I was lying on a pink sheet in Central Park today – one of my best friends sat on the sheet next to me sketching as people walked by, dogs chased squirrels, and tiny, almost invisible insects nibbled at our exposed skin.
I was finishing Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, and as I read the final words in her book, I felt my heart fill. I had the sudden urge to text a friend, a man who has known my body and who I have let see my darkness. Who has told me I am beautiful and who, despite his inability to connect to his own emotions, allows me to come to him with mine.
I was surprised by what I wrote:
“You know the word beautiful means full of beauty. So why do we call people who are physically good looking ‘beautiful’? We don’t know what’s in their minds and hearts and what they’ve seen and what they do to fill themselves up on the inside.
I want to be beautiful. I want to look at beauty and fill myself up with it.
Being pretty is transient. Being beautiful? That is forever.
Ok. Random text over.”
I grew up in a family that constantly ridiculed my appearance. I was too hairy, too stocky, too oily. My nose was too big, my teeth were too big, my feet were too big. I wasn’t smart enough or clever enough. I wasn’t ENOUGH. Period. I grew up not seeing myself as I truly was but seeing myself as I was TOLD I was. My family was composed of a group of backward women from a small village in India – girls like me held little value. We were shown love through ridicule.
After two and a half decades of suffering from body dysmorphia, I decided to hide my self-hatred within the arms of a squat rack. Over the past year and half, as I started coming into my own, lifting heavier, and becoming aware of the way men looked at me, I started to rely heavily on “being pretty” to validate my worth. Before, my worth came from my significant other. People looked at me, looked at him, and looked back at me with different eyes. He was my source of respect, my source of power. Proof that I was valuable and wanted – a tall, dark, handsome man with a good pedigree and a well-known and respected family. He was kind and sweet and well-liked. So I had to be valuable, because why would a man like that want a girl like me?
As my relationship fell apart, suddenly I was left without any source of value. But it wasn’t long after that when I put a barbell on my back for the first time and began my journey into heavy lifting. A whole new world was opened up to me, and men started paying attention (or maybe they always paid attention, and I only started realizing then). All of a sudden, the way I LOOKED became my value: successful, strong, fiercely attractive men began pursuing me. And it was exhilarating. Empowering. The shorter my shorts and the higher my shoes, the more they paid attention. The heavier I lifted, the more they stared. It was intoxicating.
But as all of this was happening, my internal darkness, the darkness I’ve battled my entire life, began spreading like wildfire. I couldn’t sleep, my nerves were always stretched thin. I relied on liquors to calm me and pointless flirtations to keep me distracted from the aching loneliness in my belly and from the insecurities that began to resurface – insecurities I had buried deep down inside and never really addressed. I stopped reading, I stopped learning, I stopped doing ANYTHING of value. I didn’t need to do anything anymore, right? I was pretty – that’s where my value was.
But I see the aging faces of women around me, and I notice something. There are some women who cling to their youth with the ferocity of an enthusiastic terrier—they primp and prune, stiff with the need to present a certain self to the world. But then there are women who have leaned into life: the women with the easy laughs, the smile lines around their mouths, the crow’s feet next to knowing eyes—these women are beautiful. Their faces and voices tell stories of lives well lived, of worlds seen and traversed, of experiences gained and pursued.
I want to be like these women.
I’m ready now. I’m ready to fill myself with beauty. To not just sit still and look pretty. I want to fill myself with knowledge and sights and adventures and experiences. I want to live and have that life reflected outward through my eyes.
I’m ready. I’m ready to be beautiful.