Heart of the Beholder

Someone implied today that I’m unattractive. It put a little hitch in my step because it played on a deeply held insecurity that has followed me since I was a child. There are things that you grow past. They affect you less and less as you mature and you learn to hold the demons at bay. Then, there are the things that you will struggle with for a long, long time. I haven’t completely grown past my issues with my facial features as yet. And while it’s no longer a struggle, it can sometimes give  me pause when I’m criticized and when I’m complimented.

Now, Oxford defines beauty as “a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” And while there is no universal agreement on what is construed as beautiful, science has identified a general composition of features that have been demonstrated to be pleasing to the eye. It’s almost impossible to have a universal definition of beauty since facial features vary by ethnicity and no two people look exactly alike, not even twins. Beauty is therefore highly subjective and is probably best encapsulated in the common phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Enough with the proper so and so. Somebody essentially called me ugly and I can only be thankful that I’ve grown accustomed to and comfortable with my looks. Conventionally beautiful I am not. I get compliments sure. But my features are pretty much average, Afrocentric and because I can’t wear makeup, what you see is essentially what you get. There was a time I hated that. But, I’ve grown used to it and I’m clearly not completely unattractive because even though my last partner told me he didn’t think I was pretty, the wasband used to call me beautiful and I get compliments from various people, of all genders, at random times. Even these days when I look in the mirror, more often than not, I can honestly say, I have attractive features and I truly like them now.

But, like anything else, beauty ideals are dynamic and the media and entertainment play a strong role in dictating what is considered attractive. Eurocentric features have always been glorified as perfect and as heavily as that narrative is pushed, racism and colourism continue to thrive and make life more than a little uncomfortable for many women. Men are constantly bombarded with images of what is hyped as beautiful. Heavily made up women with features altered by various programs and apps and filters are seen in print and electronic media and push the narrative that beauty is in fact static and can only be represented by symmetrical faces with small/narrow features. Because of this, women are now surgically altering their facial features to mimic the filters created by various apps. So while beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, that eye has become very discriminating.

Interestingly, the requirements are decidedly not the same for men. There is markedly less pressure for men to conform to any specific definition of attractiveness conventionally or otherwise. Dustin Hoffman revealed that even though he thinks he’s attractive as a man, he was upset and disappointed to the point of tears that when he dressed as a woman for his role in ‘Tootsie’ he didn’t find himself attractive . In an interview, he discussed a conversation he had with his wife:

“I said, ‘I have to make this picture,’ and she said, ‘Why?’,” Hoffman recalls. “And I said, ”Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn’t fulfill physically the demands that we’re brought up to think women have to have in order to ask them out.'”

Nothing surprising there. Not for me anyway. There are most certainly millions of women who are interesting and have a lot to offer, women who would make amazing partners, who are constantly overlooked for more conventionally attractive women with little thought to compatibility.

At this point for me, it is what it is. My ideal partner wouldn’t overlook me and our potential compatibility because my features aren’t attractive by today’s ethnic, aesthetic or contrived, heavily altered standards. Which leads me to today. While I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, today really drove home how unnecessarily hateful and critical people can be regarding how others look.


I quote tweeted a post earlier that asked whether or not I’d date myself and why. I managed to condense my response and list the main ones and the pic above is of a response to my post. I listed several positive traits that I possess and that individual still thought it fit to imply heavily that I am unattractive. As has become my habit, I politely thanked the person, whomever it was, and moved on. Had this been 10, maybe 15 years ago, that would have set me back badly. Back then, it mattered how someone viewed me with their eyes. We live in a visual age, where aesthetics is often valued more than chemistry and connection. Hook up and swipe left/right culture have persons viewing potential partners online and dismissing them based almost solely on visuals. There is little to no inclination to engage and without engagement, determining compatibility is impossible.

While sitting behind our keyboards and in front of the television, the visual composition of the ideal face and body has been fed into our conscious and subconscious mind. We are told what we should view as aesthetically appealing, engaging nothing but our eyes in the selection of a partner. Now, an entire subsection of this generation complains about being lonely and feeling relegated to singleness, while casually and callously accepting or dismissing people based on their images on a screen. But beauty has never been static. Ethnicity and culture were the determinants of preference. However, the glorification of Eurocentric features have Africans and Asians spending copious amounts of money on face modification through skin lightening creams and plastic surgery. The sexualization of the Afrocentric body type has women especially, of various ethnic groups, risking their lives to make their waists incredibly small and their hips unnaturally wide. 

There are some truths I’ve come to accept in life and one of them is that I may never find the right partner. Statistics show that black women are the least likely to marry or select a partner outside of their racial demographic. They also show that black women are marrying and finding long term partners at lower rates than any other racial demographic. Doesn’t bode very well for a lot of us at all.

I’m not photogenic. Not even a little. I’ve taken some good shots and I’ve become more than content with the person I see in the mirror. But most importantly, I know what I have to offer in a relationship. I’ve spent a long time deliberately developing my personality, cultivating emotional intelligence and positive traits, resolving various emotional issues and trying to be the best version of myself I can be. I’ve matured and aged with as much grace as is possible and the result is a person who can (and hopefully will) make an ideal partner to someone who has the capacity to look beyond the surface and see the depth of personality and love I have to offer. 

Beauty and its espoused ideals will likely always remain in the eye of the beholder. But as our eyes become trained to see only a static composition as beautiful, we lose out on the opportunity to engage with people on a much deeper level. I will take care of my skin and my body, primarily so that I can continue to be comfortable with who I see in the mirror, but I won’t be modifying my features to suit a contrived ideal. What you see is what you get. There was a time I was worried about how a potential partner would view me with his eyes, now, the only thing that really matters to me is how he will view me with his heart…





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