A Certain Kind of Beauty

“You have to smile like this,” and my friend gave a tight-lipped smile. “Like you’re not sure. And you have to keep your chin down at an angle, like this.”

I was sitting across a cafe table from one of my oldest and dearest friends, who was generously giving me some pointers now that I’m living the life of a single woman.

“And I notice you smile, real big like that. You can’t do that when you first meet a guy, or he’ll think you’re easy.”

A swirled my straw through the foam of my rum-and-chai and considered. My friend is one of the strongest, bravest, most outspoken women I’ve ever known. So I was surprised how much her advice recalled the tips my grandmother had given me when I was a child. (And I highly recommend the chai with rum, by the way. Perfect for a winter’s night.)

But I had to give her suggestions a try, so I squashed my chin against my shoulder until the double-chin came on, tucked my lips against my teeth as if unwilling to show them (and I am a bit–coffee-stained as they are), and glanced up at her from the weird angle I held my head at.

“And you don’t have to make your eyes so big.”

I tried to adjust appropriately.

She laughed.  “Don’t try too hard.”

“I just can’t see myself doing all that.” I said. “I’m honestly not sure I can remember it.”

“Well you don’t have to flutter your eyelashes.” And she laughed again.

I wondered where we had come up with this idea that guys need women to keep their chins at a 45-degree angle to their clavicles, that a toothy smile is just unattractive, and that being warm and sincere conveys excessive availability, even neediness.

I think this whole idea of the dating “market” and men and women as consumer goods that we must market in order to be bought for our ideal sale price–Who are we kidding? Maybe the capitalist metaphor for love works if you’re a stockbroker or a banker, but for the rest of us, it’s a load of bollocks. Really.

My friend had some valid points: you have to think these things out a little and consider what impression you’re giving people. What are you communicating with your body language? What do you want to get across? Sure. Of course.

But I’ve worked with hundreds of college students for more than a decade, and I have to say–people have their own kind of beauty. Everyone has their bad days and sour tempers, but for the most part, each individual I’ve worked with has had a certain insight, a sense of humor, a laugh, a spark in their eyes that made me glad I had sat down with that person and got to know him or her for a half-hour.

I like to think that if there is a market, we get the best deals not by presenting ourselves for something other than we are or following a certain script–but by just being sincere and present, in our own unique way.

I’m not saying this guarantees happiness or even true love. In fact, I’ve noticed it confuses the heck out of most people who aren’t used to deviating from the script. But the people I love are the ones who say what they mean, who tell me if they think I shouldn’t show my teeth when I smile, who break the news to me that my socks don’t match. Because I can say I know them, and love them as they are–and mean it.

It’s like my home: Plenty of people don’t love the Northwest. Too dark. Too gray. Too wet, they say.

But just look at it, is what I say. It’s got a certain kind of beauty. And certain people love it for its silvery damp. We don’t need everyone to love us. We just need the right kind of people to love us the right way–just enough, just as we are.

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