Friday, January 25, 2013

You are Beautiful

Late last year I entered an essay contest held by Faces By Ren which asked participants to write about what it meant to Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful, or about someone who inspires you or who embodies being their own kind of beautiful. The prize was the opportunity to be in the new add campaign for Faces By Ren, which meant getting your makeup done by Ren and having a photo shoot with Keith, of Keith Dixon Studios. Since I don't live near Jonesborough, Tennessee, I knew that I wouldn't be able to take advantage of that prize, but I really wanted professional head shots for my daughter the actor and I knew that Ren and Keith would be visiting my neck of the woods in the spring making that a possibility. 

On my birthday this month I woke up to my husband telling me I was a winner, I'd won the contest. And while I'll admit to being a bit envious today when the photos of the runners up, who live in the Jonesborough area and were able to get their makeup done and have a photo shoot, were posted online I'm very excited that my daughter will get to have photos taken this spring. And perhaps more importantly, I am thankful that I took the time to reflect on what it means to Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful. 

Over the past two years I've been living with Graves Disease. In the process my weight has fluctuated down and up and down and up again, up to 40 pounds in each direction. Knowing that I am more than a clothing size, that my husband loves me no matter what size I might be, and that being healthy is not defined by being thin, has never been more important. When I had dropped 30 pounds because my thyroid was out of control, my heart rate was consistently well above 100 and every system in my body was in hyper-drive, people could tell me how great I looked, but I knew that I was deathly ill. When I had gained 40 pounds because the medication had slowed everything back down too far, people could have no idea that I was eating a healthy vegetarian diet and walking the dog 20 minutes every day. 

There's a huge difference between "looking good" and being healthy. All too often people say that they are exercising to be healthy when really they are exercising due to an obsession with their appearance. People exercise even when injured or sick, potentially doing damage their bodies, because they are not listening to their bodies which are crying out for rest, in the guise of being healthy. People adhere to a variety of dietary choices and restrictions in the name of eating healthy when in fact they are hiding eating disorders, or striving for some image of the perfect body that is unobtainable and yet stands between them and feeling beautiful. 

Some people say that healthy people come in all shapes and sizes. I believe beautiful people come in all shapes, sizes, skin colors, fitness levels, and degrees of wellness. The most beautiful picture I've seen of a friend was taken while she was fighting cancer. While shaving her head she left a mohawk's worth of hair, put on fabulous makeup, pretty earrings, and took some wonderful photos. 

It's time for each of us to reconsider our prejudices around weight, health and beauty. 

            "The only thing that anyone can diagnose, with any certainty, by looking at a fat person,
is their own level of stereotype and prejudice toward fat people."  
Marilyn Wann, "Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution."

We each need to discover and then express what it means to Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful. Here is my winning essay on that topic:

My daughters are my role models for what it means to be your own kind of beautiful.  At 12, 13, and 16 they each embody their own fashion sense and personal style. In some families siblings share a similar look, body shape and size. In our family each girls’ shape and size is different. One is still growing rapidly, sometimes overnight, while another is really hoping she'll reach five feet tall. From toddler-hood they each favored wearing a specific color: purple, blue and pink. After their first decade they began expanding their color repertoires. Now they are continually exploring fashion, makeup, hairstyles and hair colors, with inspirational freedom and confidence.

My girls embrace beauty as individuals, each expressing her own kind of beautiful as a reflection of who she is, not who others want her to be. At times that means hot pink hair and other times black. Today it may be emphasized with dramatic makeup and tomorrow with a naked face. Clothes may be handmade, from Goodwill, or bought at the mall, but how clothing expresses their vision of who they are is much more important than how other people think it looks on their bodies.
Growing up, the message I heard from my family was that you had to be thin to be beautiful. If you weren't thin and beautiful you weren't worthy of being loved, at least not by a man. Growing up, getting married and having kids was the only path laid out before me. When I was in college my father informed me that if I didn't lose weight and dress better no man would ever want me. The emphasis was on standing up straight, with your shoulders back and sucking in your tummy;  nothing should ever bulge or be lumpy. My mother would tell me to tuck in my shirt, wear a belt or go back upstairs and put on some lipstick. My beauty was determined by my reflection in the eyes of others, and most of the time those eyes were more critical than kind. I never felt thin enough and I rarely felt pretty.

As a parent I have struggled with saying things that were said to me as a child. Knowing I want my daughters to grow up understanding that they are worthy of being loved because they are who they are, and not because they conform to someone else's standards of beauty, I continually seek to support them as they explore and celebrate their individuality. When they look to me, I want them to see the reflection of their own unique beauty in my eyes. I want them to know the feeling I get when one of them looks at me and says, "Mom, you look beautiful." Hopefully for them that feeling comes from deep inside and they don’t need me to say the words "you are beautiful" to know that in our family each of us can truly be our own kind of beautiful.  

See Ren's work, her body painting is amazing, at
View Keith Dixon's photography at
You can also find them on facebook.

For further reading on the topic of weight and health I recommend "Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight" by Linda Bacon.