Contemplations on Beauty

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My little sister, on the first day I got my camera.

Beauty is an odd thing, on that I’m sure we can all agree.

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about physical beauty – the people we consider to be “beautiful.”

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My roommate Rachel, during one of our explorations to the Bradbury Building.

Beautiful people are the ones who stalk and slide across the glossy, perfumed pages of my monthly Vogue and Nylon magazines. They’re thin and stunning in that odd, almost otherworldly way. The clothes that hang upon them, the jewelry around their throats, and the purses they hold at the end of their fingers are all improved because of the beauty of the model, not the other way around.

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Image via Fashionista

But I don’t look like them. And I’ve been told countless times that I’m beautiful – my mother tells me, my friends tell me, random strangers on trains and sidewalks tell me.

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A picture of me taken by my friend Christina.

 

And I wonder, what do you say to people who tell you that you are beautiful? “Thank you” doesn’t seem like a fitting answer – it isn’t as a result of any effort of yours that you are considered lovely to someone.

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My sister took this photo of a dancer from our studio, putting on her headpiece for a performance of the Nutcracker.

And where does this disparity rise – between the beauty of “ordinary people” and the beauty of supermodels and starlets of the silver screen?

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My sister and her best friends in the middle of our photo shoot.

I know who decided what “beauty” was, where this American standard of beauty comes from. The dominant society through our country’s history determined countless times who was beautiful and who was not. And more often than not, people who looked like me – or people who didn’t look like an impossibly perfect Barbie doll – were determined to be in the latter category.

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A picture of my friend Eva, taken by my friend Christina.

I know that at the surface, I’m the same vain, judger of beauty as most of us. I see people and categorize them in pieces – she has lovely hair, he has gorgeous eyes, they have a great body.

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My cousin, while getting ready for her senior prom.

But I also know that in my experience, people become more beautiful the more you get to know them. You see them during those hidden moments – a kind word to someone they thought went unseen, the song they hum when they stand at the sink washing dishes, their little idiosyncrasies, the way their personal thoughts tumble out after being shaped in their mind.

People are beautiful.

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A polaroid of me and my best friends in high school. I mean, they’re still my best friends. And we are all beautiful.

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