How do we define it. What are the standards by which we measure ourselves to determine whether or not we are or we feel, beautiful .
There used to be great emphasis placed on natural beauty, but what these days is considered “natural”? So much is overdone with celebrities and cosmetic companies banking off of products that literally morph a person’s face into what looks to be a commercial quality. These thousands of products hide the very aspects that make us unique and different. Those differences that characterize our appearance or highlight our cultural backgrounds. Freckles, birthmarks, blemishes, eye color, hair color. When did our values of beauty change so drastically that what we now seem to find that what’s considered beautiful, is just a false outward representation of who we are internally.
As a child, appearances in my family were constantly criticized. It was an expectation that came without basis. Growing up my natural hair was completely doused in Vaseline to control the curl and frizz. My grandmother pulled my hair so taut I could hear the strands breaking, she would use the Vaseline to create “Shirley Temple” like curls in an attempt to mask the natural texture of my hair. Churros, she called them. My head would throb by the end of the day to the point that I would pull out the pony tail at school and just let my hair be free. It was massive. A massive head full of frizzed out curls. I would get reprimanded for that. As a teen I was “too skinny” and I didn’t eat enough. Mind you my mother had always been thin, but no one thought maybe I just had a fast metabolism. I didn’t wear enough makeup or any make-up. Only make-up made you pretty. I had huge eyebrows that everyone made me so self-conscious about to the point that I “accidentally” shaved one off trying to trim them. I was never made to feel pretty. And forget kids, they were ruthless. My own sisters had all kinds of nicknames for my hair, something I couldn’t really change. Someone told me at 21 that my arms were hairy, and I’ve shaved them ever since. Growing up, I had an aunt who everyone in the family celebrated as the “beautiful” one. She wore pounds of makeup, tons of perfume, dressed provocatively in low cut shirts, tight fitting garments and heels. I never wanted to look like her, but there was such emphasis placed on how she was beautiful BECAUSE of those choices. I never wanted to be that self-centered. I had always been modest and having the texture of hair I had, the bony physique and the poor choice of clothes, someone was always criticizing my appearance. No one could just say “you’re pretty” without a “but” immediately afterwards.
My dad, who forgive him, thought that “NH” or “nappy head” as he used to call me, was a funny nickname. My middle sister who always struggled with her weight, he called “Pudgie”. And for years he called my older sister “Squinty” not realizing she needed glasses. My father was born into probably the most judgmental family he could’ve been and although his nicknames sound harsh to you, for him they were terms of endearment, but he never realized the damaging affect. I don’t think he would now. He learned that behavior from his parents and his siblings, he didn’t see it as destructive and we don’t hold animosity to the fact that he also, was never and has never been accepted by them. He grew up being criticized as a young boy. Something that I know, he still struggles with. He was and is just another person trying to live up to unattainable standards. My sisters and I all struggled with our appearances, with what we considered to be beautiful and none of us felt that we were. Of course, as adults now, we can discuss that turmoil, but growing up we were just as critical of others, each other and of ourselves, because that’s what we knew to be the way that you view other people.
It took me years to realize how ugly my critical opinion of others was. I used to insult fashion choices, hair, make-up. It took someone one day asking me why I felt that way about a complete stranger for me to realize that I was behaving like those I grew up around. That’s when it changed for me. I realized that everyone is unique and different AND beautiful, to someone. My opinion didn’t matter because someone loved them and accepted them for who they were and if they didn’t, what would it hurt me to accept them? And I learned that the behavior, the environment I was raised around, was toxic. Toxic for growth, toxic for self-worth.
When I think about beauty, I don’t think only of the outward beauty; the pretty healthy and tame hair, the clear glowing skin, the fit or toned physique, the fashion choices-I think about the individual. Do they appear genuine, do they speak positively of others, do they care for the environment, animals, humans. Beauty to me isn’t what is outward facing, but what is inward radiating. We compare ourselves to celebrities, to people we see on social media baring their barely clothed bodies, using photography or filters to present a face to us that isn’t their own, to hide themselves, sharing the cosmetics and intrusive treatments to make their lips fuller, busts bigger and waists invisible. To me that is not beauty. That is torture. And yet, I constantly find myself comparing my appearance to those that are continuously promoted to me. I feel that what you present to the world, not by appearance, but by heart, soul and mind is what shows your true beauty. And I think that I do that, for the most part. We have set, as a society, unattainable standards of beauty and we are trying, just now maybe in the last few years, to celebrate differences in beauty. To accept our flaws and share them. Our skin conditions, our genetic qualities, the things that chose us. To share our stories of struggling with our own appearances in an attempt to help another human overcome their’s.
The truth is, I struggle everyday. I still have such trauma about how my hair looks that I literally cannot wear it naturally. I want to, but I spent so many years ironing it that the texture has completely changed. I never embraced my natural hair, I never embraced the curls that people pay big money for. And now more than anything I just want to wear a big ole head full of huge curls and I can’t. Some days I can go without make-up but its such a struggle because I feel like my eyes look too small, or my freckles or melasma make me look bad, my eyebrows look bald and unshaped. It is a struggle to get to the point where I listen to the man that loves me beyond all measure say “you look better without make-up” and for me to believe it. I get there, eventually and I celebrate that I might have spent an entire weekend make-up and straight hair free. The funny thing is people have always told me “you’re beautiful”. Sometimes I believed it, sometimes, either they wanted something or they were fooled by my false confidence.
I am better today about how I feel about my appearance. Some days I do feel beautiful, some days I feel atrocious. Negative self-talk can have such a harsh impact on your ability to just feel good about yourself. You have to find a balance of those feelings. Trust me, it’s hard when everything you see tells you to lose weight or get some form of “non-invasive” plastic surgery. Isn’t any surgery invasive? I see young girls, in their early 20’s, already having procedures done and they haven’t even allowed their bodies to change and grow. I’m not a numbers or stats person, but I feel like even at my age now, being in my mid-thirties, my body is STILL constantly changing. I accept fully the way I have aged, the way my skin has changed, the way my body has finally hit what I call my “woman weight”. The curves I never had, the toned areas that genetically I was blessed with (thanks, Dad), the freckles that pop up on my lips and cheeks. I do my best to protect my skin, but I am always amazed by how even the tiniest freckle appears on my body out of nowhere. It’s a constant reminder that we are ever-evolving creatures. We need to appreciate it. We need to accept ourselves as we are. Accept our differences. Accept our unruly hair, our stressed skin and our every changing fluctuations in weight. Your happiness makes you beautiful. Your compassion makes you beautiful. Your uniqueness makes you beautiful. Your voice, your smile, your light, your struggles, your ideas. There are so many complexities about us, as human beings, aside from our appearance that make us beautiful beings. When we accept it, those around us will too. And maybe we’ll all feel beautiful together one day.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone. You are unique. You are special. You were not placed on this earth to be like anyone else or to emulate anything that doesn’t serve you or help you grow. Accept you.
You’re freaking beautiful.