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We say a lot about beauty in this culture.
We celebrate it.
We designate it.
We use it as a weapon.
We expect it.
We covet it.
We jeopardize our lives and health for it.
And, for most of us females, we have, perhaps, learned our first life lesson: it is the most important thing we can be in the world.
I certainly learned that lesson.
I remember, as a little girl, looking at images of fairy-tale princesses and radiant mother-daughter teams on hair detangler products as the snarls in my five-year-old hair were being disciplined into a smooth coiffure. I would see a lot of long blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, and perfect, thin, hourglass bodies along the way. Depiction after depiction referenced sweet, adorable, pleasing ingenues, all echoing the same limited parameters of what beauty looks like.
And we are all fed a steady diet of these images and messages.
Beauty looks like this. Beauty doesn’t look like that.
And that sounds like the perfect conditions for eating disorders to proliferate. That’s what it did with me, anyway. I believed in the power of the limited definition and depiction of beauty. It was über-feminine, damsel-like, and thin.
It was especially that last part of the beauty criteria that almost killed me.
It did so because it underscored the other two components to beauty: über-feminine and damsel-like.
“There are no ugly women, only lazy women.” ~ Coco Chanel
Innovative fashion legend Coco Chanel was not exactly the most positive role model for self-acceptance out there, especially with that statement.
And those of us who have punished ourselves with starvation attempts, diets, grueling exercise, and all kinds of painful, scarring, and expensive remedies, all to attain this elusive beauty goal, give Ms. Chanel’s statement credence. If we’re, therefore, “ugly,” we have caused it, somehow.
It’s our fault.
We have not done “enough.”
We are not only ugly; we are also lazy. Translation? A slob. The anti-feminine.
Indeed, most females are assigned the duty of looking pretty. “Keeping ourselves up,” “Powdering our noses,” “Keeping our feminine mystique alive.” You get the picture.
There appears to be a link, somehow, between qualifying (feminine) beauty and the earning of it.
“Feel the burn…”
“No pain, no gain…”
“You have to suffer for beauty…”
“Hey, let’s wax this…”
Refusing to participate in that upkeep mandate, therefore, renders that individual less beautiful, less of a woman.
I felt it. It drove me to overexercise and starve myself:
It was 12 o’clock midnight, and the alarm blared.
“Get up! You must do this!” yelled a voice from somewhere deep within me. Slowly rising from my bed, I avoided the light-headed dizziness and concentrated on every movement.
Already exhausted, I began this day as I did most others, with a collapsing spell. Thud! “How many calories are burned in a drop thud anyway?” I thought to myself as I accepted the collapse as a part of my routine. It was merely the price I had to pay to be 19 years old, 5’4”, and 80 pounds. That kind of thinness wouldn’t happen unless I made it happen!
I obeyed my inner drill sergeant and stumbled in the dark to my exercise equipment. In the beginning, I had enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, the toned body, and the natural endorphin-high that exercise brought me. Somehow that had morphed into the morning installment of my daily punishment.
Driven by fear, I believed my critical inner voice when it told me things such as:
“No one will ever want you unless you’re thin, beautiful, and perfect, you know!”
“You’re not good enough! Who do you think you’re kidding by doing this? But you’d better not stop!”
“You have to finish this. You won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t.”
The next six punishing hours were a thud fest. I tried to find the emotional strength to deal with my inner commandant’s orders and enough physical strength to keep from fainting again. Collapsing was inevitable, though. I saw it as the price I needed to pay to have perfection and worth…
~ Excerpt from my book, Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder
Oh, but we’re just getting started!
“There are no ugly women, only lazy women.” ~ Coco Chanel
For as much as we have made strides in female empowerment, we still are confronted with powerlessness.
Help me, help me, help me! I am a damsel in distress.
A lot of beauty is tied up in the powerlessness, in the helplessness. We may have depictions of strong women with muscular biceps, tackling world and life affairs while lifting a vehicle off from a trapped child. We may believe we are roaring with adrenalin and estrogen; I am woman!
Yet, the powerless damsel still seems to hold court.
I am powerless; I need what you possess to make me have value and worth, to make me beautiful. Please give me your diet pills, your fitness plan, your miracle cure, your love and acceptance, your relationship validation—your huddled masses are yearning to breathe free here.
I equated delicate with beautiful.
And it wasn’t long before my disordered brain equated emaciated with delicate. Do you see where this is going? Skeletal equals beautiful.
It can be argued that beauty’s pursuit can encourage dependency. If you and I feel we absolutely need it to be happy, whole, lovable, and worthy, then, of course, we would chase after it, wouldn’t we?
We would live for it; we would die for it.
I almost did.
We can believe beauty is the elusive commodity, one of scarcity. There is just only so much beauty, a life-sustaining resource, to go around. Better get in the Thunderdome then, and fight for yours! Don’t concentrate on intelligence, kindness, character, and integrity. Nope, beauty is it. Focus on that.
A person can ask little girl after little girl, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
And the tiny child’s voice responds, “Pretty.”
“Beauty is not caused. It is.” ~ Emily Dickinson
Would you believe it, right now, if someone told you that you were beautiful as is? Not 20 pounds from now, not a smaller butt or nose from now, not a better wardrobe from now, not a more forgiving beauty trend from now.
Right now. As is.
What is stopping you from believing that inherent value applies to you? Beauty is part of that package. But there’s so much more to you than that.
This week, from the 22nd to the 28th, marks the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Most of us have some disorder about our bodies and appearances. What is your disordered belief?
What is beautiful to you? What is beautiful about you? What more do you have to bring to your life than that beauty?
Whatever that may be, it’s not something that’s manufactured, in a bottle, or can be bought from Amazon.
It is. It simply is.
You are beyond beautiful!