I walk out of the shower, clean faced and scruffy haired, to stand in front of the bathroom mirror. My older sister passes me by. I tell her something I rarely ever speak, I tell her that I feel beautiful.
She smiles in reply to say, “it is nice to feel clean, isn’t it? I feel beautiful then too.”
So I learn of beauty.
For most of my teenage years beauty was something that had to be worked for, added on. Whether it was the sleek lines of eyeliner to showcase my eyes or a flat stomach I could earn by eating less and running more, beauty felt like a rare achievement. It still does sometimes.
It was a few weeks ago that a married friend had told me he wished, so badly, to fill the place in his wife’s heart that made her shy away from pictures being taken; the place that made her tense when he touched her hips. As if she feared his attraction to her depended upon the rules of the game.
Women learn of a different, crippling kind of beauty.
It’s one that is measured and weighed, with results determining the amount we deserve to feel loved. We either score high or sit, unpicked on the sidelines of likability and affection.
We fear daily that we will not make the cut. And men who love us unconditionally see it too. They see our enlistment in a game when we obsess over our looks, fearfully playing along.
It was in January of last year when I found out a man I had cared about for years, my best friend and hopeful boyfriend, had watched pornography. I found it written in his journal. It took me weeks to reconcile beauty back to myself. Why did it hurt so much? Because from that moment on, the self-disgust I already carried was confirmed.
Deep down, I knew I couldn’t compete to the women I saw in advertisements. And deeper down, I didn’t want to have to. I struggled after in isolation, eating less, and cringing at glimpses of myself in the mirror. It took me years to quit the game.
But I did quit. I stopped trying to win at beauty.
I stopped complying that my worth was tied to whether I was thin or my hair was voluminous. Quitting the game actually allowed me to dress nice and do my makeup, not because without it I feel less worthy, but because it’s something I enjoy.
Now, beauty it comes in simple moments like feeling clean or the exchange of smiles with strangers and friends. Beauty is no longer a game I play; it no longer discriminates.
Beauty is something the earth and all its creations possess. It’s something I understand more when I witness selfless acts of generosity. Beauty comes on days when I overflow with gratitude for my eyes, hands, and body, which allow me to experience the world.