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I’ve always viewed the women in my family as beautiful, and I’m talking beyond looks. As a whole.

I’ve always admired their compassion, their strength and resilience, their knows-no-bounds generosity, their grace and integrity, their humor and wit.

When I look at them, they are and were beautiful. Plain and simple.

So it’s interesting to me that I spent so many years striving to achieve a very narrow standard of beauty. One that didn’t focus on the above, at all.

Instead, I searched for beauty in all the wrong places, in places that stunted my self-esteem and bashed my body image.

I searched for beauty in workouts I hated, in burning my skin for hours in the sun, in tips and tricks from women’s magazines, in eating bland low-cal foods, in yo-yo dieting, in feelings of shame and guilt that I thought would propel my weight loss.

This would make me beautiful, I reasoned. And then my life would change. The world would change. I’d be noticed, wanted and never rejected.

Of course, my outside wasn’t the problem. It was an issue of perspective, of my eyes.

And an issue of neglect. Neglecting to focus on inner qualities like the ones I’ve always admired in the amazing women in my family.

Today, I want to share a stunning and sweet excerpt from Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Thinking (I received a free copy) about true beauty and love. An excerpt I won’t ever forget.

She writes about the book My Mother Is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Becky Reyher:

In the book, Varya, a young Ukrainian girl, becomes separated from her mother while they’re working in the fields. People from a neighboring village who are out harvesting wheat try to help Varya find her mother, but the only description the child can give is that her mother “is the most beautiful woman in the world.” The villagers send messengers to all the local farms, asking them to send the most beautiful women back to the clearing where Varya waits, sobbing. One by one, beautiful women are paraded before the little girl, but she shakes her head at each one, sobbing  harder and harder. And then a woman comes running up: “Her face was big and broad, and her body even larger. Her eyes were little pale slits between a great lump of a nose. The mouth was almost toothless.” She is Varya’s mother, and the mother and child are reunited: “The smile Varya  had longed for was once again shining upon her.”

Also, I’d like to leave you with Lauren’s words. I found this post on Operation Beautiful, and the last paragraph of her piece simply says it all:

Real, natural, strong, and powerful beauty comes from within your heart. It blossoms like a rose in spring and encourages such an alluring, captivating, exquisite spirit that cannot be contained. A confident woman is a force to be reckoned with! Nothing can stop her, and nothing can get her down. I have both witnessed and experienced this. I have been where many of you have been, currently are, and, sadly, will be. I have hit rock bottom more than once. But I have come so far where I used to be with the realization I am about to share with you. From one woman to another, take these words fully: you are beautiful, just the way you are. You, right now, as you are reading this, are enough. In this moment. Today, tomorrow, and forever. Just as you are. Be confident with the person you have grown to be. There will never be another you, so why would you try to be like someone else? Beauty comes indifferent forms for every woman. Natural, wonderful, healthy, fabulous, unique. That’s what you are, and that’s what beauty is.

* This was written as part of this month’s Self-Discovery, Word by Word series, which is hosted by Val from Balancing Val. The word is “beauty.” Here’s more on how to participate. I hope you will!

What does beauty mean to you? Have your thoughts on beauty changed throughout the years? Why?