After Penny Marshall died a few months ago, I saw an interview she had done where she talked about what she believed was her legacy. She summed things up in her matter-of-fact way, stating “I had a successful TV show, I had a couple of successful movies and I’m not beautiful.” I was somewhat dismayed to hear that she included her perception of her looks in her summation of her life. A perception that wasn’t even true in my opinion.
I understood what she was saying–Penny Marshall came of age when women like Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day defined the standard of beauty. She worked in an industry where beauty was largely skin deep.
I too grew up in an era when beauty was defined by a cookie cutter mold. So many of my peers went to the same plastic surgeon in high school for the same nose job, afraid to look different or too ethnic. We wore the same Benneton sweaters and clogs. (Well, everyone except me, whose “practical” mother declared “clogs aren’t good for your feet.”) But I have seen a shift in a perception of beauty since I was a teen, a shift that’s positive. Actresses and models don’t all look the same anymore; they are short, tall, of different races, plus-sized (or at least “curvy”), etc.
As I have gotten older, I have learned that true beauty at any age is about confidence and individuality.
I look past the women who strive to look the same and see magnificence in those who allow their essence and honesty to shine through. I’ve discovered it’s not the size of the pants that makes one beautiful, it’s the size of the heart. How many times have you met someone you initially thought was attractive only to find that their character flaws diminished their attractiveness? And for that matter, hasn’t someone become lovelier in your eyes after you see the loveliness of their soul?
I just saw a picture on Facebook of someone I knew when I was in middle school who is battling ovarian cancer (and kicking its ass). She has lost her hair but not her spirit. That’s beauty.
I’ve also discovered that self-acceptance goes a long way in creating an appearance of beauty. We have earned the bodies we have—why not celebrate them? Those stretch marks on my stomach? Evidence of a belly which once housed some of my children. My laugh lines? Proof that I have indeed laughed a lot (as well as cried). The extra pounds I carry? Confirmation that I enjoy food. Those grey hairs? OK, as someone who started going grey prematurely, I admit I have for years colored my hair (quite often these days) but have thought about stopping at some point in the future. I have a few friends who no longer dye their hair and they look fantastic. I strive to do the best with what I’ve got and, aside from the hair coloring, I’m not willing to go through other great lengths to try to convince myself (or anyone else) that I’m decades younger than I am. There’s much I’ve yet to accomplish; I can’t spend too much of my time and energy worrying about my appearance.
As far as fashion goes, I do have a subscription to a popular magazine and love to look at the new trends each season–especially the handbags. Both my husband and middle son work in the apparel industry and I think fashion is fun, an artistic expression by designers. But I’ve developed my own style and learned to wear what works for me. When I was younger, I often made the mistake of trying to copy someone else’s look, only to discover it didn’t look the same on me. Of course, it didn’t; an imitation is rarely as good as the original. And while I may read fashion magazines, if something seems ridiculous to me, no matter how popular, I won’t be swayed. I can unequivocally state that even if shoulder pads come back in style again someday, I will not be wearing them. Rocking your own style is beautiful. Penny Marshall’s character Laverne Defazio knew this better than anyone; she wore the letter L on all her clothes, even her brewery uniform and her pajamas. It was her signature and she was unapologetic about it. She wasn’t afraid to stand out.
What I saw in Penny Marshall was someone with the magical ability to make me laugh and cry, both with her acting, as well as her directing. The person who brought us unforgettable lines like “there’s no crying in baseball” (A League of Their Own) made this world a more beautiful place. And that’s as beautiful as it gets.