The Look of Love
January 31st, 2011

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“Monkey, you look loved.”

Those were the words our nanny spoke as she and IEP were picking up toys at the end of the day.  Monkey (pictured) is the starting quarterback on IEP’s team of stuffed animals.  There is also a sea lion from the Oregon coast, a bear from the gift shop at The Masters, a mouse from Nanny, a lamb from Williamsburg, and a sock monkey (from Target…).  But Monkey is the favorite.  Monkey helped IEP give up his pacifiers.  Monkey helps IEP sleep in new and different places.  Monkey comforts IEP when he is sick or scared.  He is as much a part of IEP’s life as any of the rest of us.  And it shows.

His seams are worn.  His coat is soft, but pilled in places.  His once-stiff limbs now flop easily.  He’s “gone swimming” with the laundry many, many times.  He hasn’t quite reached the Skin Horse’s description in The Velveteen Rabbit, but I suspect one day he will.

Nanny’s comment came at an opportune time.  As it turns out, Monkey isn’t the only creature who’s been on my mind lately who “looks loved.”  We spent the weekend celebrating the life of GAP’s grandmother.  She, too, looked loved.  Her body was frail and her skin was wrinkled.  And yet she was still completely beautiful.  Much like Monkey, and the Skin Horse, and ultimately, the Velveteen Rabbit himself, she was loved, and she was real, and she could never be ugly.

This trifecta of thoughts (Monkey, GAP’s grandmother, and The Velveteen Rabbit) has been dancing in my head for several days now and has prompted me to think further about how we define beauty, and what we may give up in its pursuit.

We work so hard in this life to have big experiences.  We embrace laughter and hardship.  We travel.  We stay home.  We get sick.  We get well.  We fall in and out of love.  We break hearts and have our hearts broken.  We learn and forget and remember.  We want, more than anything, to live our lives fully and to be a reflection of this vast set of experiences.  And yet at the same time we work hard to look just as we did when we were young and green and largely stupid.  We dye our hair.  We don our Spanx.  We have facials and Botox and plastic surgery.  We try to shed years in every way possible which to me (a regular with my colorist since the age of 24) is paradoxical.

Nearly by definition, we can’t know much of anything when we are 18.  And nearly by definition we can’t help but know almost everything when we are 81.   If we are very lucky we will all live a very long time.  We will scrape our knees and our hearts.  We will double over in laughter.  And we will love to the brink of implosion.  Life will leave its mark on us.

At the age of 33 I still contend with a certain amount of vanity.  But in the long run I think I want to be like Monkey.  I want people to look at me and say, “She looks loved.”  Because ultimately, little else matters as much.

10 Responses to “The Look of Love”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    I love this, Gail – the picture of monkey, the memories of GAP’s grandmother, and the beautiful Velveteen Rabbit passage. My children both have well-worn and loved animals that they sleep with every night. I’ve had to do surgery on one of them before. Recently Grace saw a baby picture of herself with Brown Bear (creatively named) and she exclaimed, hardly able to believe it was the same bear. He looks so different now. That’s what love will do to you!

  2. ayala Says:

    Gail,this is a beautiful post. I was writing a draft about the same thing with my son’s stuffed animal. I was in his room and we were discussing the book of Velveteen Rabbit. I love the way you articulated your feelings about love and the wonderful memories you have of GAP’s grandmother. It is good to be loved. Love is what sustains us.

  3. Eva Evolving Says:

    I love this! I, too, suffer from a dose of lingering vanity. As much as I tell myself I’d rather be healthy and curvy than slender, it’s too easy to get caught up in comparing myself to movie stars and celebrities. But I love this perspective: I hope to look loved, like a favorite stuffed animal.

  4. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I love this. I love that you looked at GAP’s grandmother and saw not an old, frail woman, but a woman well loved and a life well lived. Beautiful.

  5. Ana Says:

    Gorgeous thought, gorgeously written. What a great way to look at things, people, and ourselves. Nice to remember when I look in the mirror and see the changing body and graying strands of my mid-30s.

  6. Cathy @ All I Want To Say Says:

    Gale, such a beautiful correlation to make. And, yes, yes I do want to look “well loved”.

  7. Anne Says:

    Monkey is clearly the epitome of “aging gracefully”. It’s funny–when a friend of mine was visiting us all over Thanksgiving, her little son grabbed that monkey and she said, “Maybe you should pick a different toy of IEP’s. That monkey looks well loved.” I agree with everything you say–I hope we all show the signs for a life well-lived, and well-loved.

  8. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Gorgeous. Thoughtful. Real. So many themes and truths swirling here, but I am stuck on that splendid little monkey that means so much to your little guy. And, patently, to you. To be loved. To look loved. Yes indeed.

  9. e Says:

    Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Once we escape the “trappings” of being identified by our outward appearance, I believe our insides bloom in a way that inspires. My parents (while a very good looking young couple) were never more beautiful than when filled with the loves of their lives’ years.

  10. Leigh Says:

    “We want, more than anything, to live our lives fully, and to be a reflection of this vast set of experiences. And yet at the same time we work hard to look just as we did when we were young and green and largely stupid…….I want people to look at me and say, “She looks loved.” Because ultimately, little else matters as much.”

    As always, your twists and turns of phrase, your beautiful syntax bring to life powerful ideas….keep it coming Gayle!