It started out as a discussion about plastic surgery – rhinoplasty in particular. The youngest daughter of the family had just returned from a trip overseas to visit relatives and was reporting on the various family members – feminine – who had their noses ‘done.’ The long, straight and strong family noses had been snipped and shaped into turned-up, Barbie-doll dots. The consensus around the breakfast table was that noses, unless extremely large or especially off-putting, should be left as nature intended.

With that subject exhausted, the youngest daughter, who had been carefully examining herself in a hand mirror, decried the fact that her front teeth were too large.

“It’s your fault, mom. They’re just like yours.”

Mother, who had slightly large front teeth with an overbite, said, “They look cute! I like my teeth.”

“They’re too big. They’re gopher teeth,” said elder daughter with a fashion-savvy look.

“Are you saying I look like a gopher,” shot back mother.

“Do you want the truth?” daughter backhanded.

“Yes,” said mother. “I think I look cute.”

I began to squirm. Truth always affects me that way. I slid a sideways look at mother. Not a gopher, but maybe just the slightest bit rabbity. Rabbit’s not as bad as gopher, is it?

Meanwhile, younger daughter was saying, “They look cute on you,” with the implications unstated.

“Well, yes, they’re okay on you because your head is big enough,” said elder daughter in a carefree aside as she tried to back peddle her way off dangerous ground.

“Mom thought she looked beautiful until you said she looked like a gopher,” said younger daughter.

“I am beautiful,” said mother, with a confidence that I could only admire.

And that was the real gist of it, I thought, starting to unsquirm. Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder but in the mind of the presenter. When we look at ourselves we see what our minds are programmed to see. It’s like when you have pimple on your face and look in the mirror all that you see is the pimple. When you stand in front of the full length, you don’t see your body; you see the ten pounds you gained.

Years ago, the tradition used to be that there were no mirrors in convents. Nuns wore long veils and wimples and never knew what they looked like to others. No doubt, that helped them to keep their minds on God rather than the world. As a result there was always a clean simplicity to their faces and allowed their souls to show through- for better or worse.

Nowadays, nuns wear skirts and blouses, drive cars, hold jobs and have their hair done. They have the right to look as bad and be as insecure as the rest of us. Just think, if we didn’t look into mirrors, we could believe we are as beautiful as we want to be.

“Gee, you look good today,” someone might say.

“No, I look beautiful,” might be an appropriate response.

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