Reconciling ownership of my body has always been a funny thing for me. I grew up knit into the context of chronic illness and failing organs, a landscape of scar tissue and ‘not quite right’. Over the years, it has afforded me the opportunity of observing myself from a near-clinical perspective. For quite some time now, any conclusions I’ve made when standing in front of a mirror have been relatively emotionless, no different from the data delivered at the end of a physical examination. Through it all, I have developed an opinion that is simultaneously strict and appreciative, a viewpoint that remains completely detached from the psychology of Things I Should Feel Uncomfortable About. Holding tight to this awareness of myself, I have come to several realizations. Here is a list of seven things I’ve learned as a beautiful woman who is not beautiful.
It’s the bottom line I always return to: I am what I am what I am. And at the end of the day, when all attempts of correction are stripped away, I need to have peace with what’s left. In the moments when I am fully present within myself, I am determined to maintain gratitude for this broken body that I walk in. Each imperfection is here to stay. And it feels worthwhile to find redemption in that.
I do not look much different now than I did in college. In fact, I can pretty much still pass for the sixteen-year-old girl smiling back at me from my first driver’s license. With that said, my loved ones would attest that I am indeed quite different from the woman I was even just one year ago. Where my eyes used to turn downwards, slowly, I am meeting the eye of my neighbor. I am growing more certain of myself, more certain of my work. I am loud and brave in ways that were completely foreign to me just last week. Every day, I am coming into this existence. And with each unexpected smile, as my arms fall from their permanent cross against my chest, I am shifting. I still look the same. But I’m growing into a new version of myself, a version that’s not quite so busy negotiating with her doubts and insecurities. And trust me, it’s noticeable. I’m carrying a new weight with me every time I enter a room, one that people are choosing to pay attention to. And I can promise that it has nothing to do with my external appearance.
The moment I dance around the idea that I do indeed fall short of society’s unreachable standards, people are so quick to jump to my defense.
It comes out like a reflex – Oh stop, you’re beautiful!! No, I mean it!!
It begs the question: why is it so horrible for a woman to stand as something different from the ideal? Is that such an uncomfortable concept that people need to trip over themselves in an effort to argue otherwise? Of course, I understand that this response is never coming from a malicious mindset. Still, I think it’s important to flesh out this impulse (which I am also prone to, by the way). Perhaps the root of the problem is not people claiming that of course I’m beautiful, it’s the intention they hold the word to. Most often, their version of beautiful is not an attribute I’m willing to welcome. Not until beautiful sounds less like ‘beautiful’ and more like ‘human’. I do not look like the everyday models of my generation. I am far from them. And that is a perfectly acceptable thing to be. It comes down to knowing the difference between ‘beautiful’ and beautiful (which is not to say that a person cannot be both). So before you attempt to convince me that I am the former, consider the idea that I am not; that I do not need to be. And even without it, I am whole.
We are living in a movement of self-love for all of womankind. And it is liberating and necessary and wonderful. But with body-positivity comes a strange pressure. In some sense, it has become a game of who feels the most confident in themselves. It has often left me tired as I try to psyche myself up to believe that whoops, turns out I do feel super hot after all! That’s never really been my goal, so why do I feel forced into it? Why do I feel this need to reroute my brain into false affirmations? If I’m going to love my body, I want it to be my body I’m loving. Not me, within the often oppressive walls of social media. Not me, under the pressure that I should be more confident in myself. But me. Me, in the shower late at night when I feel much quieter, much less. That is when it feels most vital for me to offer affection towards the weight of my own insignificant self, the rare gift of cracking joints and scar tissue, and the unkempt flesh that holds it all together.
I want to love my body as a body, not as an image or an aesthetic or a hype game. Just me in all of my me-ness. Just me, and this body that is trying its best. I don’t know, it’s possible that I’m the only woman who has ever struggled with this. But I think the point I’m trying to make is that, eventually, you need to put in effort to understand the form of self-love that best sustains you. For once, without looking at the women beside you, take the time to define your own sense of reverence for this miracle, this body, that will continue to carry you through all that remains.
Don’t we all have better things to be worrying about than that one tiny imperfection? The one that no one else is going notice? It sometimes floors me how much time I have invested into self-study. While at times therapeutic and worthwhile, it is also, for the most part, a distraction. A way to pull me far from true value, true vulnerability. Our flesh is so temporary, quite literally changing from day to day. Which is not just true for ourselves, but for everyone around us. Why are we so deeply intrenched in our own corner of self-scrutiny? I would rather be busy elsewhere. I would rather be investing in something that will survive us all.
Here are some activities where I feel intuitively beautiful and feminine – Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art alone. Writing and creating in an afternoon coffee shop. Talking with my girlfriends late at night, long after the persuasion of sleep has crept in. I feel most beautiful when interacting with this life that surrounds us. So I’m trying to do more of that. Because the image I keep hoping to see in the mirror? She’s never going to show up. But still, without fail, I greet her within me every single day – she is the way I respond to art and humanity. She is the rare and precious awareness that comes only when studying something that is distinctly outside of myself. I want to learn more of her. And it’s not going to happen while looking into the empty reflection of my bathroom mirror. So why would I bother to look there at all?
It sounds overstated in this day and age, but I cannot end this without saying it – your appearance is the least interesting thing about you. Go out into the world. Be something more. You can do beautiful things without being beautiful. You can be beautiful without being told so. True beauty is you, refusing to bend to the contradictions.
Don’t let yourself pause. Don’t give them time to let it matter. Just go. I can promise this – the beauty will follow.
BY Anna Jeter - August 24, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.