True Beauty

A sudden slamming of the front door told that the young lady had returned from yet another day at school. She rounded the corners inside the dwelling to the far bedroom she called her own. Within, she closed the door, sat down on the bed, and wept. For herself, she cried. For all the heartache and cruelties that adolescents can heap upon one another. She cried for all the injustices that she had endured because she was different.

And how was she so different? Merely because her body curved out where other girls curved in? What was so bad about that? She didn’t know, but whatever it was, it made her the object of jokes, attacks, and ridicule. She was tired of being laughed at all the time, just because she was different. She wanted to be normal, accepted, even beautiful.

She cried until her eyes were red and swollen. At last, she managed to purge most of the anguish from her soul, yet some still remained, it always did. She sat up, and looked around the room. It looked much the same as it always did. Rain had begun to fall outside, the sky mirroring her own tears as it wept for her. She rose, and began the short walk to the dresser which held her hairbrush. Behind it, a long mirror waited, to watch her as she brushed her long brown hair, an action that brought her some measure of comfort after the sadness passed.

Something moved as her hand drew near the hairbrush. A cry escaped her lips as she realized it was a small, plain brown spider. It sat near the brush, perfectly still as if it were staring at her. She considered the possibility that it was dead, until it moved a leg, throwing that notion out into the pouring rain. She wanted to run, she was deathly afraid of spiders. But her legs seemed unwilling to move.

She grabbed a nearby book, and raised it to smash the creature. A calm voice spoke to her as her muscles tensed.

“Please don’t do that. I will not harm you, and I can even help you. Please spare my life.”

She remained where she was, book in hand, still poised to deliver a death blow to a small brown spider. As she looked down at the spider, the voice sounded once again, more in her mind than in her ears.

“I know this is hard to believe, but it is me, the spider on your dresser. If you don’t squash me, I can return your kindness, by granting you a wish.”

The bold statement, ostensibly from the small creature near her hairbrush, made an immediate impression. A wish? Perhaps, but this couldn’t be true. Spiders can’t talk, and wishes are never granted, not really. Still, she was intrigued. She answered aloud, not knowing what else to do.

“How do I know you’re really the spider? And how can you grant wishes? Are you magic or something?”

“Of course.” answered the calm voice inside her mind. “As to the proof you ask for, tell me what you want, and I will make it happen.”

The young woman looked around the room again, suddenly wondering if this was some kind of further cruelty inflicted by her tormentors from school. She dismissed that notion quickly.

What I want, she asked herself. The answer should be obvious, especially to this talking spider, if it was indeed magical.

“I want to be beautiful. I want to be liked, and popular. I want lots of friends, who’ll always want to be with me.”

“And why would you want those things?” the spider asked.

What a dumb question that was.

“So they stop making fun of me, so I can come home every day and not cry.”

“So you will be happy?” the spider asked.

“Yes.”

A silence fell between them before the spider answered.

“But you already have those things, and you are still unhappy.”

She was taken aback. Did this magic creature know what it was talking about. She most certainly was not beautiful, nor did she have many friends. She did have a few, but those few didn’t make her liked all over school, and she certainly was not popular. Perhaps this spider needed more specific instructions.

“You know what I mean. Make me thin, and popular with all the cute guys. And make all the girls my friends too.”

“But those things will not make you happy.”

She was becoming annoyed with the spider.

“Don’t you think I know what makes me happy? Are you going to grant my wish or not?”

Another long silence lingered in the room before the spider answered.

“Look into your mirror.”

The teenage girl looked into the glass. Suddenly, her form began to change. Her sides receded into her body, until she had an hourglass figure. She grew taller, and her hair lengthened by several inches. Her pale skin tanned until it was a golden brown. At last, she looked perfect, except for one small detail, her eyes. Dark circles seemed to have formed under her eyes, and there was something else about them. She couldn’t decide what it was at first, but then the realization came to her. Her eyes were sad. They were not red, as if she’d been crying. The sadness within them was deeper, as if she’d been sad for a very long time.

“Well,” she began, “this is close, but do something about my eyes. I look like I’m sad.”

“You are,” the spider replied, “or will be, if I fulfill your wish. This is how you will will look if I change your appearance. Outside, you will be happy, and attractive. Indeed, all the boys will like you, and all the girls will want to be like you. But it will not bring you happiness.”

The spider was not making any sense, of course she’d be happy.

“Why won’t I be happy that way? I’ll have everything I want.”

“For a time. What you cannot see in this mirror is that the beauty you seek will only reside on the surface. The popularity you desire will only come from you what you are. And these qualities are fleeting. The friends you acquire in this manner will only be interested in what you can do for them. Only when you are giving them happiness will they surround you. When you are in need, these people will abandon you, until you give to them again. And so it will be until you have nothing left to give. The sadness in your eyes comes from your realization of this truth.”

As the young woman stood at the mirror, looking at this perfect version of herself, she began to see what the spider was really saying to her.

“The happiness you seek comes from the beauty within. Watch.”

Her reflection in the mirror began to change again. Her form began to fill out, until she was again looking at her old self. Something was different this time, and it took only a few seconds to discover. Her eyes were bright. The long lines and dark circles were gone, replaced by shining eyes, and a large grin on her face.

“Now I’m back to the way I was, why am I smiling?”

“Because you have discovered that you already possess the beauty and acceptance you desire.”

She was about to remind this creature that she had neither of those things, but something held her tongue.

“ True beauty comes from inside, not out. When you love yourself for the person you are, then you are truly beautiful. Your heart is compassionate, you feel the love, pain, happiness and sadness of those around you. You want everyone around you to be happy. True friendship comes from who you are, not what you are. Those who stand by you when you are happy, such friends are easy to come by. But those who stand by you when you are unhappy, those are your true friends.”

A warm feeling came over her as she considered everything the spider had just said. In her heart, she knew he was right. She looked up at the mirror once more, to see the spider’s image of her as a happy person, before it went away. She was proud of her image. For the first time in a long time, she felt beautiful. As she studied the mirror, looking at the picture of the happy girl she might one day become, she noticed something odd. Unlike the images the spider was showing her, her reflection was now moving. And in a sudden realization, she knew that it was her own image, her own smile, staring back at her. The spider had granted her wish after all.

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