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I recently bought a few shirts from The Spark Company.
As with so many of my spur-of-the-moment purchases, it caught my eye on Instagram. Social shopping, the wave of the future, or a way to get me to spend money that I didn’t plan on spending?
I bought two T-shirts. One says “Feminism is my favourite F-word.” My 13-year-old son loves that one and asked what is the male version so he can get one too. I thought for a bit and said I didn’t know.
A few days later, I had a conversation with some work colleagues, and they kindly reminded me: that is the male version. How right they were! Anyone and everyone can be a feminist. Time to take the patriarchy down together.
The other T-shirt says “redefining beauty” with a bunch of pretty pink and green flowers over the breasts. For me, growing up in the 80s, Jane Fonda lycra and leg warmer era beauty was always really only about one thing: how you look; how you dress; how you do your hair; what makeup you wear; how thin or fat you are. You know—everything on the outside.
Magazine covers in North America were dominated with the likes of Elle McPherson, Brooke Shields, and Christie Brinkley, all glossy with their fake tans, big hair, and perfect bodies. I remember first starting to write down what I ate at 11 years old. My mum was always on a diet, so should I not be as well?
I think my mum took me shopping and dressed me until about 12 or 13 years old. Always done up in the finest garb, albeit it had to be cotton and comfortable, as I had a real aversion to anything stiff like jeans. I remember my mum and sister spritzing lemon water in my hair on vacations under the sun in hopes that the blond would come out or last a little longer. I was born with strawberry blond curls, something to hold on to while you can.
By the time I was about 15 years old, I was already adding highlights and dying my hair. It wasn’t good enough as it was, I had been taught to believe. Just make it a little lighter, a little curlier, a little more anything.
After an intimately violent relationship with an older boy, my confidence in myself and my body was rather lacklustre. I was constantly trying to eat less and exercise more. He had told me straight out that I should aim to look more like another girl who had beautiful porcelain skin; I had a plethora of freckles all over my body. She had a tight tummy, voluptuous breasts, and thin legs, which was nothing like my sporty, flat-chested, stalky body. If I just had what she had, I would be beautiful, right?
This belief that my looks were one of the most important assets I had went on to dominate my thoughts about myself for years to come. I struggled with over-exercising and eating disorders for a good 10 years of my life. Unfortunately, I really don’t think that is unusual for girls growing up then or even now. This belief about ourselves just continues on in different formats. We are defined by what is on the outside by both ourselves and others.
I adore my mother, who is 83 years old now, but I often cringe at her remarks about beauty. “Look at the kids coming out of that camp; it must be a good one because they are all good-looking kids.” What?! They are good or bad kids based on how they look?
So many things noticed and commented on about the outside. If the outside is good in her eyes then the inside must be as well. I, too, get the most praise from my mother about myself and my looks when I have makeup on, have done my hair, and am wearing something she deems cute. It’s like my worth increases the more effort I put in to “looking presentable.”
So how do we take a stand at redefining beauty? What if we all realized that we are all composed of the same exact energy and just happen to inhabit a shell that is the human body? Inside that body, our energy waxes and wanes, and we all radiate what we believe to be true at the time.
You know how sometimes you meet a person and you are just drawn to them? There is something about their voice, their demeanour, the way they move. Everything about them radiates love, compassion, justice, generosity, truth. Well, that, my friend, is beauty.
I believe beauty is something you not only see, but you also feel deep within your core. Have you ever been so moved by nature that it brings you to tears of joy? What if we let ourselves experience that same welling of emotion about others’ internal beauty? What if we let ourselves have a little extra time when we meet someone to listen and to feel what they are giving out? Would our snap judgements be the same? I don’t think so.
So let us teach our girls how to see beauty and thus how to be beautiful together. Let our collective energy radiate the love and compassion that are inherently already there.