Let's talk about how beautiful you are.
We don't talk about it enough.
Earlier this week, my mum commented on the interesting hair cut of a man staying in the same hotel as us.
"Does he really look in the mirror and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"
My immediate response was "do you look in the mirror and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"
Let me make it very clear here that I do often think that my mum's hair looks great.
What I meant was that I never look in the mirror and think I look great.
"Do people really do that?"
(Obviously by 'people' I do not mean Eva Longoria or Davina McCall. I imagine they do it every day.)
The second the words were out of my mouth I realised.
I have actually done that.
I've recently had my hair cut quite a lot shorter than it's been in years, and for the first few days after my trip to the hairdresser I would occasionally catch my reflection and do a double take. 'Great decision, Rebecca, should have had this style years ago,' I would indulgently think to myself.
I feel I should balance this shocking confession out by telling you two things:
1) Earlier this year I lost my mind and decided to get a fringe cut in and spent the following three months crying every time I caught my reflection. So I've earned this moment of glory.
2) My new hair cut has now lost the hairdresser's magic touch and I'm back to being frustrated by everything about it. Rest assured, my ego will not explode.
But I shouldn't feel like this, should I?
Should I feel that I have to balance every good thing I feel about myself with something I dislike, to keep things fair? Fair for who?!
Before I had my hair cut, I mentioned to a friend that I LOVE her hair and was thinking of taking a picture of her to the hairdresser to show her what I wanted.
I expected her to laugh and brush the compliment away.
She ruffled up her perfect locks and replied 'my hair? Yes you should. It's great.' Then smiled.
Granted, it was her sister's engagement party and she had had the odd glass of wine, but it struck me that I absolutely should not have expected this absolutely gorgeous girl to brush the compliment away. I should have expected her to know how great it looks. She gets to see it every day. She should know more than anyone.
(NB. I did copy her hair cut and am now happy. I can confirm that she was right in her advice.)
And in the two and a half weeks that have passed since then, I have noticed more and more that our expectations of what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to opinion on appearance are totally skewed.
I have been given so many opinions on the appearance of other people in the past two weeks, I wish I had counted them up.
They have been about people I know in real life, celebrities on the television, regular humans on the television, people I've heard about but never met, people I've seen but will likely never meet, and everything in between.
And very few of the comments have been complimentary.
One may argue that if I want to sit on my sofa and criticise the appearance of whoever is appearing on my television, or on the internet, then that's my prerogative. What harm can it do? They will never be any the wiser, and I am entitled to my opinion.
Firstly, the problem with that attitude is that it very quickly becomes 'if I want to voice my opinion out and about...', or 'if I want to tweet that person to tell him/her what I think is wrong with their appearance...'
And then people are actually reading everything that I am sure they are aware of themselves, simply confirming that all of their fears are true, they are not good enough, and all of that worrying that they do about their appearance is justified.
The second problem, of course, is that it sends us, and the people around us, into all kinds of frenzy about our own appearance.
If all I hear about Adele- an outrageously talented singer and songwriter who is exceptional at her job- is that she needs to lose weight, then is weight all that matters? Does it mean that all people say about me- an educational professional who's trying desperately to be at the top of my game- is that I need to lose weight?
Equally if I hear one more person say that Cheryl Cole is too skinny, I will eat myself into a coma.
A few weeks ago I was genuinely concerned when a few people in a row made concerned faces and told me I had lost weight.
Now that on its own I probably wouldn't have thought much of. People quite often say that to me when I wear a particular pair of trousers because I got them in the sale in a size too big so they do make me look extra small. Makes sense. I haven't lost weight, I was just wearing ill fitting trousers.
Except that during that same week so many people had commented on Cheryl being too skinny.
It really stayed with me, and had me doubting myself.
Have I lost loads of weight? Is there something wrong with me?
I would check myself in the mirror and inspect how far out my tummy comes, whether my arms had got skinny.
I did eventually weigh myself (something I actively avoid because I don't want to get caught up in all this nonsense), and I had lost a couple of pounds since I was last weighed at a medical check in August. Those pounds were back on within a few days. For no rhyme or reason. Probably just the time of day I was weighing myself, and the difference between eating with my boyfriend (during which time I consume more than I do every other day of the week put together), and my colleagues (where we tend to eat salad and fruit to avoid falling asleep post-lunch. Unlike most jobs the busiest part of my day starts at three).
That week that I had lost a couple of pounds though, I was thinking about it more than I have ever thought about my weight before. I was making a game plan for putting it back on over Christmas. I ate a lot of things that are bad for me, and that I didn't even hugely enjoy.
And I, a very sensible (I like to think) and mature twenty-six year old woman, put all of this concern down to the non-stop utter nonsense that I had been bombarded with about Cheryl that week.
I mean, seriously, if Cheryl, an absolutely beautiful, seemingly-warm-hearted, sweet, hard worker who has built a career out of talent, personality, and yes, beauty; and has managed to make it last this long, is not good enough, what kind of chance do I have?!
Just imagine what this is doing to far younger, less sensible, more impressionable girls and boys across the country.
I spend more time than I should vaguely worrying in the back of my mind about how I'm always a little bit scruffy. When am I going to be one of those perfectly made up, MAC make-up girls with a different coordinated outfit every day of the year, and never a hair out of place?
And then today a friend wrote on social media saying that he had walked past a group of the exact girls I described above, the girl I hope to be one day, and was so grateful that his girlfriend is naturally beautiful and surrounded by lovely friends. Gosh. I didn't realise that we weren't all aspiring to be those girls. Those girls who have made it to that level of perfection also aren't good enough because it's not natural!
How can we ever win?
As just about everyone who has ever spoken to me knows, I work with children and I love every single one of them about thirty seconds after meeting them.
I have a nine month old Godson- the best person in the world- who I do not want growing up thinking he is not good enough. He is more than good enough at nine months old and he is only going to make us prouder.
Do we really want him growing up thinking he's not good enough because of the size of his tummy, his nose, or his teeth? Because he has a mole, a spot, or fluffy hair?
I am not for a second saying that we should ignore beauty.
I am very much a visual learner and love beautiful things.
But I think we should see the beauty and embrace it and all its flaws.
I have read somewhere that you should never comment on a child's appearance at all. All the way down to not commenting that you like her shoes, or his hat.
I don't agree with that at all.
Appearances do matter, that's a part of life.
It shows people who you are, and you have to be able to take appearance into consideration to a certain degree to shape a first impression, and to get by every day.
But why do we have to comment on the negative? Why can't we just comment on the beauty and ignore the flaws around it?
I am surrounded by absolutely beautiful people. Really, really beautiful people. My friends, family, colleagues, the children and their families...everyone. Actually at Pumbaa's wedding even the photographer commented on how gorgeous her family were.
But I imagine that none of them (or very few of them) would describe themselves as beautiful.
I imagine that if you asked them, they would be able to tell you what they would like to change about themselves, but not what makes them beautiful.
A girl who works in Sainsbury's (the Sainsbury's that I am in all the time) that I have never met, spoken to, or had any interaction with before, stopped me at the weekend to tell me that she loved my new haircut. She said it looked great.
I bounced back to work thinking- not of how wonderful my new hair is- but how absolutely gorgeous that girl was. I have noticed her in Sainsbury's before, and once commented to my manager how amazingly patient she was with a very chatty, very old man.
This girl almost oozes light, the kindness shines out of her eyes and her smile, and her gentle manner.
She was absolutely beautiful.
And that's what is beautiful about all the people I love.
When I was sixteen I worked in a cafe. I remember so clearly my Nanny and Grandad once surprising me by appearing at the little ice cream window on the side one Saturday morning. I remember thinking that they really were the most beautiful grandparents. How lucky I am, I thought, to have such absolutely gorgeous relatives.
Of course, in reality they may not have been turning heads of strangers in the street, for being the most attractive pensioners to ever walk the streets of Burnham-on-Crouch.
What was beautiful was that they had taken time out of their Saturday to surprise me.
In the time that I have written this, I have messaged my friends and family asking them 'what is it that makes you beautiful?'
The replies I have received so far almost all go along the same lines.
(Except Minnie Mouse, who replied 'my face.' This is why she is my best friend.)
Everybody else replied something like this: Oh dear, I definitely can't see it at all myself. But I suppose my [insert either smile, eyes, nose or lashes here] because that's what people have complimented me on most.
Which makes sense, doesn't it?
We can't really see ourselves. What we see is a reflection of how people respond to us, and respond to the world around us.
So if I spend a week looking at pictures of Cheryl looking unbelievable, with hugely critical comments underneath pulling her appearance apart, I'm naturally going to wonder what people think of me. When that is paired with concerned faces and 'have you lost weight?!' I'm going to start worrying that everyone really does think all the nasty things they think about Cheryl, about me.
I'm going to become sensitive, insecure, and defensive. Therefore potentially critical of others as well.
When a person I have never spoken to comes over and tells me that she has noticed me enough to notice that my hair has changed, and that she thinks it looks gorgeous, I'm going to see thoughtfulness, and kindness.
And I am going to want to be thoughtful and kind too.
Because I want to ooze that beautiful light the way that she does.
Imagine if we all oozed beautiful light like that lovely girl in Sainsbury's. What an absolutely stunning place the world would be.
Let's try it :)