-up or tweeze or dye or shave is completely up to them and no one else. If you are a father, make sure your daughters know this. Their beauty, the beauty of all of us, goes much deeper than what you can see. Dear men and boys, take the time to discover the beauty that comes from deep within, not the “pretty” you can easily see. And if the women and girls you know are “pretty” and you want to compliment them, make sure they know that you value more than the way they look.
I am more than "pretty." Being so (by some person's standards) does not make my worth any greater than anyone else's. You, too, are more than what I can see; you are valuable simply because you are. Let us look beyond the surface, so that we can see all people as they truly are, as Thomas Merton described it, “shining like the sun.”