Yesterday I read an amazing powerful post over on Offbeat Mama, entitled “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.” What struck me about this article was how strikingly beautiful the words were on the page and how they fit perfectly with the subject matter of the post. Not every author can have that magically difficult combination. The words are so powerful that I want to quote them,but have difficulty chopping the writing down into those bite size pieces to try and hand out. Much like beauty itself, this piece needs to be taken in one sweeping gaze, so I’m going to quote it all, here, and then respond:
I’ve started telling my girls that I think I’m beautiful. It’s been so easy to tell them how beautiful THEY are, because it’s obvious. They are the thing beauty is made of. They are the reason we started worshipping beauty. They sparkle and dance. When they’re sleeping, they turn into soft cloud babies, little perfect tufts of white on the moonlight.
There are a lot of people like me. Women who know things. Women who have seen things. Women with diseases in their livers. There are a lot of women with scars on their arms and words that carry themselves like sparrows. There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.
There are a lot of people like me, because we’re all the same. We’re all blood and electricity. We’re lonely under the gaze of god. We’re all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.
All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingers… it’s been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.
The thing is, my children are perfect. I am the grown up, so I’m supposed to show them everything about life. When they wake up in the morning, though, I stare at them and they’re new. They teach me everything. They are babies and they teach me what it means to be a person. It’s easy to see that they’re beautiful.
I am slow and I am tired. I am round and sagging. I am harried. I am sexless. I am getting older.
I am beautiful. How can this be? How can any of this be true?
I don’t want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that’s what women do. That’s what mommy did. I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.
“Look at me, girls!” I say to them. “Look at how beautiful I am. I feel really beautiful, today.”
I see it behind their eyes, the calculating and impression. I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful. They love me. To them, I am love and guidance and warm, soft blankets and early mornings. They have never doubted how wonderful I am. They have never doubted my beauty. How confusing it must have been for them to see me furrowing my brow in the mirror and sucking in my stomach and sighing.
How confusing it must have been to have me say to them, “You think I am beautiful, but you are wrong. You are small and you love me, so you’re not smart enough to know how unattractive I am. I know I am ugly because I see myself with mean eyes. You are my child and I love you, but I will not allow myself to be pretty, for you. No matter how shining you are when you watch me brushing my hair and pulling my dress over my head. No matter how much you want to be just like me, I can’t be beautiful for you and I don’t know why.”
It’s working, a little bit. I’ve even stopped hating myself, a little bit.
I’ll be what they see. They see me through eyes of love. I’d do anything for them, even this.
I am beautiful.
by Amanda at http://www.lastmomonearth.com
I am struck by this whole piece for many different reasons. I mostly think of my mom, who wanders through my memories without makeup and with a quiet confidence that I sometimes think, now, bordered on obliviousness to looks. She was gorgeous, tiny, dark hair, and olive skin that didn’t need foundation or blush or blemish covers. While thin and much smaller than me, she was never a dieter or someone who was concerned about weight. And her confidence passed on to me. I guess there was concern when I was a child that I was growing too fast and was too thin, but for all the stress and subtle messaging I received about other areas of life, being self-conscious about my looks was never one of them. While I never thought of myself as “beautiful,” I certainly did not think I was ugly. And even now, with stretch marks and extra poundage, I still do not see myself as ugly.
And yet, recently, I was surprised to see, when I took a cell-phone picture, how much like MamaE I seemed, which made me take a step back and evaluate my own relationship to familial beauty. The family I grew up with looks nothing like me, with their dark hair and olive skin. And the mother I do look like has been ravaged by meth and alcohol and Joe Camel. How can I see myself as beautiful, when my face is turning into hers?
I was perplexed by my emotion in relation to Potamus as I read this, as it is geared towards mothers of girl-children. But it makes me think about his view of women, and what he will see as he looks at me and then looks around at women he encounters. If he ends up in a relationship with a woman, what will his expectation of her be in relationship to beauty and body? And I think of Boof and his relationship to me, how it has been influenced by his own mother, and sisters. And how my own relationship to myself has been influenced by those women, too, and for all the love I have for them, I have also noticed a sense of comparison and bonding over body image or dieting that I did not have before they entered into my life.
I am still beautiful, even if I struggle sometimes.