Saturday, May 27, 2006


Like many women, the quest for beauty has been a significant part of my life. I learned so many tricks to polish and refine the details of my surface, what to wear to shift my eyes from blue to green to gray, how to make my lips look fuller, my hands look softer, my neck look longer. I learned the illusion of the proper eyebrow arch, how to highlight the cheekbones and minimize the double chin, all those exhausting, time consuming details. Despite all that, I was still the "you-could-be-so-pretty-if" kind of girl, nowhere near the glamourous standards of my movie and fashion magazine saturated dreams.

I had other images of womanhood though. My grandmother was a fiery redhead who stood nearly six feet tall. She and my grandfather divorced when my mother was a young woman, yet, each other's last words were the other's name. From her I knew that love and passion might never be easy, but it held a value beyond comprehension. She and my mother were as alike in temperament as they were different in appearance. Mom was tiny, barely 100 pounds and 5'3". She had laughter, style and a magnetic charm that filled her life with friends, but her endurance for the decades long challenges of extensive caregiving for both of her parents and then coping with her own debilitating illness is what stills floors me. Then there was my other grandmother. She stood 4'6" tall and was as bow legged of a woman as I have ever known. She had the most luminous hazel eyes I have ever seen. They always held a soft light that compelled you to look her directly in the eye. Sometimes it exploded into a twinkle brighter than any bulb on a Christmas tree. Those eyes were part of her heritage to my father. So was her strength. She was widowed during the Depression with three young children and a 600 acre tobacco farm to take care of. A year after losing her husband, she lost her only daughter. She poured her grief into poetry that I only found after she died and fortified herself with faith. She accepted what she had to do and refused to compromise her standards while doing so. I learned independence from her before it became one of the paradigms of the feminists of my youth.

The women in my family were beautiful by both standards both superficial and deep. One could quantify their looks with measurements of symmetry, proportion, and quality of features easily, and each would meet that elusive mark of beauty. What made each one truly beautiful though was what they pulled from within themselves and projected into the world. Glamour in one of its older meanings is a magical charm that creates an appearance. This is my magic, my heritage, and what I learned as a woman, not a girl. Be true to oneself and to the highest standards one knows, and beauty is what people will see.

The painting is Portrait of Natasha Zakólkowa Gelman by Diego Rivera. Though known for celebrating the common man and for his Communism, Rivera definitely knew how to appreciate and celebrate the luxury of this woman. Well, if the movie, Frida, is to be believed, he knew how to appreciate a whole lot of women.


Blogger Vicky said...

You have some wonderful women in your family, Cynthia, and you are doing them proud. You embody a powerful, loving, creative heritage, and you are passing it on to your daughter. What examples you all are to her. And it seems like she will be bearing the family standard easily and successfully, from what you have written of your strong womanchild.

Thanks for sharing this,

Vicky x

May 28, 2006 1:08 AM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Seems they found the key to true beauty found in last 6 verses of Proverbs 31.

May 28, 2006 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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June 10, 2006 2:04 AM  
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July 21, 2006 6:54 PM  

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