“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision” – Helen Keller
“I’ll take you around the world if you get back to that shape.” He pointed to a picture of me taken exactly 20 years ago. I was skin and bones; it was just a couple of months after I’d recovered from typhoid fever. For weeks, I couldn’t keep down anything I ate. It was closest to death I’d ever been in my life.
I know he intended this as a compliment for my youthful skinny self. And he didn’t know that I’d had typhoid fever a few weeks before that photo had been taken. But offering me a reward to return to my skin and bones state, felt sickening.
Only a few hours before, his hands were tilling the soil of my body, with a delicious and insatiable lust. And just moments before, I’d been lying in his arms, letting the gravity of our bodies fuse into blissful weightlessness.
Now, this cheerleading encouragement to be thinner, seeped into my skin, and echoed the message ‘you’re not enough’.
Years earlier I may have defaulted into a vicious cycle of beating myself up that my efforts to be skinnier than my natural size 10 were never enough. But I’d vowed never to treat myself that way again.
“Why wouldn’t you take me around the world just the way I am?” I asked.
“I’ll take you halfway around the world the way you are now….” He quipped jokingly.
The part of me that would normally joke with his smartass-ness couldn’t joke about this.
Why was being a certain size a prerequisite for being celebrated?
It occurred to me, that this wasn’t about him as much as it was about an ignorance that lives and breathes so deeply in our culture. Even those who love us most don’t realize how they are hurting us by putting conditions on what beauty is, attaching a weight and value to it, and then blindly encouraging us at all cost, to chase it and attain it. They can misunderstand how to be loving when they focus is on our physical appearance as a measurement of value, or as a condition for being loved and celebrated.
And maybe those who love us, offer these twisted versions of encouragement to chase their own version of beauty and don’t realize how they’re hurting themselves by not being able to recognize there’s beauty in a real, unique, palpable form right in front of their eyes.
When men or women fail to see and appreciate the beauty right in front of them, just the way it is, without attaining it or improving it, they lose out on experiencing the complete surrender of a woman who feels deeply seen and celebrated.
Meanwhile, we know how much women have suffered while trying to achieve an arbitrary standard of beauty – bulimia, anorexia, obsessive workouts, food addiction, depression, body disassociation, etc. And many of us have taken the long, hard road of healing our relationship to ourselves and our bodies. But once we’ve healed, how do we help those who love us understand what they’re missing out on when they’re fixated on the quest to obtain their own fictionalized standard of physical beauty?
Just to be clear, I don’t believe men or women who are engaged in this skewed association of a woman’s appearance with her worthiness, are intentionally unkind or misogynistic. For example, consider a loving father or friend who says “What a pretty girl, she’s going to break hearts when she gets older.” The intention of the praise may be loving, but the message blindly leads us to associate appearance with love-ability.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not undermining the generosity, pride and the joy of a compliment. In fact, genuine expressions of admiration reflect something real about ourselves and nourish our growth. And I’m not I dismissing the gift of physical beauty.
My point is, the message that links beauty to attaining self-worth or love-ability, can be destructive for the lover who’s being perceived, and it can be a distraction for the lover who’s perceiving. When a lover is fixating on improving a woman’s beauty so they can say they have a beautiful woman, they lose out on experiencing the beauty of a woman surrendering when she feels completely seen and appreciated.
Years ago, one of my mentors once suggested I show my man how to be with me. He used the word show, instead of tell, which reminded me that the issue wasn’t about whether my man wanted to love me, or was available to love me, it was more about my man learning how to love me.
Remembering this advice, I said something like this:
“I actually have no desire to be thin like that again. The best thing to do if you want to encourage me to be healthy, is to appreciate me as I am.”
Beauty isn’t meant to be controlled; it’s meant to be celebrated.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
Being witnessed for who we truly are, unleashes the most pure form of beauty that’s felt, not seen. When we have a safe space to feel and express our deepest selves without judgment, we cultivate access the felt-sense of beauty without having to chase it.
Whether a man or a woman helps a woman to feel safe in her fullest self-expression, they’ll feel her beauty far beyond what they’d feel from just looking at a woman who’s physically attractive. Feeling a woman’s beauty offers the lover a deep connection, as opposed to the endorphin rush from fantasizing about about her image.
Women can learn how to cultivate an feeling of their own beauty, which translates to magnetism, by challenging themselves to explore the edges of their self-expression. In my experience, being deeply seen and celebrated by other women is the fastest way to bust through the societal expectations of beauty that we’ve been conditioned to identify with.
For example, in my Permission Sessions workshops, women have the opportunity to drop the harmful ways we’ve identified with our sensuality and beauty, and strengthen our ability to let our real selves be seen. We get to witness and celebrate the unconditional feminine essence that otherwise may habitually hide behind a pretty face, carefully crafted intelligence or a deflecting sense of humor.
If you’re interested in cultivating a connection to your indestructible inner-beauty along with other women, I’ve included some resources at the end of this article.
If men or women use the beauty of women, like a badge of honor, a mechanism for validating their own worth, by attempting to conquer, control, attain and dominate beauty, not only does it perpetuate the cycle of women believing they need to display and manipulate their beauty in order to be loved, it also deeply affects the lover’s fulfillment because women easily shut down from offering genuine love and sexuality when we don’t feel seen and celebrated.
Beauty is a creation. It’s a reminder that there’s divinity, absent of religion. It’s a healing balm to the world of nastiness, violence and destruction. It’s all of those things, but it’s not something to be owned, controlled or obtained, any more than the air we breathe can be owned, displayed or paraded around.
Let’s find the beauty in ourselves. Celebrate it in others. And always love it hard, just as it is.
Want to give yourself permission to be celebrated with like-minded women who are on a mission to feeling whole, confident, sexy and free? Learn how to fill yourself up with your uniquely beautiful essence at one of my Permission Sessions.
Interested in joining a women’s circle locally or start your own women’s circle? Check out Nisha Moodley’s International Sisterhood Day where you can join a circle anywhere in the world virtually: http://sisterhoodday.com