Reading is an under-appreciated art. People don’t realize how powerful words can be, especially in the form of a novel. Books can be really powerful. And sometimes, books can the power to change lives; much-needed-inspiration or heartbreaking realization can be found between the pages of a paperback. I’m an avid reader and I read because I love it, because I use it to escape. And while most of the books I read for pleasure I enjoy immensely (for school, however, it is a whole other ball game), there have only been a few books that have left me thinking intently afterwords. Only a few that have inspired me as a person, made me question my ideals and thoughts, even months after I have finished the story. This happened most recently to me at the hands of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. (If you haven’t read this book, stop wasting your time reading this post and go and read it. I promise you won’t regret it.)
I read this book prolly around a month ago. I finished the book in two days. Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed it and since then, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. I saw the film beforehand, so I kinda knew what to expect, but the style of writing was so genuine, so relate-able, so fresh, I was taken to a completely new level after reading the narrative firsthand. But I’m not writing to write about the writing style (though maybe that will be my first book review in the future, who knows). I’m writing about the message that came from the words on the page, words that have lingered on my mind and made me question.
Specifically, one line has stuck out to me a lot. Charlie, the protagonist, is writing about his brother; about his hopes for him and how he misses him as he wonders what his brother is doing in college. Charlie talks about his brother’s potential girlfriends, and Charlie says, “…something like that would be very good for him, especially if the girl were unconventionally beautiful.” It is the last two words that truly stuck out to me: unconventionally beautiful. I had never heard that phrase before, but it is something that I have grown to cherish and something I aspire to be.
To be called beautiful by someone else is something that I used to dream about, back when I was a young adolescent hitting puberty, going through the traditional rites of passage before reaching adulthood: a minefield of ache on my face; a silver, metal smile that lasted from 7th grade until my sophomore year of high school; a four-eyes-is-better-than-two policy that I used to help me make out the blurs until I discovered the wonderful world of contacts; curves that made shopping for jeans a dreaded punishment and made me question whether I liked swimming enough to brave that two-piece bathing ensemble. Basically, I was a walking poster board of what it looked like to be an unfortunate teenager. And that wasn’t a bad thing. It is a phase everyone goes through, to one degree or another, when growing up. It’s puberty. However, today’s society and its ideals made it to where from the moment I got boobs and starting shaving to the day I graduated high school, I felt like it was a bad thing. I wasn’t beautiful. I didn’t wear a pound of makeup or always purchase the next designers outfit. I ate an extra helping of potatoes instead of eating a salad without dressing, and I had the curves to prove it. My hair was always in a ponytail and I had two pairs of jeans compared to my plethora of sweatpants. I wasn’t what society defined as beautiful and I lived my teenage years believing that I wasn’t beautiful because of that definition, believing that there was only one definition of being beautiful.
I was wrong.
Going to college helped me cope with my negative self-image and I began to accept who I am, especially this year. This year I made it my resolution to start working out at the gym, making it a lifestyle instead of a chore, in order to become fit and healthy. And while I am slowly becoming more fit and working towards my goals, I am also working on changing my attitude on defining what is beautiful. I used to want to go to the gym because I thought if I went often enough and worked hard enough, I would become beautiful. I thought by losing weight and getting “skinny”, one day a guy would tell me he thought I was beautiful, and he would mean it; that one day he would tell me I was beautiful, and I would believe him.
And sometimes, I truly find myself still wishing that will happen. But that isn’t the way it should be. I am still living by society’s definition of beautiful, something I have hated ever since I was old enough to “care” about that type of thing. But the definition Charlie gives, “unconventionally beautiful”, is one I’m hoping I will fall under. On the surface, the term unconventional may seem to have a negative connotation, but it really isn’t. Unconventional is an adjective, meaning that something is not based on or conforming to what is generally done or believed. So, you can say uniquely beautiful or even just different, nontraditional. To be unconventionally beautiful is not to live up to society’s standards, but instead, you create and live up to your own.
To me, to be unconventionally beautiful means to be accepted and not judged when I go up for seconds for my mother’s infamous homemade macaroni and cheese (and if you have had this mac and cheese, then you will definitely not judge me when I go up for thirds; that is Heaven in your mouth right there, people). It means leaving my room without makeup on and not freaking out. It means yoga pants and a comfy V-neck. It means not being ashamed that I’m not wearing size ten jeans. It means being curved and liking it (because really ladies, we’re just giving our men something to hold onto 😉 ). To be unconventionally beautiful means, to me, that I am comfortable in my own skin and accept who I am, am proud and love who I am and of my appearance. Being unconventionally beautiful means that while I may not look like what society defines as skinny and beautiful doesn’t mean that those words still can’t be applied to me. It means recreating what it means to be beautiful by accepting who you are and loving that person. Because once you love who you are, the new-found confidence that you will give off will make all the beautiful qualities that you have always possessed shine out and people will notice that.
So now, as I go to the gym, I hope that I will do it because I want to be healthier, not because I want to become skinnier. Instead of striving to fit into those size ten jeans or buying shirts in a size small, I want to strive to become — and become known as someone who is — unconventionally beautiful. And that means striving to become me, loving who I am now, today. And while I know it will take time to wash out society’s corrupted expectations out of my brain, I also know that one day, I will get there. One day, I will look in the mirror and tell myself I am beautiful.
And I will believe it.
I hope that a lot of these stories within this post don’t apply to you. I hope you never dreaded walking past a mirror, purposely avoiding gazing into that glassy revelation only to see a reflection you wish you could change. I hope you didn’t grow up with low self-esteem and a negative body image. I hope you didn’t waste your nights crying into your pillow, wishing you had the strength to change. I hope you realized you are beautiful. But in case you didn’t, I want you to realize now that just because society defines beautiful a certain way does NOT mean that you need to define it that way. You can create your own definition and that is good enough. You can be unconventionally beautiful. (And guys, this applies to you, too. You do not need to be tall, dark, and ripped in order to be handsome. I prefer unconventionally handsome to traditionally handsome any day!) Hell, you already are!
And that is a really great thing.
^^ Some nice humor for you. 🙂