Don’t judge a book by its cover, I grew up with that saying. Unfortunately in the digital age, where everything is judged and rated by its presentation alone, it’s far more difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.
A picture doesn’t represent all the dimensions and feel of an item. What looks good on a model staged in a photo with all sorts of enhancements doesn’t represent real life. A number rating doesn’t separate out the possible lies, personal biases or misrepresentations that went into it.
Years ago, I met a wonderful woman at work. She weighed over 300 pounds and was constantly worried that was all people saw. Sadly it seemed to be true. Too often they didn’t see the incredibly smart, beautiful, funny, compassionate, successful woman in front of them.
It was my daughter’s fourth birthday when they met. I have to admit I was a bit nervous. Little ones tend to blurt out the first thing on their minds. They have no filter or sense of courtesy. But it’s not done in malice or to shame. Unlike adults, who often say hurtful things or couch their displeasure in ugly looks or huddled whispers.
Instead, my friend was greeted with a huge hug after bestowing her gift – a box she had painted to look like an old steamer trunk covered in post cards and decals. Inside was a “magical” wand and an assortment of costumes that would transport my daughter to far off places and new adventures.
It was rare adults spoke to this precocious, intelligent child with eye contact and interest. Usually a pat on the head, “that’s nice honey,”
was all she heard as they moved on. Even rarer to have an adult invest any time. Especially in a gift that took time and energy to produce.
That afternoon, the two passed a good portion of the party pretending one scenario after another. Other family and friends seemed thrilled the birthday girl was otherwise occupied so they could discuss adult issues. Me? I watched two beautiful individuals usually marginalized or outright ignored, delve deeper than an older woman’s size and a little girl’s age to see the truth within- fascinating human beings both could bond with and learn from.
Their laughter and excitement was infectious, slowly catching the attention of others as their circle widened to encompass more and more who wanted to enjoy the wonders of make believe. By the end of the day we were all sharing childhood memories and playing games.
Weight has it’s own special concerns that can lead to devastating health issues and pain. But it doesn’t define who that person is. It’s impossible not to immediately judge someone on their appearance. It’s human nature. Age, size, color, ethnicity, clothing, style, speech, bearing, attitude cement an immediate impression that is all too frequently hard to change.
Studies show it only takes a tenth of a second to relegate someone to the yeas or nays. How can that possibly be an accurate measure of a future relationship? How many times has that stunning beauty or incredible hunk lost their luster and the less perfect shined greater the more time was invested?
When we only see the surface, we miss the beauty and depth below. Most of us want genuine, caring, open people in our lives. It’s exhausting always feeling the need to present our best face. Never allowed to be human. Trying desperately to hide what we see as flaws. That’s what social media does. It takes a child and makes them want to morph into a gorgeous woman through makeup and photography, or waste hours editing a picture before posting it. Artificial poses and lighting replace spontaneity and fun. Those aren’t the standards we should be forcing on ourselves or others.
Remember your parents’ or grandparents’ pictures? Even in black and white they were breathtaking, evoking a time and place long gone, but not forgotten. One that spoke to me as a child was a picture of all the women on my mother’s side, grouped in the “parlor” from the early 1900’s. There were dozens. I could feel the energy and story behind each one from their stance, dress and look.
I have always said I learned far more from my daughter than I ever taught her. Watching her innocence and openness reminded me what adulthood extracts. We are so afraid of what others will think we deny ourselves possible opportunities. She made me see that the walls we work so diligently to erect don’t just keep others out, they lock us in.
Growing up she was an amazing icebreaker. Unaware of adult etiquette, she never hesitated to start a conversation. One time we were stuck in an airport waiting for an overdue plane. A little boy was sitting on the ground in front of his parents, playing with a truck. Next thing I knew my daughter sat across from him. Within an hour several kids in the area had gravitated to the “ play area.” Regardless of size, age, skin color, they all enjoyed each other’s company. That got the adults talking too.
Children always welcome the chance to meet someone new. All they ever need is an easy smile and an inviting “hi”. They aren’t shackled by adult rules. It’s time we stop fearing rejection for being ourselves. That day at the airport, through our children’s eyes, we finally stopped looking at what we saw and started seeing what we were looking at- wonderful people worth knowing.