More Than Skin Deep

By Susan Traugh

More Than Skin Deep

The plumber just told me what an attractive woman I am. And I’ve thought about it all day.

There would have been a time, two or three decades ago, when I’d have never given such a statement a second thought. There was a time when I expected men to find me attractive; when I knew every male head would turn as I passed. But, that was then. This is now.

Now, I’m carrying a small child’s worth of fat on my frame. Now, I use a smaller and smaller mirror to apply my make-up so I don’t have to see my droopier and droopier chin. Now, I watch my backside shrink in direct proportion to my belly’s expansion and my breasts race each other for my toes! Now, if I unexpectedly catch my reflection in the mall mirrors, I wonder who that matronly fat woman is!

But the plumber meant what he said.

And, he’s not alone. Just before a summer break, I sat down at the cafeteria tables with my then-third-grade daughter and her friends. They informed me that they’d voted me the most beautiful of all their moms.

Now, I knew their moms. Several of them were young enough to be my daughter. (I’m a late-bloomer.) All of them were a good thirty pounds lighter than I. Not one of them was as saggy or as out of shape or as old.

But those girls meant what they said.

A guest on Oprah once lamented that, at 50, she felt she had become invisible – that her sexual attraction had faded – and that now people (read: “men”) looked past her.

She’s partly right. Other than my plumber, I don’t turn many heads anymore. But after that, I disagree, for I am far from invisible.

Botanists know that flowers have another whole spectrum of patterns and colors that we can’t see. These patterns work like neon signs, pointing bees and hummingbirds (who can see these wild displays) toward their nectar and pollen so that the flowers can reproduce.

I think, in our youth, we’re given our dewy good looks because we need that power. Like the flower’s neon-sign patterns, we need those flashy fronts to mate and reproduce. But, as wonderful as it is, it’s a shallow beauty – only skin deep.

Our job between then and now, especially as the female of the species, is to use that initial power to build something stronger. Like those wild displays in the flower world that flash of springtime beauty is fleeting. For despite all of our potions and will-power, sacrifice and surgery, springtime simply can’t be sustained. But, we honestly wouldn’t want it to be. As glorious as spring is…summer, fall…and even winter hold their own unique splendor.

The trick for me is to stop comparing that rosebud to the bare branch of the bush. For, while that flash of pink may bedazzle the eye in spring, it cannot bloom without the strong support of the hardwood. Gnarled and curled as it may be, that wood is the sole support of that budding life…cradling the new growth, sending nutrients through its branches, nurturing its future. It is not that transient bloom that sustains Rosaceae, but instead, the cane that feeds its soul.

I’m not invisible. I have a depth of soul that I never even dreamed existed when I was a cute-little-twenty-something. I earned that soul the hard way – through lost loves and the ups and downs of marriage and miscarried babies and sleepless nights and wrestles with my faith and tragic accidents and Christmas mornings. I earned it through sacrifice for my children, devotion to friends, tolerance of enemies, patience with frustration and gratitude for small things. I earned it with the millions of small steps I’ve taken, forward and backward, on this journey through life. I’ve earned it for the lowest of times when I couldn’t even take the smallest steps and had to crawl.

And those little girls saw that.

I returned to my daughter’s school after summer break that year and stepped onto the school grounds to continue my regular volunteer work. Before I’d crossed the campus, I was approached by fifty different kids who needed to hug me and welcome me back. A half a dozen teachers stopped to say hello.

Maybe I was wrong. I do turn heads. But now, instead of looking after the sway of my hips, they’re reaching for the softness of my heart and the warmth of my cushiony hug. Now, instead of checking me out to see what they can get from me, they open up for all they know I will give. Now, rather than hiding behind our masks of youthful insecurity and postures, we relax into a comfortableness of who we are, down deep, where meaning is immutable.

The plumber thought I was attractive. Whether his observation came from his sight or his insight, I owe him my deep gratitude. For he made me think about it all day.

About this writer

  • Susan Traugh Susan Traugh is an award-winning author of both commercial and educational books for children and adults. She lives in California with her husband and three teenagers.

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3 Responses to “More Than Skin Deep”

  1. Karen C. says:

    Thanks, Susan, from all of us who feel more invisible as the years pass. I’m the cane not the rose, thorns and all. And that ain’t bad.

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