This is a commentary on Janne Robinson’s poem, I am Not Afraid to Tell you that I am Beautiful (and other works), as well as other (fabulous and mostly female) writers around these parts—all of whom I deeply admire.
I don’t have a blog or Facebook with a million photos of me doing handstands in a bikini on a mountain or other outdoorsy things.
I’m not writing extensively about eco activism or charity work, veganism or Buddhism.
I’m scared to admit that I’m not her, I’m not that.
I thought I was that kind of, for a while. And I found this elephant tribe. I wrote and I worked hard and learned and I eventually landed the job of my dreams as an editor here.
But I kinda feel like I don’t fit in, because I don’t always hold the same sort of lightness.
I’ve been hiding under layers of snow and darkness, wavering from cozy to stifled, cold sweats sometimes, intermittently opening the windows letting frosty air freshen me.
That is how I let this small space breathe.
But I’m not breathing well, and I have no choice but to really come clean about what it’s like to be here in this body and brain now.
Strange dreams, snow, dark days and less heart-connections makes for an oddly lonely time. Right now, I am more prone to feeling strange and small and lonely than I am to feeling connected and strong and beautiful.
I have everything going for me. I am privileged. But I’m not beautiful.
Not like that, anyway.
Here are some things that I do know: depression, addiction, poverty, scarcity, insecurity, uncertainty. I know about how a lack of (perceived) agency and the cycle of scarcity can frequently lead to feelings of disempowerment, desperation, exhaustion.
I know about soul-crushing mountains of debt that not even bankruptcy can entirely fix…acquired because I wanted an education.
I know rape. I know emotional abuse.
I know how it feels to feel discomfort and shame about your body and shame about who you love and how you love them.
I want to send an inspiring message that I am strong and beautiful and lucky and happy (and I’ve spent a fair share of my privileged life frolicking on beaches and things like that), but the truth is that the world doesn’t always feel that way.
As much as I might want to, it’s rare that I really feel like she looks like she feels as she stands naked underneath that waterfall in that photo.
And I’m guessing that I’m not alone in this.
I’m guessing that she knows these things too…and how wonderful for us each to have the freedom to write and share pretty much anything we want about ourselves with very little risk of retaliation or harm. So there’s where I am on the same page as her: we’re both free and vulnerable.
But more often, I feel the unbeautiful things…a sort of disassociation with beauty. A dis-beauty. I get how a lack of agency means that for some, there just isn’t a chance to run around in forests and under waterfalls with photos taken of our beautiful naked butts. Perhaps it’s possible for them, but it’s not priority.
Enter the single mom who is forced to work three jobs and settle for four hours of sleep each night.
Enter the kidnapped aboriginal woman who was forced into prostitution.
Enter the Transgender youth who nearly took their lives (or did).
Enter the woman who has survived breast cancer and is brave enough to show her scars.
Enter the struggling senior with no medicare, let alone airfare to visit their grandchildren on the other end of the country.
Enter the brilliant PhD student whose Schizophrenia eventually leads him to take his own life.
This is why I am afraid to tell you that I am beautiful: because me saying that—or hearing it—doesn’t really matter compared to the ones who are too buried in serious life shit to stop and listen, read, or care.
And that’s not to say that the beautiful yoga butts aren’t doing good things for the world—on the contrary, they are inspiring others to know their beauty, and that’s just one way that they are saving the world.
But I can’t really relate.
You can tell me that I am beautiful, and sure I am in certain lights. We all are. But then there are other angles captured by cameras—the ones that show off deepening forehead creases, the cellulite in odd places, the thick ankles and grey hairs.
I’m scared to say that I’m beautiful—like that—because scars and imperfections take up more space in life. So that if I were to post a photo of myself naked and tanned on a beach it wouldn’t speak of my own experience or reach those that (maybe) need to be reached the most.
They need something more than a photo of a beautiful butt.
Showing such boldness and prowess is admirable, but it’s not me. And I’m scared that if I tried to be that, I would forget about those who are most easily forgotten—the ones who can’t afford to spend time in nature, to green their homes or spend time getting to know their inside beauty.
I am afraid to suggest that I am beautiful, because most days my life and my heart relates more to these dark places—they’ve made me who I am. They’ve allowed me to develop empathy, and to not take things for granted.
I am in the process of freeing myself up from the clutches of a life based more on scarcity and darkness than abundance and light. I’m learning better how to recognize that there is choice in that, but I have a lifetime of these unbeautiful feelings and things to unlearn.
As this space and choice presents itself, I hope to extend myself to others that regularly feel dis-beauty and maybe, maybe help them to know a possibility of their own.
Author: Renee Picard
Photo: Bronx at Flickr