To Seek After Beauty…by Sharon Stead



Sharon Stead is the Director of Middle Earth Housing at UC Irvine. Yes, that’s Middle Earth as in Tolkien. The students were asked to name the buildings when the community first opened in the 1970’s and the theme has been maintained ever since. Her office even owns it own Gandalf costume (itchy beard and all)! She earned her master’s degree from Colorado State’s SAHE program and her Ph.D. is from Oklahoma State University in Educational Psychology. 


“To seek after beauty as an end is a wild goose chase—because it is to misunderstand the very nature of beauty, which is the normal condition of a thing being as it should be.” ~Ada Bethune

So, #SAFit/#SAHealth/#SAWellness friends, I write my first blog post in the hopes of reminding us all of why we’re on this journey together. For me, it’s about getting stronger. I love beating myself and lifting just a little more weight or squeezing out a few more reps. Or getting a little deeper into that yoga pose. Or balancing a few seconds longer in “Crow Pose” before I face plant into the strategically placed pile of towels. It’s also about taking healthy, proactive steps to fight off those age-related health issues that I describe as “preventable,” especially since they run rampant in my family. For me, these include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s. I know, I know, that list doesn’t exactly make me look like a genetic goldmine, does it? I also had braces and wear contacts. (Why not go for full disclosure?)  🙂  For me, working out every day is a way of taking some control over what I feel I can when it comes to my health.

And for me, exercise is stress relief. A way of escaping and releasing everything that can come with the responsibility we have on our shoulders every day. A method of mitigating the pressure and anxiety that can come from the late nights, long weeks and constant hyper-vigilance of needing to answer the phone 24/7. I change at work and head directly to the gym. I know myself well enough to not plan to work out “later” and go home first and get too close to my couch (it has a magnetic field only I am sensitive to–I swear!). And I hope I am setting a good example for my staff who see I am finding time to take care of myself. Not something in which we have a terrific track record in Student Affairs. And when it comes down to why I dedicate this time and attention to my personal wellness, it would be false of me to say that aesthetics didn’t figure at all into my journey towards better health. Because they do. I have no delusions about being a super model, but I do want my outside to reflect all the effort in exercise, rest and good nutrition I am investing on the inside.

I was at the gym this week, doing ab work on the mats, sharing the space with a couple of other women. Obviously friends, they were talking about their diets and their bodies. One had just celebrated a birthday and was upset she had “fallen” off her diet. (Why do we say “fallen” when referring to diets? Like not sticking to your diet is on the same level of severity as falling off a 200 foot cliff?) She was on one of those high protein diets and kept saying how much she hated eating. Her food choices left her no joy in meals. Both women were complaining about the lack of a “six-pack,” though I think both would be considered thin, even by society’s crazy standards. They were doing what they were doing not because they enjoyed it, not for the health benefits, but to fit some beauty aesthetic. To me, the unhappiness that showed in their faces wasn’t very pretty.

Working with college students, you become both pleased and displeased with your age and state of fitness. Displeased because you become acutely aware of your own body image issues after seeing, day in and day out, what seems like an endless parade of perfect bodies in slinky tops, mini-skirts and heels so high they border on stilts. The kind of body you thought only existed in fashion magazines and only after extensive airbrushing, wearing clothes you scoffed would never look good on a “real” woman in “real” life. And yet, there goes the complete package . . . right past my office, down the sidewalk, around the corner to a club, bar or fraternity party. (Yes, I occasionally work that late and yes, they go out that early!)

Pleased because you have the sensibility and wisdom to not (quite) fall prey so easily to each new media campaign about how you should look or dress (First “thigh gap” and now “bikini bridge?” Insert eye roll here!). You hear about this season’s “out’s” and realize you don’t care that last (last) year’s black shoes are the favorite thing in your closet and glitter eye shadow is fun to wear. And you don’t care that this year’s “hot color” makes you look like you have jaundice so you never wear it. And besides you know this year’s “don’ts” will someday be “do’s” again. And many of us have been around long enough to be “retro chic” with stuff we put in storage and laughed at in our high school or college photos. I love not having to hit the the thrift stores before “80’s Night.” You are the lead dog instead of the lemming and feel less need to justify or apologize for the choices you make. You have a better sense of who you are, and that definition is being written by you, not someone else. Or many someone else’s.

Like anyone, I have my good days and my bad days. On bad days, I feel like the ugly duckling. My hair won’t cooperate, I have a pimple (Seriously? At 43? Apparently, my adolescence continues.) or I look in the mirror and see someone “old” looking back at me (Where did she come from?). In spite of the women’s empowerment I strive to practice and preach, I sometimes value the “outside” more than I should. And while I know deep down it’s simply not true, I sometimes wonder if my life would be better if I lost a few more pounds, had shinier hair or more defined abs. Encased in a slinky top and mini-skirt. Worn, of course, with a blazer and cute flats at the office.

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