The truth is, my face has let me down. I thought it would turn out prettier, with better bone structure. As a kid, I thought that because I was good at stuff, I was pretty too, or at least should be. Good and pretty should go together.
My belly has let me down. It refuses to be sucked in.
My proportions are not neat, tight, sexy. I see a friend in something glamorous, and I know it won’t work on me. I might wear it anyway, but it won’t look the same.
And I am disappointed, sometimes, in how I turned out, physically.
I think that’s fair.
I used to think I should swallow the disappointment or ball it up and stuff it into a corner, plug the hole where uneasiness seeped in. I should smile more, put my shoulders back and face the world and be thankful and look myself in the mirror and say, “Damn it, you’re beautiful, woman! You’re beautiful because you look like yourself!”
But I have all of these other images of what beauty looks like stuck in my eyes, so that they waver, floating, translucent, over my face. All of these other faces taunt my own. And they’re the pretty ones. They are how I should have looked, might have looked, if I were luckier.
And I think it’s fair to think that way, because it’s true, there are so many images of beauty that we’ve all memorized. And there is so much certainty about them. And there is so much belief in beauty as something critical for girls and women. And when people don’t like the women who write things on the internet, they call us ugly.
“UGLYUGLYUGLYUGLY” yelled a man from the comments under this blog. A scream of rage. How can such ugly an woman be allowed a voice? Ugly women are worthless! Women who say things that people don’t like are ugly! Being ugly is the worst thing a woman can be!
But it isn’t the disappointment in my appearance that I want to address, now. Because I think that’s fair and to be expected.
Instead, I want to remind myself of the ways I have surprised myself by being better than I expected.
I am better in a crisis than I expected. Although I am sometimes tremblingly fragile and I am afraid I might shiver into tiny fragments that can’t be pieced together again, when something goes wrong, I sometimes become quick and business-like and get things done. There must be some hidden strength there. Some mysterious pool of it, in the depths.
I am a better writer than I was a year ago, when I thought I was pretty good. I will be a better writer next year, and writing gives me more pleasure than almost anything else. It is up there with the Shack Stack from Shake Shack, seeing Bear in a suit and knowing he’s mine, and seeing a bunch of people I love laughing together.
(there is a deep fried, cheese-filled portobello mushroom in it, on top of a burger. i want one RIGHT NOW. source)
I am better at Bear being sick than I used to be. I used to just cry sometimes, when his blood sugar went really high and he’d say hopeless things about how he’s killing himself, because I could imagine him dying. Last night, I just held him and told him it’s really hard to have a chronic illness, and it’s not his fault, and he’s still great, and I love him. Even though he felt sick, we both felt better from that.
I am better at not hating myself for not being as successful as I think I should be.
I am better at being proud of myself for where I am.
I am getting more comfortable about having a body. It seems slightly less awkward than it used to. My limbs have more purpose and I know better what to do with them. I can lean casually on a counter sometimes, while talking to someone, and not even think about it. I can lean against the wall of the elevator sometimes, and not even think that the other person is probably thinking that I’m radiating weirdness.
I am better at waiting.
I am better at telling people what I do, without trying to make it sound fancier than it is.
(nope, don’t need any of these. source)
I am better at talking to my mom, I hope.
I am better at putting my shoulders back when I walk.
I am better at wearing whatever I want, even around people who I know will be wearing something sexy.
Ignoring the fact that our world has made beauty a priority doesn’t work for me. It has, and I live in the world. But reminding myself of how many other things matter about me and have the persistent power to inform every moment of every day of my life helps put beauty in its place. It is a box in a series of boxes that can be checked or left empty, depending on the day. The list is long. There are things I am that make me happier than looking sexy in a slinky outfit someone else is pulling off. There are things I am that will fulfill me for longer, in my life. There are things I’m not that are harder to overcome than beauty, and I need to work on them more.
“UGLYUGLYUGLYUGLYUGLYUGLY” screamed the commenter under something I’d written.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s the best you can do?” I said, aloud, to the screen. “You think that will devastate me?”
It would have, at one point, years ago. But I’m better at that, too. I know now that the reason trolls use the words they do is because those are the words that are supposed to hurt the most. Being ugly is supposed to be the scariest thing that can happen to a woman.
And the thing is, it just isn’t.
You know what’s scary? Believing that it is. That’s when things get dangerous.
I am disappointed by my face. Honestly, I am. When I was sixteen, I thought I’d be even more beautiful when I was in my twenties, and I’m not. Honestly. I’m not. In all those objective terms we assign beauty, that I know so automatically and so well. And I am disappointed for my past self.
(and I don’t want to be the one to tell her)
I recognize that I will only look older now, and that older will mean “more complicated.” There will be more that would be photoshopped neatly away. There will be less to get acknowledged as pretty. There are aspects of beauty that really are just luck, and when the coin was flipped and that exact sperm wriggled into the egg, I got tails. And no amount of “no, no, you look great!” will ever airbrush or reinvent my reflection in the mirror at Macy’s or in my bathroom.
So I think it’s fair that I’m a little let down sometimes. It would have been nice to be prettier. Of course it would have been.
And at the same time, damn, am I getting better at plotting a fantasy novel. When I think about the book I’m working on, I can feel the excitement in my stomach. I can invent whole lives on this screen. I can give them hope and complicated, messy love and enemies and magic. They don’t even have to worry about tampons and where to poop when they’re on some quest in the ancient forest, if I don’t want them to. They are too busy fighting evil to agonize about the size of their nose. But hey, sometimes they have a moment, and they agonize, because that is life. It’s just not most of life, or even the interesting part. The interesting part is the magic, and the quest, and the fighting evil. Let’s get back to that.
* * *
What are you better at now that you thought you would never be?
Unroast: Today I love the way I get really excited about eating something I haven’t eaten in a long time.
P.S. I always debate whether or not to include a photo of myself, especially when I’m talking about beauty. I never want my pieces to be about how other people think I look (“but you’re pretty! why do you feel this way? it’s ridiculous!” or “you’re not pretty, but you need to get over it!”). Body image is about how we feel about the way we look. I included this photo because it’s of me, at sixteen, clearly thinking about how I look. And I thought that worked well with the post.