In the Eye of the Beholder

I have a beautiful sister. I know this because men whom I have just met have been telling me so for pretty much my whole life, typically taking me aside to whisper it confidentially, as if somehow I hadn't noticed before. What they want (I guess) is for me to say something to her--"He thinks you're gorgeous"--but, of course, a) she already knows this and b) they don't really need me to tell her that they think this. I'm not really sure how I am supposed to respond.

My husband (God bless him) thinks I'm crazy, not to mention just as beautiful as my sister (if not more so). But, then, he is in love with me. Does he love me because I am beautiful or does he see me as beautiful because he loves me? I wonder if a man (other than my husband) has ever taken my sister aside to gush over how beautiful he thinks I am.

Here's the thing: why should I care? My husband loves me and I am utterly uninterested in any other man. Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I don't notice the occasional movie star or stranger on the bus; I'd be worried if I didn't. But I have no desire to do more than just look. I love my husband; he is my heart and soul. So what difference does it make to me if other men find my sister so beautiful?

Do I wish I looked like her? I envy her her long legs and short torso, much more elegant than my shorter, long-torsoed self. But even in those occasional periods when we have been more or less the same size (this isn't one of them, alas), I haven't wanted to wear the same clothes that she does or style my hair the same way. And it really is a question of style.

I spent my years as a teenager miserable because so many guys were after my sister and none (to my knowledge) interested in me. Now I realize that part of the difference is that she invites interest and I really don't. Even if I could wear her clothes--with the exception of some of the more beautiful dresses--I'm not sure I would because they would send a message I don't want to send. The men ask after my sister because (very important) she wants them to. More particularly, she wants them to in that way, and I don't, at least not indiscriminately. Talk with me about theology, history, fencing, aesthetics, prayer, the meaning of life? I'm all over you. But flirting, well, only if you really want to talk.

What then is beauty? You may wonder why I, a married professional mother of mature years ("a certain age"?), even care about these sorts of questions anymore, but we are all still very much our teen-aged selves in many ways, just grayer. Except with most women my age (including my sister) you can't tell because they dye their hair. I'm developing a little crease over my right eye that I wouldn't even notice except my sister would be the first to tell me (and has) that there is "something you could do about that," i.e. surgically. Should I? I'd rather get another piercing, quite frankly, maybe at the top of my right ear to balance out my nose ring on the left.

Which is kind of where this meditation is leading me: we each have our own style. Maybe more people find me beautiful than I realize, but they just don't tell me in the way all those men have insisted on letting me know about my sister. It's interesting to wonder what I would think of my looks if I hadn't had them say these things to me (the Ugly Sister Who Receives Confidences) all these years. Maybe then I would concentrate more on the compliments I have received.

For example, from the cab driver who picked me up once in Philadelphia when I had just been visiting my sister in New York, and who told me in a rich Caribbean accent as he handed me out of the car, "You are beautiful!" I had spent the drive dreaming about a series of Tarot-like prayer cards I thought I might make (and still haven't), all richly layered with textures and jewels. Discounting any reference to my physical self, I told myself that the driver had perhaps seen something of the cards' imagined beauty in my eyes and so responded as he did. And it may very well be true: we are all at our most beautiful when contemplating something or someone we love. Which must be, if you think about it, why saints are the most beautiful of all, filled as their hearts and minds are with the beauty and love of God.

So I guess that I won't dye my hair or change my clothes, although I do want to get that next piercing (I told you this summer that I never quite know when the urge will hit; too bad it's hat weather, not good for healing ears). And I might try to find a beautiful frock so as to have something to feel special in. I won't say I won't still feel jealous of my sister--that's what little sisters are for, I suspect. But I'm going to try to concentrate more on the beauty I have and to stop worrying about the beauty I don't.


  1. I'd rather have brains. Little is more irritating then dealing with a *.

  2. Oh, my sister is very smart; she just plays a different game than I do.

  3. ok as the sister in all this, let me say something... holy smokes---
    I just know what people respond to and a big part is my goofiness and playfulness that is me more than anything else... and yes, actually I value that people recognize my intellectual and perceptual I feel the need, Mr William, to defend my brains, which by the way, thanks FB! yes, are on par with the rest of my family...
    I was the valedictorian, I had the 4.0 too, my graduate degree is in neuroscience and, yes, I dye my hair. I can read cosmetic surgery journals and know exactly how a surgery is done, and then pair it with a fabulous lipstick...
    I work with people whose abilities are not apparent as 'intellectual' or 'academic' and yet I will so respect that they can do amazing things like cave diving or stunt car racing...
    Equally, what is the determination of ability and intelligence?
    I think FB is trying to deal with exactly that--what are these qualities that we value.. and (also from talking with her) how funny is is that the ones we find come easily, we do value less (making good grades was a cakewalk...I'm working on the handstands on the horse--and it's hard)...

    Please don't insult me by calling me a "*".. little is more annoying than a holier than thou who judges on face value.


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