Notions of Beauty

Just this morning, I was sitting at the dining room table, with my much beleaguered husband being pressed into service as a colorist, painting my hair medium golden brown.  My failed attempt at red hair had resulted in a faint orangey tinge to all but the top two inches of roots, and I didn’t want to play “shuffle the budget” to make room for a professional job.

It’s the twilight years of my thirties, and, as always, I’m having a difficult time wrapping my mind around my age with my birthday looming in the horizon.  Don’t get me wrong- I love my birthday.  Any day that lets me be the center of attention is always a good one for me.  Rather, it’s the whole aging process that’s always the struggle.  No matter how many excellent articles I read about putting on that bathing suit, or a surprisingly touching and classy essay by an aging woman embracing her body, they’re all things that are good for other people.  It’s good for people to be comfortable in their own skin, to be joyful for the bodies that God gave us, to be at ease with the union of soul and flesh that we were designed to have.

Other people.

Emmylou Harris Performs At Barbican Centre In London

Love me some Emmylou.

For me, there’s this sense of disgust, of constant self-criticism, of loathing for the flabby midsection, the lumpy arms, the nose that grows bigger year by year.  All of it is so…unlovely.  I wish I could be that person who was ok with the fact that middle age was here, and along with it a farewell to ever being considered attractive again.  I wish I could just pull an Elsa and let it go (but an apple shaped, saggy chinned version of Elsa), and be comfortable inside this body.  Like a fatter, less talented, Emmylou Harris.

Then I ran across this slideshow, which is the brainchild of Ester Honig, a Kansas City journalist who sent a photo of herself to 40 photoshop experts in 25 countries with the simple request of, “Make me beautiful”.

The results are fascinating, from a cultural standpoint.  Give it a look:


(click on the slideshow to go to the fullscreen version)
Then I came to the American version, and I nearly spit out the water I was drinking.  That was what American beauty looked like?  It was like a caricature of a Glamor Shot.  And the other countries didn’t do much better.  Really, didn’t Ester look best as herself?  I’ll take my big nose and lumpiness over that any day.  And oh snap, did I just give myself a Very Special Lesson?  I did, and I hate that I did.

But yeah,  I guess I just knocked myself out of my own naval gazing and woe is me-ing.  Ester Honig is uniquely Ester Honig, and she is a beautiful creation of God.  Emmylou Harris is Emmylou Harris, and she is a beautiful creation of God.  Cari Donaldson is Cari Donaldson, and she (gulp) is a beautiful creation of God.

And you are you.  And you’re a beautiful creation of God.  Don’t forget it.



  1. says

    As someone who just turned (gulp) 40 last month and not without a lot of tears leading up to, on the day and then after, I needed this post. Those pictures! Amazing.

    • Cari says

      I’m pretty sure I will have to spend my 40th in a cave somewhere, because I will have driven everyone away with my hysterics.

      • says

        So, my husband had an interesting comment… how “expert” were these experts. Because he says that the American version looks like a really bad photoshop job since they made her eyes look less symmetrical than they did in her original picture, but everyone knows that these touchup experts always look to try to make people look more symmetrical. Just a thought. I wonder how they determined who was an photoshop expert.

  2. says

    I died when I got to the American one. And also I think the Philipines did a hilarious job with the power suit and the Lifetouch portraits background. If only we were all walking around with big ass lapels, backlit by a technicolor rainbow sky…

    • Cari says

      It was really odd to me, the cultures that decided to also clothe her, vs. ones that didn’t. From the discrete little purple strapless thingie on the Bangladesh one, to the full on hijab of Morocco- it was interesting.
      But yeah, the power suit took the cake.
      Oh, and the other Pilipino one that made her look like Courtney Cox.

    • Cari says

      Thanks! My birthday actually isn’t even until September, so THAT should give you an idea just how irrational I get about getting older.

    • Cari says

      Thanks :)
      I thought the slideshow was so interesting. I loved trying to figure out what features were highlighted in each culture. The Eastern European versions were some of my favorites.

  3. says

    Well, since I’ve met you in person (ahem, rubs nails on shirt) I am qualified to say that you most definitely ARE beautiful. But, still, I can identify with this post so very much. I used to think I had a healthy body image until I realized how much time I spent disliking myself. Wow, was that an eye-opener. I think it was when I read the Screwtape Letters that I realized that self-loathing is just another form of vanity. Well, geez. I’m not only ugly, but I get a mortal sin to boot? W.T.H? Work in progress, I guess.

    Happy-almost-birthday! If we were neighbors, I’d make you a pitcher of sangria and then enviously stare at you as you drank it.

    • Cari says

      Oh man. Screwtape Letters takes all the fun out of things, doesn’t it? Sheesh.
      And I would happily drink that sangria, and have the good sense to look a LITTLE sheepish that you couldn’t share.

  4. Judy says

    Well, as your humble earthly mother, I have to say that you are beautiful, have always been beautiful, and always will be beautiful. Even when you insist upon dying your beautiful dark brown hair medium golden brown, red or blue. Forty is just a number and it is over a year away.Do not fret ( unless your family is planning a surprise party, the house has not been cleaned and no food prepared…then I would suggest following in your mother’s foot steps and RUNAWAY!!!

    • Cari says

      You know what, that story is the best. Because nobody (except maybe you) remembers it with anything other than amusement when they tell it.

      Oh! And you’ll like my hair- it’s pretty much back to normal. “Medium golden brown” is pretty much a misnomer.

  5. says

    Great post. It is so much easier to see the beauty in others. That slideshow was such an eye-opener. Although, vain as I am about my hair, I noted the country where my carrot top was the beauty ideal. If we could see ourselves the way out loved ones see us, I think we would be better versions of ourselves, for sure. I remind myself of this every time my husband takes my picture.

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