In order to feel pretty, I relied upon cosmetics, clothing and other add-ons all of which were unattached to me. I purchased new lip colors or pots of cream promising radiant skin only to be disappointed. No amount of dieting changed my vision. Shoes…pretty, sparkly shoes…as much as I adore them, once removed and in my bare feet, the magic vanished. In my own skin, I was not pretty in any shape or form. Like many women, I fell into the trap of requiring things to define beauty. While there is nothing wrong with these things, they are only things after all and things cannot make a person pretty. Beauty does not reside in things.
As a girl, attention that I received from the male gender was untoward. The aggressiveness, the language, the blatant disrespect…it not only was uncouth, but it was frightening. With shame, I hid my body under baggy clothing and jackets, long hair covering my face. I didn’t want to be seen in the way I felt when men looked at me. Walking home from school was a lesson of indignity as adult men would yell things out the car window or approach me on the bus. Once while rushing to class with my head down as it usually was, an older student reeking of alcohol and whose name I didn’t know, pushed me against a wall and bit my neck before running off into the crowded student body. Afraid of being punished at home, I wore my hair down and high collared shirts buttoned to prevent the bite from being seen.
During the Summer of my eighth birthday, we lived in a campground near Austin. Earlier in the year, our family lost all of our belongings in flooding that swept through the property my parents purchased near Smithville. It was beautiful property and my parents used their last dollar to buy it. While lying in the tent, listening to chirping and other sounds of nature, I realized it was my birthday. I was eight! It was early and my mother still sleeping so I sneaked out of the tent and ran to the park bathroom where I was greeted by a maintenance man. He looked familiar to me and knew my name. Happily I informed him it was my birthday. He came closer and asked if I would like a present. “Yes, please!”, I replied. The man’s rough hands pulled me up, pinning my arms at my side, my long golden braid swinging. Before I could realize what was happening, he kissed my mouth. He kissed it hard and I felt his tongue between my lips. His uniform a dark green, smelled like sweat and dirt. I kicked and tried to be free of his grip and his mouth. Then he placed me back down on the ground, his fingers still holding my arms and looked into my eyes and asked if I liked being kissed. Holding my breath so as not to cry and not to breathe him any longer, I turned my head. I didn’t want his eyes on me. He clutched my chin and forced my face to turn back towards him, then said if I told anyone that he would take my little sister and I would never see her again. At that he let me go and I ran. I forgot that I needed to relieve myself. I forgot the excitement of turning eight. I ran as fast as I could back to our camping space, unzipped the tent and got back into the sleeping bag silently hoping my mom wouldn’t wake up. She would scold me for having left the tent at all, even if it was my birthday.
I share this story not out of pity for myself in any way, but as an example of the sort of atmosphere in which I grew up…the atmosphere which we must be aware and be careful, as it surrounds most little girls and more often than we realize, little boys too. So you see, by the time I was a young woman of fourteen, the catcalls, the stolen kiss and other unwanted experiences caused me to be ashamed…ashamed of being a girl, ashamed of my body, ashamed of my face…sometimes ashamed of just being. It took some time to realize that those experiences had nothing whatsoever to do with me but were out of underlying sickness that is hiding within society. However it took significantly longer to not feel ashamed of my femininity and develop pride in being a woman. It was not until a few years ago that I began to embrace being a woman and with it the full understanding of beauty. After a failed marriage that was not the glistening love I had imagined, but one that was instead hateful and at times cruel, I was left feeling more ashamed than before. I was insignificant. I not only felt unwanted, but I was ugly. I was stupid. I was unseen.
Being mother to a young girl, this was not the example I wanted portrayed to her. In my work with young people, it was easy to encourage them, cheer for them, support them, love them and believe in them. Yet somehow I neglected this same belief in myself. While realizing logically that this was preposterous, convincing my spirit was an entirely different story. Unsure of how to correct this poisonous thought process but completely determined to do so, I began writing love notes…from me, to me. I wrote sticky notes with pretty words of inspiration and placed them on my mirror, my desk and anywhere else I would see them. Each morning I forced myself to stand in the bathroom mirror, just me…my skin exposed…no makeup or hair products and forced myself to stand there looking at the reflection until I could say something nice. It began with compliments such as, “you are a nice person.” Weak sauce. Then I began to compliment my ability. Less weak. It was awful to stand, looking at my body with all of its flaws, the lumps, the little lines around my eyes, the fake highlights in my hair, the big backside, the soft stomach, the one tooth that is a little crooked and chipped from a childhood accident, my red cheeks and the little vein than runs from the side of my nose to its tip. I completely hated looking at myself! That is a strong word, a word I do not often use…hate, but it was true. However I had made a rule and rules are rules after all. So there I stood until I could begin to say something nice about my appearance.
In time, I began to see someone else entirely. Between the lines, I saw a sparkle in my eyes. In spite of my extra weight, I saw feminine curves. My smile is warm and sincere, even the one little slightly crooked tooth with a tiny chip. As the fake coloring in my hair grew out, I chopped it off where it barely graced my chin so that it could grow back in its natural color. The reflection changed more with each day. I began to see intelligence, honesty, a kind heart…even beauty. I began to see me…stripped down, exposed, vulnerable, genuine me. Away from the mirror, I filled my soul with all the things that brought me warmth…the things I loved as a girl…books, music, art, nature, prayer, charity to others. I found my strength. I reclaimed myself. My voice became stronger and heart became fuller. While I am left now with a modest since of myself…it is an honest view. I accept the me that I am…unsophisticated, dorky, silly, mushy, sentimental, kind, full-figured, honest, red-cheeked, loyal, loving, passionate, genuine me.
There was liberation in finding and accepting my true self. I do not compare myself to others…to what they have or their achievements, their appearance or lifestyle. It matters not the things they may possess. Without any expectation or thought of change, I accept them as they are in the moment I meet them…complete in their being and understanding at the place in time they exist when presented to me. They are them and I am me and it is not necessary that we be the same in any way. I accept me as I am but still with the continual desire to be better, smarter, stronger, kinder than the day before. This liberation brought an understanding of Beauty. Beauty is raw. Beauty is honest. Beauty is emotion. Beauty is experiencing and feeling life with such force that it influences your steps. Beauty is genuine. Beauty is within the being…the bare bones, clean skin, heart of the being. Beauty impresses upon the soul a hunger for truth. This is where beauty resides. ❤
Birds Birds Birds by Lara Zombie