Beauty: Peeling Back the Layers
I’m still getting used to the idea that I can’t be fixed, because I’m not broken in the first place. Everything good about me is still here. I am not worth any less than before I became ill.
Harder to get used to is the idea that I didn’t do everything wrong; that this is exactly where I need to be right now.
Hardest of all the lessons I am learning is that I too deserve to be happy and loved. I even deserve to love myself, for that matter.
Crazy how notions that seem so simple and straightforward, things I tell people all the time and think I understand, will refuse to fully sink in for myself until the right moment.
It took me until this year to realize that my vision of my own relative unattractiveness was based on something false all along, which is the idea that women (or anyone really), owe it to the world to be beautiful, pretty, lovely, and that some women are somehow more attractive than others based on a ridiculous set of rules guiding conventional beauty, which, hooray, most of us were brought up with.
We don’t owe the world a pretty outer shell! However we define that for ourselves, let’s only define it so we can junk that and write a new set of rules that direct us to look inward and associate things like honesty, kindness, generosity, and strength with beauty.
None of us owe it to anyone to look any way other than we were born looking. We were born as perfect as we are going to get, and there is no point in trying to be anything else, on the outside or inside. It’s a crazy realization, and it lifted some of the emotional fatigue and numbness I have been contending with lately. Of course I still can appreciate outer beauty, without associating it with a person’s value, and I do love to look at pretty pictures as much as the next person, so aesthetic beauty will always have a place in my heart. However, I vow to stop depreciating myself because I do not compete visually with someone else.
Being ill means that my looks just aren’t as important to me. They were never that important, let’s be honest. I frequently hang out in comfy tennis shoes, yoga pants, men’s band tees, and hoodies that are too big for me. I have always had so much black in my closet that when I do the laundry I’m just pulling one black garment off of the next until I find the fabric that feels right. I wore flannels and ripped jeans in the awkward in-between time when the 90’s forgot to leave the small towns in the Northwest, and before it came back into fashion in the bigger cities again. I promise I did have a girly phase that started about five years ago and the development of which has slowed to a crawl since being diagnosed with fibro, then adult ADHD, then one pain condition after another including CFS/ME, Occipital and Trigeminal Neuralgia, among several others. What effort I was beginning to expend on outfits and the occasional fully painted face suddenly went into surviving.
I am not proud that I don’t have the energy to shower every day, I’m not proud that I only have a couple put together outfits to wear outside of the house now, and I’m not proud that doing my make up is way, way too much effort even for special occasions; the best I’ve manged in years is powder foundation and a little bit of a cat eye with liquid liner. I’m not proud that the teal in my hair is more of seafoam green, and I haven’t had it cut by a professional in almost five years.
Here’s the radical part though: I’m also not ashamed. Not anymore. This is me as much as I have ever been me at any other time in my life. If it means I can work on a blog post or help my boyfriend with his homework or make one dinner this week, it’s worth giving up some time spent on the outer shell and focusing that precious energy onto far more important priorities.
I understand that to some, this sounds like allowing my illness to win. However, this part of my journey has been incredibly empowering. Would I like to effortlessly be considered beautiful? Of course, but only if I could still know for sure that the people in my life were in it for me and not the shell of me. Does it break my heart that I’m not thin and my eyebrows are too dark? Not anymore! I have more important things to worry about, and my shell looks just fine in the grand scheme of things. I look like I’m supposed to look. Not by dolling up myself up, covering things up, creating illusions and using smoke and mirrors to hide the things that aren’t considered pretty. Instead, I’m finding my beauty, the one I have had all along regardless of fashion sense, diets, and make up, and I’m finding it by peeling off the layers, one by one. Asking myself why these things are considered beautiful and then repeating the answer back to myself until it just sounds so silly and frivolous. In the process of gaining this insight and sense of self-worth for the real, permanent parts of myself, I am also humbled. I am not pretty because I have high cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, or because I put on expensive perfume or drew the most perfect pair of cat eyes on my lids. It’s okay to appreciate those things and recognize them, but assigning a value to aspects of our physical beauty is a losing game for everyone. What would happen if all that were taken away in an instant? You would still need to feel valuable, and guess what? You would still be valuable. That’s an important, seriously liberating concept.
As women we waste such precious time, and teach others so many bad behaviors, by being so hard on ourselves and being hard on other women. I wish for everyone’s sake that this would stop. Just because another woman wants to dress up and have every hair in place, does not mean she is also brainless or any other stereotypical assumption I could make. It does not give me the right to tell my boyfriend she looks like a slut, because I’m jealous (read: insecure) of her legs in that skirt and those heels. What right do I have to treat her like an object? What do I know about her life? Maybe she hates wearing that stuff and does it because she was brought up in a culture where women behave and dress in a certain way. Maybe she loves dressing up; maybe it’s her creative outlet. Some women see make up as a lie, some see it as warpaint.
Nothing is as simple as it seems, and the more we assume, the more we pile the judgement on others around us, the more damage we do to ourselves. In the process of calling that girl a slut out of insecurity, I would also have been degrading myself, continuing a pattern of self-defeating hubris wherein I must be better than everyone else in some way, but also feel bad for the areas in life in which I don’t meet expectations. Why? Why can’t I be exactly as good, exactly as deserving, exactly as sexy, as the next woman? Why can’t the next woman be exactly as creative, exactly as kind, and exactly as thoughtful as I strive to be?
The truth is, we are all deserving, sexy, wonderfully creative, and thoughtful. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I am not better or worse than anyone else.
I think even within the spoonie community, sadly there is a culture of one-upping each other that is dangerous and undermines our strength as a whole. If we can’t trust fellow pain and illness warriors with our raw, real selves, who in the world can we trust?
Together, our voices are stronger than ever. Together we have the power to reverse stigma, to undo prejudice against the disabled and those with invisible illness. We can absolutely create a better world in which the chronically ill can lead fuller and more enriching lives. We have the power to make the world less lonely for others just by existing and sharing our stories. That is incredible! Before I was sick, I didn’t believe in my ability to change the world for the better. Now I understand that a life with purpose is the only possible way forward, and as a result I see potential everywhere to educate, to reach out, and to encourage those around me who need it most.
So here’s my style tip of the year: Own it. Whatever “it” is. If you’re not into pretty dresses, don’t force yourself to wear them. If you’re not okay being seen in your pajamas, that isn’t wrong either. Be comfortable in your skin, and kick standards of conventional beauty to the curb for good. No one else knows how we earned our gray hair, our medical equipment, our scars, our weight gain or weight loss, our wrinkles, or our battle wounds, but it shouldn’t matter. We should never be measured by something skin deep.
For years I have read the words of so many girls and women with illness, no matter age, and unfortunately the theme of shame over looks is constant, it’s instilled in the language we use to differentiate ourselves, and even in compliments we dole out. I hear the same longing to look “normal” and “not sick”.
Having a chronic illness, sadly the pressure to somehow keep up with the person we used to be is immense, specifically the pressure to look like the person we used to look like. Some of that pressure comes from within. Mostly it comes from a culture steeped in telling women what “beautiful” is, instead of letting us tell the world how we are each uniquely and inherently beautiful.
I think we should spread a new message to girls and boys alike: Beauty is not your looks, it is a state of being.
I don’t think we need to get rid of the word or the concept of beauty, just rewrite its definition.
When I say someone is beautiful, I say so meaning they are beautiful in every possible way; that they are perfect the way they are, that they would still be perfect no matter what flaws are present or mistakes are made, and that they will continue to be just as beautiful as the years pass, if not more radiant still. That is the kind of beauty I want to encourage others to see: beauty that is layers and layers deep and only grows the more you get to know someone.
Tags: #ButYouDontLookSick, #disabilitystyle, #smallvictories, aging, beauty, being comfortable in your skin, chronic illness, chronic pain, confidence, defining beauty, disability and self-esteem, healthy self-esteem, invisible illness awareness, love, positive self-talk, self-worth, words matter
About Jessi Finds Out FibroHi, and thank you for finding your way to my corner of the web! I'm on a journey to empower myself and hopefully others through shared courage and compassion. I write Finding Out Fibro, a chronic illness and chronic pain awareness blog that is not just about fibromyalgia, as well as a new project making jewelry under the Etsy name Hopeful Spoon. Please check out the shop and share if you can! Thank you for your support! My other hobbies include defeating ableism anywhere I find it, upcycling old junk into funky awesomeness, raising my voice to erase stigma against invisible illness and mental illness, baking, collecting vintage kitchen ware, sharing body-positive messages, playing around in photoshop, abstract painting (especially in neons and metallics!), advocating for those living with chronic illnesses and mental health challenges, seeking safety and upholding visibility for LGBTQIA individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, researching and testing plant-based remedies for chronic pain, and spending all my spare spoons in my veggie garden. This is my opportunity to do more than just survive with chronic illness. This is me learning how to live well, even though there is no cure for the war my body is waging on me.
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