Small Acts of Kindness

For Hesperus’s Body Basics class she has homework assignments called “Time Together.”

The teacher gives the girls questions related to their changing bodies and the girls then have to interview their moms.

The idea is for you and your daughter to talk together about an intimate subject. With your permission, the girls share your answers at the next class. During the parent orientation, the teacher explained that this homework not only helps foster intimacy between daughters and mothers but that it helps the girls open up and start talking about themselves as well.

This week the Time Together question was about definitions of beauty. My Aunt Judy, who is 65, was visiting so Hesperus decided to interview both of us.

We only had about 15 minutes before Judy’s flight back to California was going to board. The three of us sat in the row seats outside security at the airport and talked about how being thin and having blue eyes are culturally determined ideals of beauty. And how definitions of beauty vary from country to country and often change over time. In Niger, West Africa, where we lived for a year, a woman should be zoftig, the plumper the better. In Niger “You’ve lost weight” is actually an insult or expression of concern and “You’ve gained weight!” is a compliment. Zuri, my nurse practitioner friend Peter’s housekeeper who is naturally thin (and has an absolutely perfect body by American standards), actually asked Peter to prescribe her medicine to help her gain weight!

Judy and I both agreed that beauty, real beauty, comes from the inside. Judy mentioned how you can meet someone and find them unattractive but the more you get to know them the more beautiful they become. After awhile it doesn’t matter if they have a crooked nose or bad skin, you find yourself hopelessly attracted to them because they are such a good person.

The opposite can happen too: you get to know someone who you initially find beautiful only to discover they have a rotten personality. Soon their skin-deep beauty no longer appeals to you at all.

The people I find the most beautiful (besides my utterly gorgeous children!) are the ones who are kind and thoughtful and who carry themselves with confidence. People who walk with their backs straight and their shoulders back–who look like they feel comfortable in their bodies and are enjoying themselves in the world–often catch my eye.

For the record, I have a bad posture and am a horrible sloucher. The teacher asked the girls to ask their moms: “Do you think you’re beautiful?” I didn’t feel like sharing my insecurities would be the best way to answer that question–and Judy’s plane was about to leave–so instead of going into a long and painful history about my own self-image, I wrote “Sometimes I do” as my answer.

Which is true. Though I struggle with my self-image, I sometimes feel beautiful, especially when I am kind to others. Kindness gives me an endorphin rush, it makes me feel more connected to the world, and I like to think it even helps alter the tally of the universe in favor of good over evil.

Last week at dinner we were talking about my friend’s baby who is having open-heart surgery this week. We all started crying at the dinner table. Hesperus actually put her head on the table and sobbed. I saw James wipe the tears out of the corners of his eyes.

Instead of reading books we spent the rest of the evening making cards for Elie and her family. We gathered up gently used things in our house that we thought each of Elie’s siblings might like. Since they live in Maryland and we are in Oregon and I’m too far away to make them dinner, we also sent along some pasta, a can of tomatoes … and an onion.

I want to be a kinder person. I can’t erase the wrinkles on my face and it doesn’t look like I’ll be losing the baby fat on my tummy anytime soon but I think small acts of kindness are one way to be more beautiful.

What does beauty mean to you? What is your definition of a beautiful person? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.


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