Have you ever walked down the street, following your ordinary route, on an ordinary day only to find yourself absolutely awestruck by the extraordinary appearance of the person in front of you? Everything is the same, and then Beauty herself comes walking down the street and all you can do is stare. Such physical beauty is rare but it does exist, and we venerate and praise it more so than most other traits. The grand cosmic joke lies in the fact that those who are deemed beautiful are merely winners of the genetic jackpot. Yes, we live in world overflowing with beauty enhancement products and cosmetic surgery but all those things can only take an individual so far and the end result almost always looks artificial. True beauty created by nature becomes even more blindingly radiant against the backdrop of the artificial.

The conundrum of physical appearance has always perplexed me. Never has one thing been so important and simultaneously so irrelevant at the same time. My first encounter with the appearance monster took place around the time I was 11 or so. I was always a pudgy child but suddenly other people started to notice. They weren’t so pleased with my appearance and they were quite intent on letting me know their opinions. This was followed by angst filled early teen years where I cursed the way I looked in the mirror every single day. The fact that I’d lost 65 pounds and grew several inches didn’t make much of a difference. I only saw ugly. And ugly I was for a while.

It wasn’t until my late teens that I finally made peace with my looks. I was by no means beautiful in my own eyes, but I was fine. And then the most peculiar things began to happen. People, both men and women, would stop and stare at me as I walked down the street. (All I could think to myself was that I couldn’t be so unattractive as to induce rampant gaping.) Eventually, people began to vocalize what they were thinking when they would stop and stare. And one day, suddenly, I was being flooded by variations on the phrase “You’re so beautiful!” It became stranger when model scouts stopped me on the street.

But I… I was still only happy to wake up every day, look in the mirror, and think to myself, “I’m ok.” That may not sound like the world’s most positive thought, but to me it is the most neutrally, healthy way to view my external appearance—to be grateful for what I have been given and to just feel fine.

The positive feeling was unceremoniously and quite unexpectedly pulled from my hands for a bit within the past few months or so. We all have our vanities and my one vanity was my hair. I had long, dark, loose curls that fell down to the middle of my back. I loved my hair. In one fell swoop, I decided that I was going to go chop it all off and donate it. Within half an hour of stepping foot into the salon, I had a chin-length bob. I just didn’t look the same. That night, I took my curls and placed them in a padded envelope and wrote out the name and address of the charity on it and left it on my dresser. The next morning when I looked in the mirror, as I picked up the envelope in order to take it to the post office, I was shocked. I didn’t look the same. My prized physical attribute was gone.

The drastic change received mixed reviews. Lots of people liked it but those who hated it really hated it. I mourned my hair for a couple of weeks and then finally knocked myself out of it. I was being silly. Hair grows back. And I… well, I was still ok. And that’s all I ever hope to think of my external shell. If I begin to think too highly of it or conversely begin to demean it, then I have lost sight of the grand purpose of it all. When I am gone, no one will clearly remember the shape of my nose or the brown of my eyes, but they will remember the strength of my words, the quality of my character, and the depth of my love. (And those who only remember the size of my waist or the length of my legs have missed the point entirely.)