February 13, 2019
I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately. What defines it? Who decides what is or is not beautiful? Can beauty ever be objective, or is it always truly in the eye of the beholder? Why is physical beauty valued above spiritual or intellectual beauty?
Today’s Braver/Wiser got me right in the feels.
“Many of us learned early on that we are either too much or not enough. Many of us grow up believing that essential parts of us are unacceptable—the way we look or feel or talk or love or learn—and we never seem to fully unlearn that shame. It is deeply spiritual work to put down our self-loathing, to set it aside, even for a few moments. It is deeply spiritual work to learn to treat ourselves with compassion; to learn to see ourselves, if only in moments, the same way we look at something or someone we find beautiful: a newborn baby, the ocean, a sunset.”
-From Your Soul’s Address by Rev. Elea Kemler
Though it once was, my physical body is no longer very beautiful by western standards. I spend more time than I care to admit plucking and waxing hair on my face. Pregnancy and my brief adventure in breastfeeding left my breasts vastly different than before. My abdomen, once smooth and flat and then swollen beyond comprehensible possibility as it sheltered a ten-pound, four-ounce human being, is striped with fading white stretch marks and an angry caesarian scar, not to mention the awkward overhang of flesh that no one told me to expect after the surgery. I gained 70 pounds while pregnant and remain 30 pounds heavier than I started four years later.
When identifying body parts, my son points to and names my nose, my ears, my fingers, and my “big tummy.” I tell him to have some respect, because that was his first apartment.
My body is not very beautiful by western societal standards anymore and that’s awesome, because I am not the same person I was when it did. It is now beautiful by my standards and I am not particularly interested in being beautiful by society’s standards anymore.
I love the little lines that are beginning to form in the corners of my eyes, because they are proof of all the smiling and laughing I have done.
I love the way I look in high-waist jeans, and I love the way embracing the curves I have previously tried to downplay and hide makes me feel confident, feminine, and powerful.
I love the callouses on my feet, testaments to all the steps I have taken barefoot, connected with the Earth.
I love my voice and the way I use it to sing lullabies to Henry and teach him about compassion and kindness.
I am learning to love my human body, and simultaneously learning that my soul is objectively beautiful in ways my human body could never be.
I know a person whose eyes sparkle like brilliant-cut diamonds – the ones that are humanely mined and clear as springtime, but their eyes are not nearly the most beautiful thing about them. Their soul is so distinctly, breathtakingly gorgeous that I barely notice their eyes when they speak.
Physical beauty is a raindrop where spiritual beauty is an ocean.
In a culture that capitalizes on low self-esteem, we are instructed to hate ourselves. We are taught early to mask our flaws, hold in our stomachs, cover our blemishes, and conceal our humanness.
It is a radical, courageous, and necessary thing to practice self-love, vulnerability, and active resistance to self-deprecating and self-denying rhetoric and practices.
I think it has a lot to do with American culture. There is an obsession with proving ourselves and working ourselves to death, a pressure to look a certain way we are told is beautiful and a pressure to be the most tired, caffeinated, medicated, productive and miserable. Society tells us we do not have the choice of exiting the rat race – we must keep going on in the direction of – of what, exactly? The American Dream? The corner office? Money, cars, belongings, approval?
I call bullshit.
We are all entitled to owning the beauty of our souls and living in a way which makes us feel beautiful by our own standards.
Beauty is not contingent upon another being’s or society’s ability to see or recognize it, and it is not about being aesthetically pleasing. It is about being open, kind, compassionate, vulnerable, and authentic.
And when we can be these things, physical beauty becomes a byproduct. Confidence is radiant. Self-love is alluring and contagious.
In my opinion, the most objectively beautiful souls are untouched by society’s expectations for them. They are authentic and imperfect and unashamedly ugly at times.
This journey through human life is not always conventionally beautiful, and there is a different kind of beauty in the fringe.
There is a different kind of beauty in grief. There is a different kind of beauty in transformation. There is a different kind of beauty in lessons and mistakes, in experience and wisdom.
Going down the Braver/Wiser rabbit hole this morning, I found this poem:
I do not need
minimizing panels in my panties
and wires in my bra
to be divine and full of beauty.
Full of beauty.
Not starving for affection, approval,
conformity, or anonymity.
But fully at home in the body of
who takes up her share of space
without saying I’m sorry,
and still leaves room enough in the world for
So, to you,
and to me,
and to the Wise Goddess-Child who is my daughter,
fearlessly and wondrously are we made
in the image of
She Who is Most Holy,
of body hatred
has no place
in this temple.
-From Goddess by Rev. Misha Sanders
I know from experience that wires in bras and minimizing panels in panties are beyond uncomfortable. I know how it feels to skip a meal to look good in a dress, how exposed it feels to go out without makeup. I think I was eight when I started learning that I’m “supposed to” be thin, made up, and well put together in order to be beautiful.
Now, at nearly twenty-six, I’m realizing that beauty has nothing to do with appearances.
These days, I feel most beautiful when my son gives me unsolicited affection. I feel most beautiful when I get to spend time in nature. I feel most beautiful when I take time to practice self-care, which for me, means reading and writing poetry and meditating.
I am not beautiful because of the makeup I tend to wear less and less or the clothes I choose to wear. I am beautiful because I am a reflection of the abundant love that surrounds me. That kind of beauty goes beyond skin-deep.
“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”