It has taken me 39 years to understand beauty.
In my teen years, I learned, as many young girls do, to hate my body and to treat it badly.
I discovered that skipping meals made my stomach a little flatter, a stick of gum kept me from grazing, and diet soda was an adequate meal replacement.
Soon I was sporting a size zero, counting calories, and exercising aggressively. With full-blown anorexia, my hair was thinning, my body was shivering, and my bones were prominent. But starvation was empowering, and I would forfeit any meal to feel a sense of control in my otherwise chaotic world.
I found yoga years later, after counseling and diet changes helped me develop better habits. Still, I hadn’t learned to respect or honor my body, and I occasionally used food as a drug and starvation as a control mechanism.
Yoga helped me befriend my body. I came to the mat for fitness, and to become more balanced and flexible. I never imagined the ways it would change me.
I couldn’t comprehend the art of asana, and how sitting in stillness and bending with the flow of my breath would begin to break old patterns and limiting beliefs about myself and my body. I stopped self-loathing and started eating sensibly, without shame or guilt.
In time, I was able to ditch destructive diets and compulsive calorie counting. I continue to watch the old me melt away on the mat.
As I clawed my way up from emotional lows and surveyed the shifting landscape of my soul, I learned a few things about beauty.
Beauty must be awakened, not earned.
It does not come with a larger cup size, washboard abs, or an a*s that won’t quit, although those physical attributes might be considered attractive. Beauty is not something I acquire, nor is it something I put on—a designer dress or a shade of fierce red lipstick. Sorry Maybelline.
When I attach myself to that kind of beauty, I set myself up for disappointment, even to the point of becoming unstitched when the fabric of that superficial garment wears out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy strutting my stuff in a new outfit and the feeling I get when I up my game at the gym and see the results in the mirror.
I don’t believe it is wrong to feel good about my appearance, as long as I do so without cutting others down, or playing the comparison game.The problem with surface beauty is that it is all shimmer and no substance.
Beauty that’s rooted in the soul is true and lasting. This kind of beauty is a flame that flickers within each of us, the delicate embers of which are easily extinguished by the cold world and our own crushing criticism.
Discovering my individual beauty has been, and continues to be, a process of removing the layers of insult, shame, and self-loathing I have allowed to smother my flame. It’s time to believe that what I have within me is enough.
It’s time to awaken gratitude, and to experience true and lasting beauty.
On my journey toward awakening beauty, I wrote a poem to my body, a peace offering of sorts.
These words are the gentle whisper I utter apologetically to my flesh. May you find your own brand of beauty and discover the flame that flickers within you.
To love my own flesh, the dimpled skin and sinuous, stretch-marked paths…
can this be?
There are bodies, smooth and svelte, women with limbs like art.
And I have this.
Five feet plus two inches, breasts that drip and splay, dark knees like onion skins.
I have seen shapelier legs, creamy and flawless, whispering beneath the hems of fluttering skirts and beckoning the silent praise of men.
I praise them too.
They are graceful.
They are glorious.
And I wonder where my grace hides and if beauty will find me one day.
And then she does.
She walks with me at night when the silver moon probes like the wild eye of God.
She sings to me in summer—an orchestra of insects in sweet symphonic harmony.
She flickers in the flames where bonfires leap and burn.
She smiles through the faces of strangers, with lips curved up like cats’ tails.
She glistens on my window pane when rain splashes and streaks the world.
Beauty is not lost. She is everywhere, in breath and bones, in everything.
She is smooth, and dimpled, and onion-skinned.
She is five feet plus two inches, if I imagine her so.
She is both perfect and flawed.
Beauty is within and without.
Beauty is gratitude awakened.
Author: Rica Lewis
Image: Kris Krug/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Erin Lawson