Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Running Won't Make You Beautiful

When I started running back in January, I was pretty vocal about it. I tried to bring it up in casual conversation. I know. Its not that big of a deal. So what? You go for runs, B. So does every other human being on the planet. Was I making great achievements? Maybe not in the grand scheme of how the world turns. But, in my world, yes.

Why tell people? Especially when, in the beginning, I was barely managing to eek out 1 or 2 miles at a time without having to stop.

I told people because I wanted them to ask me about it. Because that right there is one of the best motivators to get up and run. I didn't need my IPhone bleeping angry obscenities and sounds and text boxes at me three times a week to make me get up and run. I needed the threat of flesh-and-blood people asking, "How's the running?" "You still running?" "WHY are you running?"

It worked.

But one reaction that I was not expecting keeps floating around in my head, especially on those fated few mornings a week when I step on the scale.

"You started running. Hmm. Why? Are you trying to lose weight?"

I guess that is a pretty common reaction? But it surprised me.

My insecure self immediately jumped to the conclusion that I very obviously needed to lose weight. Or, why ask that question?

Because the truth was that, yes, I did hope to lose some weight. But was that why I started running?

I was thinking about that this morning as I slipped on a pair of pants that were much snugger in the waist this time last year than now, and I can say that running is no longer about trying to achieve what the world considers "beautiful". Which is size 2, no cellulite, perfect eyebrows, sculpted arms, etc.

Let's face it:

Running may make you skinny but it could never make you beautiful.

Why we equate skinny with beauty I will never fully understand.

Yes, it has most everything to do with the media. And, if I hear "sex sells" one more time, I will punch someone in the mouth.

But why have we accepted this as our norm?

As my brain tends to work, it didn't take long for it to jump from running to weight loss to skinny to beauty. Before I knew it, I was tearing up all over my freshly applied face lotion this morning.

Why is it so hard for women to admit their beauty? Why do we limit beauty to our physical appearance? I call bullshit.

This post is obviously no longer about running.

I do think I'm beautiful. And it has nothing to do with my hair or the shape of my face or the size of my pants.

My beauty really has very little to do with me at all, because it has everything to do with those magnificent and dazzling souls that I am lucky enough to get to know and love in this lifetime. You, my dear family and friends, make me and my life beautiful. This brief encounter we call life is the stuff of beauty, and we all take it for granted at some point and write it off as another day when there just weren't enough hours to accomplish--what?? life?

So, I was crying into my face lotion when a memory at once almost forgotten but so poignant and so fresh burned itself into my mind and left me reeling. Because it was the first time in my life that I questioned beauty. It was my first inkling that there might be more to being beautiful than symmetrical features.

This memory was of an encounter I had with a deaf man. I was a candystriper and a whiz at the front desk, answering phones, looking up patient room numbers and directing visitors to them, delivering mail, fixing wheelchairs, wheeling patients to their rooms. I was probably 12 or 13. Skinny. Big head. Braces. White nurse's sneakers and all. Insecure. Self-conscious. Painfully aware of my physical appearance and how, in my eyes, it just wasn't up to snuff. I thought I was fat. I hated my "five"-head. My lips were too thin. My knees were too dark. You know the age. You remember the body image issues. I often thought of myself as the ugly duckling. And it wasn't a worry. It was a fact to me.

Anyways, this man approached the front desk and I recognized him as being different. He was tall and broad. He wasn't dressed very well. His clothes looked crumpled and stained. His face was large and his jaw slack. He frightened me a bit, but, ever the professional, I asked if I could help him. He started to sign and speak words that I couldn't understand.

I was immediately flustered. I looked to Mrs. Bobby, the elderly volunteer who always worked the desk with me. She was directing people to a doctor's office and had begun to walk away from the desk before I could stop her. I turned back to the man, who stood there patiently, his large dark eyes fixed on my face, forcing eye contact. I apologized profusely, wagging my hands in front of me in what I thought might be a contrite gesture. He shook his head at me and mumbled something else that I didn't understand. I tried to look past his bulky form and scraggly hair. I forced a tight smile. I apologized again--I'm sure in a too loud voice that was of course no use to him. I fumbled on the desk, searching for a scrap piece of paper and a pen, which I then placed on the counter in front of him. He and I both looked expectantly at the paper. I in the hope that he would quickly write down who or what he was looking for so that I could send him on his way. And he? Well, he just pushed the paper and pen back across the counter towards me, shaking his head.

Again, I apologized and again, he just stood there, looking at me. Was he smiling? I found his stare and parted, limp lips creepy. I could feel the blood rushing up the back of my neck and searing my cheeks. I was flustered. I was embarrassed for him--maybe of him? I decided on a different tactic. I pointed to a lady being wheeled into the elevator, shrugged my shoulders and asked, "patient?" He nodded his head yes and said a name that I--desperate for any prompt--thought sounded like it began with an "e". I took a deep breath and turned back to the computer screen. I typed in "e" and hit enter. A sizable list appeared on my screen. I decided to just read them off one by one, because I was pretty sure that he could read lips. As I read off the names, he just shook his head, repeating the name that I couldn't understand.

I was frustrated. I became annoyed. I thought that maybe he wasn't really there to see anyone at all. I thought that maybe there was something wrong with him. I continued to read off the names, but I didn't look back up from the screen. Suddenly, he smacked his hands on the counter, slapping flesh on granite in three loud cracks. It startled me. I looked up expecting him to--what?--strike me? Throw something at me? Grab me? I thought he might be violent.

But when I looked up, he was standing there just as before, his eyes fixed on my face with those parted lips. Maybe, it was a smile. We looked at one another for a few seconds. He pointed at me and grunted loudly what sounded like, "yuh." I placed my hand on my chest and asked, "me?" He nodded. And then he actually did smile. He repeated, "yuh," pointing fiercely at me again. Then, he waved his hand over his face, starting at his forehead, spreading out his fingers and moving his hand down his face. He said something else. "Oodifuh".

He smiled at me, nodding, encouraging me to understand him.

"Yuh oodifuh," he said again, waving his hand over his face with the same feathery gesture that surprised me coming from this bulky, unkempt man.

"Beautiful?" I asked. I felt the blood drain from my face.

He nodded his head vigorously. "Oodifuh." And he waved his hand over his face yet again.

"Thank you," I said and froze. What else could I do? I was immediately ashamed. I tried to return his smile and enthusiasm, but the guilt over my poor treatment of this obviously kind and well-meaning man left me blank and empty. Had he not sensed my annoyance? Did he honestly believe that I had been kind to him?

"Thank you," I repeated, barely able to meet his eyes. I wanted to cry. I wanted to apologize--make it up to him. I thought quickly of what I might be able to do next to help him--to make up for losing my patience and for being embarrassed.

But before I could do anything, he reached out his hand. I offered mine and he grasped and shook it vigorously.

Then, he turned around and left. And I never saw him again.

Not long after that, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands before lunch, and standing in front of the mirror, actually looked at myself. I scrutinized my big forehead and ran my hands through my frizzy/curly/never fully straight hair and, suddenly and without warning, came the cheek-aching smile--no--grin, braces and all that I couldn't bear to muster at the scene of my bad behavior. I remembered the gesture the man had made, waving his hand over his face. I mimicked it, not quite capturing the fluidity of his wrist and the graceful sweep of his fingers.

He was definitely not beautiful--at least not in the physical sense. But that day, he humbled me with his unaffected beauty and grace.


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