The body vs. intangibles

I recently dated a ‘beautiful’ man. At first, it was a pleasure. Looking at him and taking in the contours of his form while exploring the hard but defined hills and valleys of his physique filled me with delight. But, as I began to notice that this pleasure was uniquely one-sided, my own joy in the physical and visual quickly diminished.

When I looked at the dynamics of our relationship, I realized that his behavior was not personal. His mother repeatedly extolled his virtues, stating “my son, the hunk… he could have any woman he wants, you know.” And it was obvious that he had absorbed this message wholeheartedly, coming to believe his own press.

Thinking about this, a memory from when I was fourteen came to mind. At the time, I was friends with two sisters, both of whom were older than me. The eldest, at nineteen, was undeniably beautiful – tall, sleek, with long dark curly hair and blue eyes so large that you had to almost pull yourself away. The younger was her sister’s physical opposite – short, chubby, with a square face that lacked in delicacy. But, she had something more: a warmth and vitality that pulled you in, making you feel loved and safe while creating a haven from which it was hard to escape. And, when you did, you wanted to fight to get back inside the strength of her energy.

One night, sitting around her mother’s kitchen table, we were talking about the bikini commercial the older sister was going to be shooting in the coming week. As the discussion took place, I noticed that their mother was supportive but not ecstatic about her daughter’s endeavor.

When I asked her why she didn’t seem more thrilled, she told me that although she thought that it was great that her daughter was able to make some money by making a commercial or two, she didn’t want her girls to think that the only thing important about them is the shell in which they are encased. And, to this day, her answer sticks with me. “My girls are so much more than their bodies. I want them to value themselves and others for their skills, talents, and intrinsic worth, not for what they were born into, have no control over, and will eventually decay.”

Looking at the man I dated, I realized that he was an extreme example of what my friends’ mom had feared her daughters were in danger of becoming: he had valued his outer shell so deeply and had this belief reinforced for so long that he had forgotten that he had other, more important attributes on offer. As a result, he had lost the ability to develop his talents and appreciate another for their intangible qualities.

As a parent, when people comment on my son’s good looks I quickly thank them for the compliment. But, for myself, my son, and those close to us, I find myself consciously trying to emphasize the value of his happy personality, generous nature, and multiple aptitudes. Although I believe that it is important for him to carry into the world a comfort and confidence in his body, ultimately I believe a stronger confidence in the value of the intangibles that make him him and his ability to develop these is what will allow him to develop a strong sense of sense, value himself and others, create deep relational ties, and keep him away from the danger of being immeasurable potential that remains unrealized.