The Confab: The Beauty of Different

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

If you’ve read this blog even a few times, you’ve probably heard me rave about Karen Walrond and her wonderful, award-winning photoblog Chookooloonks. Karen is a former engineer and a non-practicing attorney. That’s the long way of saying: This woman’s hella smart. She’s also funny, insightful and — as she’ll often tell you — wildly convinced that you (yes, you) are simply beautiful.

Last fall, Karen published her first book The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit. It’s this marvelous collection of her photography and essays, all with the overriding message that “what makes us different makes us beautiful.” I’m absolutely delighted to have my friend (tee-hee!) Karen here as a guest in The Confab to share her unique and heartening words about beautiful, beautiful us. All of us.

And, in what’s becoming a fabulous trend in The Confab, be sure to read to the end of the post for a lovely surprise. Oh, you know it … Giveaway!

Q: Beauty. It’s a tremendous concept, with so many pockets and layers. We all have such varied ideas about what beauty is. You maintain that we are all beautiful. Different and extraordinary and beautiful. How did you come to this conviction? Is it something you’ve always felt to be true?

Karen Walrond: No, definitely not.  As an immigrant, when I came to the United States during middle school, my family moved to a very homogenous neighbourhood, where I didn’t look like anyone else.  I was convinced that someone who looked like me could never be beautiful.  Furthermore, because of my accent and my culture, I believed that  the only way I could possibly ever be considered “beautiful” would be to go back to my tiny island homeland of Trinidad.

It wasn’t until I was much older — well into adulthood — I started to realize that, in fact, we are generally all intrigued by people who are different from us, despite what our middle-school selves might have had us believe when we were younger.  Furthermore, I understood that even in communities where everyone seemed alike, the truth was that each person actually feels different — and might even spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to hide that difference, in order to “fit in”!  The incongruity of this — the intrigue with “different,” while at the same time trying to hide your own differences — fascinated me.  I wondered what would happen if people took the time to view and reframe the things that made them different as actually sources of their own beauty, and created their stories as such?  And this provided me the inspiration to write and photograph my book.

Q: Mothers, especially the new-to-the-games ones, are quick to tell you that they have chucked their “beauty routines” aside. That they don’t have time for makeup or, in many cases, hairstyles outside of a ponytail. They just don’t feel the beauty, so to speak. What would you tell those women about defining and refining their “beauty”?

KW: Well, first of all, I would suggest that if a woman’s idea of her own beauty is primarily formed by comparing themselves to fashion and “beauty” magazines, then that’s a habit that she probably needs to readdress, new mother or not!  I really think that there are two types of “beauty” — the kind that magazines and the media try to establish to sell product (and incidentally, this concept of beauty changes with every passing fad), and real beauty, which is the kind that viscerally moves you, that you can’t define, but you know it when you’re in the presence of it.  I think we’ve all experienced being moved by someone who we thought was beautiful — a grandmother, perhaps, or a child, or even a stranger — and often, very little of what has moved us is related in any way to fashion-magazine-beauty.  Given this, logic dictates that we are all capable of great and real beauty.

And so, I would say to all women, not just new mothers, that it behooves us to think about when we feel our most beautiful, our most true, and let that dictate our definition and refinement of our beauty.  For some of us, this feeling of being beautiful will simply require our routine to be a hot shower, a cup of tea and two moments of silence.  For others, it might mean getting lost in a piece of music.  For others, it might mean a great haircut and lipstick.  Or going for a run.  Whatever.  But ultimately, we get to decide what “beauty” means.  As a friend of mine (who I feature in my book) says, we should create our own stories — don’t let other people create them for us.

Q: If you had to boil it down to three key lessons that you’ve learned about yourself about life in general from motherhood, what would they be?

  1. I’m more like my mom and dad than I’d like to admit.
  2. And even given No. 1, in a lot of ways I’m a lot more laid back of a parent than I thought I would be.
  3. Nobody’s perfect — even if they look like it.  Also, we’re going to screw up as parents, because we’re human.  The point, I think, is to simply try our very best, and then let go of the rest.

Q:  Photographer is a major part of your identity. How has photography influenced you as a mother? And on the flip side, how has being a parent changed/enhanced your photography?

KW: I can’t say that photography has “influenced” me as a mother, nor has being a parent changed my photography, other than my daughter is often a willing subject!  Photography is something I’d been doing for myself way before the birth of my daughter, and has been a part of my identity for a long time.  If anything, photography is something that I do in parallel with all other parts of my identity, like being a wife or a mother.  Photography is all about me and for me.  I think it’s important to have something that you do that is all for you, and for me, photography is that thing.

Q: You have a lovely, 7-year-old daughter, Alex. In these times of beauty warfare eating disorders, low self-esteem, bullying, 5-year-olds thinking they need plastic surgery, Barbie doll ideals, girls devaluing themselves and taking their misguided cues from what’s happening around them, etc. what do you hope you to pass on to your girl child? What sensibility are hoping you can help her develop?

KW: I think Alex is starting to realize that the things that make her different are the sources of her beauty — of course, since that message has been my work for the past couple of years, it’s hard for her to escape it!  Unfortunately, it is starting to backfire:  when she asked me to take her to Chuck E. Cheese and I made a face, she said, “Mom, remember: the beauty of different — just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful!”

Q: Following that up, do you have any advice or measured suggestions for other mothers raising daughters, concerned about all they will face striving for “beauty”… to be seen as beautiful?

KW: Keep fighting the good fight, man.  In my case, I point out beauty wherever I see it — in girls, in boys, in men, in women, regardless of age or size or race or ability — I’m constantly pointing to what I consider beautiful to my daughter.  I would say I do this daily.  The truth is, our daughters are going to face a lot of societal pressure about what beautiful is, and as parents, we just have to work hard to counter that.  Plus, I think if your daughter sees you responding to beauty out in the real world that looks different from what the magazines describe is beautiful, she’s more likely to believe you when you tell her she’s beautiful, and she’s feeling vulnerable:  it won’t feel like you’re “just saying that” because your her mom.  She’ll have seen you respond to beauty in all forms before, and she’ll believe your sincerity, you know?

But of course, I’m learning just like we all are.  We all just need to do our best.

Q: In your book, The Beauty of Different, there’s a chapter where you talk about heartbreak. Within that there’s a great story called “One Good Thing,” that is essentially about taking a moment to pause even (or especially) when your life feels seems like it’s in utter shambles and be thankful for something good in your life or your day. The Confab is about talking to wise folks, having them share indispensable advice to help us all take another step towards living our best lives. Authentically upgrading ourselves. With that in mind, what is “one good thing” that you can share with us?

KW: Well, of course “one good thing” changes for everyone, and it can be a big thing or a small thing.  Right now, the “one good thing” that comes to mind is that I just finished a delicious lunch of vegetable potstickers, and I’m about to make myself a cup of hot tea.  Both of those are very Good Things!

For more on Karen, read her blog Chookooloonks. Do find 2:44 minutes to sit still and ponder Karen’s empirical proof that we’re all indeed beautiful.

Giveaway time! One special reader will win an autographed copy of Karen’s bestselling book, The Beauty of Different, and all you have to do is leave a comment on the most beautiful thing about you and  … c’est tout. Now that’s a handsome deal, folks. (We’ll randomly select a winner next week.)

  • 1

    The most beautiful thing about me is that I am unafraid to delve deeply into my own heart to find the truth. Which is really hard to do. Especially right now.

  • 2
    A'Driane says:

    The most beautiful thing about me? Hmmmmm I think that despite what I’ve faced growing up and struggled with as an adult, I’ve been able to have faith in God, and the process He’s taken me through to help me see myself as He sees me-beautiful, whole & loved, as opposed to seeing myself through the eyes of others or through circumstances or mistakes. It hasn’t been an easy process, it’s been a worthwhile one. That’s one thing I think is beautiful about me….another is that because I’ve survived abuse, depression, and other “brokenness” in my life, I want to help other women who’ve experienced the same to overcome, and recognize that no matter what they’ve endured or experienced they are in fact beautifull, worthy, and deserve to live life as whole beings.

    Thank you for this post! I love Karen, and have been DYING to get this book!

  • 3
    RoxyWTF says:

    The most beautiful thing about myself is my self-honesty and self-awareness.

    These two things are what keeps me true to myself and helps me evolve into the beautiful person that I am today.

    • 3.1
      JenRene says:

      I agree with Roxy. Authenticity to self is sexy , risky and REAL. I dont know about anyone else, but real is hard to come by these days and if beauty can be found in the vulnerable things or simple things ~ in life & we can demonistrate its importance to the next generation, like Karen says– then we have found TRUE beauty. ~ JenRene

  • 4
    RinnieKirk says:

    My red hair!! I love it now that I’m older I get compliments all the time! :-)
    Hoping to pass on my genes to a little girl one day!

    • 4.1
      Jen says:

      Red hair…ooooohhhh do I envy you that! I used to dream I would wake up with my hair magically transformed to red when I was a little girl. Then I married a man with red hair and dreamed of red-haired little babies. No luck. You are indeed a lucky lady!

  • 5
    Jen says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my curves. I earned these curves after growing the most perfect boy you’ve ever seen. I had some curvy-ness before, but man, did babymaking ever make them better! There may be days when I wish I could loose a few pounds, but if it meant giving up some Boticelli curves of mine, forget it!

  • 6
    Minty says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my outlook on life. I’m an optimist and I believe in achieving the dreams God has put in my heart. That simple love for life shines out of me (most of the time). lol

  • 7
    Kristin says:

    The most beautiful things about me are my two kids who will never hear from me that they’d be so pretty if they lost (or gained!) just ten pounds.

  • 8
    Danielle C says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is that I am a good friend. I am honest and generous (not necessarily with material things, but time and thoughts), two things I really look for in a friend.

  • 9
    Ariana says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my soul when it is turned toward, forgetting the self, and and reflecting godly qualities and attributes. I think this is most evident when I am offering service to my community.

  • 10
    Ariana says:

    My comment got garbled in the process of posting, so I am re-posting. Sorry! What I meant to say is that the most beautiful thing about me is my soul when it is forgetful of self, and is turned toward, and reflecting godly qualities and attributes. I think this is most evident when I am offering service to my community.

  • 11
    Ellen Coker says:

    An ability to focus on the strengths in building relationships and thus see the beauty that is the person, this is the most beautiful thing about me.

  • 12
    Amy says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my tendency to take joy in small everyday things.

  • 13
    Urban Wife says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is the gift God has given me to serve others.

  • 14
    Jackie says:

    The most beautiful thing about me are my hands. Long, graceful fingers meant to play the piano (which I can’t do; a goal of mine.) So many things my hands can do; touch, hold, feel, create… Currently my nails are full of stains from digging in the garden.Strong, dirty hands. Still beautiful. Thank you for your interview with Karen.

  • 15
    Wendy says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my candor, to others and about myself.

  • 16
    Laura says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is how I find a way to smile even when inside I may be going though something difficult. This smile has gifted me with many dear friendships that I am so grateful for.

  • 17
    Alexandra says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my empathy. I feel deeply for other people and want the best for them, so much so that the suffering of others can be hard for me to bear. But it’s still worth it.

  • 18
    Lynn Fuhr says:

    The most beautiful thing about me is my compassion for others…and my light green “wolf” eyes!

  • 19
    Shana Tighi says:

    At present moment, the most beautiful thing about me is my big, round, pregnant belly – stretch marks and all. After multiple losses, it is a beautiful symbol of my fertile goddess-ness!

  • 20
    Jhu says:

    The most beautiful thing is when I realized my eyes can see and feel the story from everything beautifully. :)

  • 21
    CoraD says:

    My children are the most beautiful thing about ne. Not only are they physically stunning but gorgeous, kind, loving souls as well.

  • 22
    Heather says:

    Karen is all kinds of amazing. I think the most beautiful thing about me is the way I love whole-heartedly.