I was asked by a photographer friend to provide my description of beauty. He would use it as text to accompany the pictures he would take of me to promote his work. His goal was to encourage women to embrace their unique style and beauty.
What would be more difficult taking the pictures or composing the text? Both would arouse strong feelings in my very core. Each exercise would engage me in conversations with myself that have been uncomfortable in my best moments and painful in my worst ones.
Starting at the beginning, I have never thought of myself as physically beautiful. Typing the preceding sentence was uncomfortable – that’s how deep it is folks. I have gotten to a place where I think am a beautiful person because I have worked hard at that. And for some reason that is easy for my mind to receive.
I grew up feeling many good things.
I felt I was loved. I felt I was smart. I felt I was witty. I felt I was funny. Beautiful? Never.
An early memory I have, one that is very poignant and visual in my mind, is coming into my mother and father’s bedroom and demanding my mother’s undivided attention. “Why”, I demanded to know – tears streaming down my face, “was I so UGLY?!?!”
My mother, as mother’s do, comforted me and assured me that I was not ugly. I was “just as God had made me, just as He intended me to be”, she explained. “And furthermore, pretty as, pretty does”, she always said. She explained that she believed, as her mother had taught her, that a person is as pretty or as ugly as their actions. Hmpf! If it were only that simple…..
This was of NO comfort. She didn’t understand. How could she? She had light skin. I had dark skin. She had long hair. I had short hair. She had ‘good’ hair. I had ‘nappy’ hair. She was pretty. I was not.
My mother called as I began writing this piece. I asked her if she remembered this exchange. She said “No, but you always thought you were ugly”, very matter-of-factly. It was obvious that the conversation made her uncomfortable as well. I suspect this was for two reasons. One, she has always had her own struggle with her biracial appearance. Secondly, she always seemed pained and at a loss when her consolation fell on deaf ears on this particular issue.
When I said I was going to write a blog on this topic, she asked me why. She sounded a little perturbed, as if to say, ‘are we still on THAT?!?’
What we ended up discussing is probably the root of my discomforture. We spoke about how we live in a society where women almost NEVER feel beautiful. We almost NEVER accept ourselves as God made us. We buy whatever line of bull (or cosmetics, or clothing, or procedures) men, other women, the media, the beauty industry or anyone sells us to make us feel less than. Never enough. Ultimately, through it all, many of us become our worst critic.
And, as in my case, become unable to accept our beauty.