What defines beauty?
Is it intrinsic?
Is it the eye of the beholder?
Does it shine from within?
Is it the woman’s belief that she is beautiful? Is it a standard set by our media?
Is it a reflection of the observer, as Rumi says?
I have both traveled hand in hand with beauty, and ran from it like a rabbit from the fox.
Recently, I was tagged in a Facebook chain post that was asking me to post “five photos in which I felt beautiful,” and it brought me back to this dichotomous relationship that I share with beauty… I passed on the post in which I had been “tagged” at first, as I generally do not respond to chain emails, posts or what have you…I also post quite a few “beautiful” images of myself on Facebook.
I am a model, and as models do, I shamelessly self-promote.
I am sure everyone in my newsfeed has seen plenty (or enough) of my fabulousness, and could probably go without me re-sharing yet another set of my most glamorous images.
While most of the feedback I have received about my modeling work has been positive and encouraging, some of the feedback has been inquisitive, judgmental and even derogatory. So, I decided to embrace what I normally would pass off, and use this post as a platform to post a few raw, “real,” non-glamorous photos of myself, discuss why I choose to model, and dialogue about my relationship with and what I define as beauty.
The following is inspired by my original post.
I model primarily because I simply love modeling.
I love art, and using my body as a vessel to express art that is meaningful to me. The raw human form is art. The design element of hair, makeup and clothing is art. An images evoke emotion, and can convey just as much as a piece of writing by “cutting to the chase,” as it were.
Modeling is empowering, it celebrates the divine feminine, and allows you to play a vast variety of caricatures of yourself.
Although modeling is primarily something I do for myself, I also hope to inspire other women to embrace the art within themselves, to embrace their divine feminine and to think outside of the box they have created for themselves.
Understanding the terms of what physical beauty means has been a process for me.
I have never been one to follow the mainstream, and at a young age, I spent my hours involved in the arts, culture and spiritual pursuits rather than trying to replicate what I saw on the pages of a glossy magazine.
I believed that diversity was beautiful, that family was beautiful, that honesty and courage were beautiful, that words were beautiful, that both light and dark, thin and thick, tight and loose were beautiful. I developed a deeper sense of the word beauty, and then began to struggle with the “traditional” meaning of beauty…was I allowed to value physical beauty, or was I wrong for valuing such “superficial” attributes?
Was I selling out on my “deeper” understanding of what beauty is when I recognized and admired a pretty face?
I have always had a healthy amount of self confidence and once the teenage doubt passed, I had determined that I was, indeed, physically beautiful. Then began the on and off relationship with beauty.
I have vacillated between loving being beautiful, and despising it; celebrating it, and stifling it. I have gone through periods of time where I straightened my hair, wore makeup and did my nails and felt guilty about it.
There were times when I wore no makeup, left my hair natural and felt out of place being “pretty.” I did not shave for over 10 years, yet I was scrupulous about waxing my eyebrows.
Somehow, I just could not find a comfortable resting place with my relationship with physical beauty.
Having two children in rapid succession changed my body in ways that I had never imagined, going from a size four to a size 10 in a matter of two short years.
But strangely enough, through the associated humbling that goes with such a body modification, I came to a place of being comfortable in my own skin.
Unapologetically admitting that I am indeed beautiful, whether I am in full glamour mode or just rolled out of bed in yoga pants, I shed the shame and guilt of feeling beautiful, and came to the realization that I am proud to be beautiful.
I found that beauty is about authenticity, and until I could be truly authentic with myself, I had this wavering relationship with the concept of beauty.
Until I could look at myself in the mirror, and not only find what I was seeing as beautiful, but also to believe that it was not a shallow act to do so, only then was I able to be authentic on my own terms.
Not the terms of my parents, nor the terms of my feminist cohort, nor the terms of the man I was trying to pursue…strictly my terms. It was important for me to hold the holistic view that there is no wrongdoing in valuing physical beauty and still valuing the deeper-than-skin side of beauty.
Celebrating the beauty of being glamorous without the feeling of guilt or the shame of “selling out” has been a huge stone for me to turn over, but I can now move past that uncomfortable area of myself that I had to lean into so deeply.
I can look in the mirror, and say, “I am physically beautiful, and that has value.” I also recognize the vast variety of beauty that I have experienced throughout this life. And for that, I am grateful to be a conduit of radiant beauty in this world.
I feel beautiful when I am embodying this beautiful dichotomy.
I feel beautiful when I am courageous.
I feel beautiful when I am laughing.
I feel beautiful when I am learning.
I feel beautiful when I am supporting another human.
I feel beautiful in nature. I feel beautiful in the city. I feel beautiful in front of a camera, or on the runway. I feel beautiful when find kindness within my power, even when fondness if not.
I feel beautiful giving birth. I feel beautiful nursing my babies. I feel beautiful with my quirky, sly smile. I feel beautiful sharing love.
I feel beautiful when I am strong.
I feel beautiful when I am sweaty after a difficult day in the garden. I feel beautiful when I am glamorous. I feel beautiful when I am patient.
I am beautiful.
The images contained in this article are courtesy of Mind as Water, a global fine art project. Through a combination of portraiture sessions, art exhibitions and teachings of the Tao Te Ching, photographer Neil Cowley has created Mind as Water, which supports the Ugandan Water Project. The Ugandan Water Project empowers communities in Uganda to access to clean, efficiently resourced sources of water.
In a 2012 interview, Neil states, “… I believe that sharing the joy of the experience of water is the start to a wholehearted awareness that will produce global change. I hope that you can’t look at the images without being confronted with the immediacy of life, the fragile strength of the human spirit, the specifically unique experience of each person and the universal involvement of people not like yourself.
In our attempt to be culturally aware, we do not portray Ugandan’s as unhappy and needy people in our fundraising. They are not, and while starving children in Africa has moved Americans to give—I don’t believe it changes either of our cultures. If only American’s knew how to find joy in life with so little, and Ugandans could understand our organizational skills. Then we would have balance.”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photos: All photos copyright Neil Cowley (used with permission)