My husband’s paternal side of the family hails from a small town in Tennessee. It’s the kind of town where most people are born and buried just a few miles apart. Despite the fact that everyone has a cell phone and (only in the past few years) DSL internet, it remains insulated from other parts of the country. As in other small towns, unique mannerisms and colloquial phrases have made their way into the speech patterns. For example, Drew’s family says “I’m so proud you came to visit.” That’s not my normal use of the word “proud,” but I understand it – how that feeling of having a loved one travel a distance to come visit makes your heart swell inside your chest, not unlike the swelling of the chest when your husband passes his doctoral exams. Joy radiates.
Transfer this to feeling beautiful. I’ve been told I’m beautiful on a number of occasions and I usually believe people when they say it and feel the extra glow from the words’ impact. (In fact, if my Dove chocolate wrapper says “you are gorgeous” I feel considerably better for the rest of the day.) So I know what it feels like to feel beautiful.
When I thought about the prompt for this post, two stories came to me instantly, neither of them related to physical beauty. Instead, these were times when I felt the full-body glow that comes from feeling appreciated, valued, and admired for the things that are most important to me.
First. Several years ago, when the company I work for was flush with money from a government contract, my boss would throw an annual Christmas Gala. A Gala. I hated going to them. They felt so presumptuous — a chance for my boss to gloat over our company’s accomplishments to our clients and anyone else that would listen. Everything was very stiff and polite and staff were expected to impress the clients. While it was fun to dress up and eat free food, the superficiality of it always made me want to crawl out of my skin.
One year, my husband and I ended up eating our catered food, balanced on our knees, in a circle of about eight people, one of them a former All-Pro safety for the Tennessee Titans. Regretfully, I can’t remember what story I was telling, but my telling of it had this NFL player in tears with laughter. He, along with the rest of the group, were keeling over in their chairs, gasping for air. Tears were rolling down cheeks and this Titan proclaimed to my co-workers (who, up to this point, had failed to grasp my sense of humor), “How do you get any work done with this girl around? She is hilarious!” I felt gloriously beautiful.
I love to laugh and I love to make others laugh. Not because I love having attention on me. Quite the opposite. Most of the time I’m pretty content to be a wallflower. I’m not even concerned that people think highly of me because of my “comedic genius.” But I BELIEVE in laughter. I love the way it releases tension, creates friendships, brings light to darkness. If I can bring that to people, it makes me really happy. Even if I’m making fun of myself to get others to laugh, I feel beautiful.
Second. I’m currently in the process of trying to start a group at our church for young married couples. I’m passionate about this—creating a place of community for this demographic—and I want this group to exemplify hospitality and warmth. I’m also passionate about quality written communication (no comments from the peanut gallery on the quality of this blog post!). I believe that for this group to get off the ground, the emails inviting people to participate must be well-written, useful, and concise. For my first big kick-off email, I spent an embarrassing length of time trying to strike the right balance of wit, warmth, and welcome (see what I did there?). The next day I received a general response from one of the recipients, but the response’s P.S. made me float:
“P.S. (KUDOS) You did a superb job being brief and consolidating this information! It was thoughtful and very well laid out making it easy to read and follow!”
She had no idea that I spent hours on that email, but she complimented me on something that really matters to me. I know it probably sounds ridiculous but I would much rather someone tell me what was in that P.S. than tell me I’m magazine-cover material. For me, feeling beautiful means being recognized for the qualities that really matter to me, which is, among other things, my ability to make others laugh (it’s no accident that my closest friends think I’m funny), and my ability to write well.
What am I taking from this exercise? (Besides what I’ll learn from all the other women?) That if I want to make others feel valued, I need to really listen to people—to the things that matter to them—and then find ways to affirm them in those things.
Then they can feel proud too. As my Tennessee in-laws would say.
Megan is on the right, enjoying an evening of laughter with good friends.
Megan Benton hails from Kansas. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and seven month old. She is not flush with government contract money and, thanks to her husband, is much more interested in baseball than football.