Brazos Bookstore signing
The Beauty of Different shows the extraordinary within ordinary people
It's a proven fact — you can't say no to Karen Walrond.
In fact, you'd be out of your gourd to tell this tour-de-force of positivity anything but yes.
So when Walrond openly gushes about the allure of your carefree smile — which she noticed on Twitter, no less — enthusiastically raves about a book she's working on, and hopefully suggests you sit in front of her camera for "a few pictures" for this project, you do it.
And that's how I ended up in The Beauty of Different.
Before you go wild with the assumptions, it wasn't because I was any more attractive than the next girl. Walrond's book, a glossy, engaging collection of photography and highly personal stories from first-named Houstonians and beyond, is a culmination of Walrond's realization that loveliness doesn't begin or end with convention.
As an 11-year-old with "a short afro and and sensible shoes" relocating from tiny Trinidad to the "relatively large town" of Kingwood, Tex., Walrond did everything she could to look like what she dubbed "the Kingwood Girls."
"I officially began my long career in Trying To Be The Same," she wrote.
But life wouldn't let Walrond blend into the sidelines. Life tugged and pulled Walrond into the center of the room. Life wanted Walrond to stand out.
"After all those years of Trying To Be The Same, I had finally discovered that Different is very, very beautiful."
And The Beauty of Different, with its soaring mantra of, "You are different, and you're beautiful," wants to prove to you just how pretty the misfits can be.
Divided into eight chapters to reveal the ways beauty "manifests itself" — individuality, spirituality, imperfection, anxiety, heartbreak, language, adventure, agelessness — each portrait features a heartfelt quote from its subject, starting with, "I'm different because ..."
The stark, honest photographs are interspersed with inspirational commentary by Walrond, along with the flesh-outs of compelling, illustrative stories from highlighted individuals.
Take former Houstonian Jenny Lawson, the sassy voice powering The Bloggess, for example. Lawson talked openly, candidly — and somewhat uncomfortably — about her ongoing battle with fear and anxiety disorder in the book.
"Instead of seeing the broken parts of me, Karen showed me the strong parts...the parts that had healed over or that were still vulnerable but unique." Lawson wrote. "She made me proud to be me and proud of the things that make me different...even if those are also the things I so often hide from the rest of the world."
So where does Walrond find all this beauty? "This book advances the notion that there is beauty in everything," said Adam Sandoval, a "self-proclaimed weirdo and proud of it," who appears in The Beauty of Different.
"We have completely bizarre notions of what beauty is, but only a tiny fraction of the population looks that way. It's unrealistic," Sandoval said. "There is far more beauty in the reality of the world around us than the fantasy of the ideal."
Kirtsy co-founder Laura Mayes, one of the grinning mugs featured in the book, couldn't agree more. "It's these exact imperfections (the ones we spend way too much energy trying to hide) that make us beautiful," Mayes said. "And I hope [the book] connects us to the beauty in ourselves, and each other."
Acute awareness of this unorthodox magnificence is a major theme threading itself throughout The Beauty of Different. "In a superficial world, we so often lose sight of the beauty that positively emanates out of each of us," said Katie Laird, another face you'll find amongst the book's pages.
"A mother’s stretch marks, fuzzy hair on a rainy day, your best friend’s crooked smile, the tingly feeling you get in your fingers when you hear someone belly laugh really hard. Beautiful. Who needs glossy magazines to define what makes your eyes smile?" Laird said.
You see? Not only do I belong in The Beauty of Different, but so do you. And your sister, your newspaper delivery boy, your veterinarian. We all do.
Is Walrond on to something? Tell her on Thursday at Brazos Bookstore, where she'll be signing copies of The Beauty of Different at 7 p.m.
We guarantee she thinks you're beautiful, too. And we're willing to bet she'll tell you so.