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Audrey Hepburn liked it too.

Southerners know that beauty isn’t about looks. You don’t find it in glancing at someone, but in talking to them, connecting with them, understanding them, and comprehending what they love and the ways they move through the world. There’s an oft-quoted poem that captures this holistic understanding of beauty. You may have heard it before. It’s humorist Sam Levenson’s “Time Tested Beauty Tips,” and it was a favorite poem of actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn.

First published in Levenson’s 1973 book In One Era and Out the Other, the piece describes the ways in which true beauty manifests. It begins, “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. / For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.” It goes on, describing the ways in which you can cultivate poise, help others, and make meaningful gestures in the world. It celebrates the importance of spreading generosity, tending kindness, and lending a hand.

Audrey Hepburn reportedly had a fondness for this particular poem, and the way she lived reflected an understanding that what you do with your life is far more important than how you look. One line in the poem—“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others”—is especially poignant. It reminds readers to reach always toward kindness, to tend always toward compassion. Hepburn embodied this mission and dedicated many years to humanitarian efforts around the globe. She was named a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and worked to alleviate the suffering of children around the world affected by famine and extreme poverty.

Taking care of our neighbors—whether they’re across the street or across an ocean—should be second nature. That’s why Levenson’s poem continues to resonate. There’s always someone who could use a helping hand. The only thing to do is reach out—to look beyond our own backyards, to cross whatever space divides us and see the beauty, the humanity, the goodness in each other. Not only to see it, but to walk together toward a better world, steps that begin in the meaningful, often quiet moments found in every day. 

It’s said that Levenson wrote the poem for his grandchild, and it continues to resonate because its message is precisely what so many want to pass on to future generations. Beauty lives in compassion. It grows from generosity. As Levenson wrote, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; / Never throw out anybody.”

While it hasn’t been officially reproduced online, you can find the full message in Levenson’s In One Era and Out the Other, and you can see iterations of the poem here and here.

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What time-tested beauty tips do you believe in and practice? How does true beauty manifest in your life?