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.

Society is Wrong

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.

Not Cute, But Strong

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.

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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.

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About Jessi Finds Out Fibro

Hi, 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.

18 responses to “Beauty: Peeling Back the Layers”

  1. abodyofhope says :

    YEAH GIRL!!!
    Cheering the whole way through. Wow, this was such an inspired post. I could feel your energy pouring through my computer screen. If i weren’t so exhausted, I’d quote you here, but you have too many magnificent lines!
    You should be very proud of this. One of my favorite pieces I have read all year. Saving it to re-blog after Nervember 😀
    Did something inspire this in particular may I ask? It felt so empowered and driven- in a wonderful way.
    I’m half awake writing this, so I apologize if my writing is sloppy. Awesome post. Just had to give you mad props ❤
    YOUR vibe is beautiful! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

      Holy flattery, batman! 😀 😀 😀
      Thank you so much, that means the world to me! And never apologize for sloppy writing, I have a lot of trouble with relaxing enough to post something as is, but in the process of struggling with my own mixing up words and difficulties speaking without stuttering or slurring my speech I would be the last person to judge!!!
      I think I just read one too many posts about women who felt that it was necessary to drain every last scrap of their own energy in the hopes of “seeming normal” and “not looking sick”. It makes me so sad that sick or disabled is ugly, and healthy is beautiful. I wasn’t planning on writing about this. I thought yourself, Charlotte, and others had covered the topic well and I could leave it alone…. but then I just felt compelled. So you’re totally right, it was like I was driven by something to finish this way-too-long post in one sitting.
      A few months ago a friend slightly lectured me on using the word “beauty” next to other descriptors of value because it was derogatory towards women who were not considered beautiful under conventional standards. I understand what she meant. I absolutely do. I didn’t know how to explain it to her then, but I wasn’t talking about a beauty that was exclusionary or that you had to live up to in any way, I was talking about innate, unbreakable beauty, the kind your soul has.
      Two nights ago, as I was again thinking about the way she had been so quick to toss the concept of beauty out completely, and wondering how she could reconcile that with being an artist, another blog post about a spoonie stressing to keep up with their pre-illness appearance (trying to cover up the supposed shame of having an illness that is beyond human control?!) popped up on my radar and I couldn’t take it anymore.
      As an artist in my previous life and hopefully in my future life as well, I don’t want to forsake the entire idea of aesthetic beauty because it is important to creativity. As a person who often struggles with seeing the beauty in myself, and knowing I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t question it every second of every day or hold myself to completely impossible standards, I am just starting to understand how deeper beauty can turn up in the seemingly oddest of places, including my own limitations and illness.
      I know that my illness is shaping me. Growing up I had a huge problem with my appearance, so this has all been a huge revelation to me, and a steep learning curve on how to love myself no matter what.
      Funny enough, I think that being ill is going to force me to live up to the beauty and potential that I have kept secret from myself, the creativity to overcome limitations and the wisdom to appreciate what I do have, all things I did not think applied to me until a couple years ago. As hard as it is to come to terms with, even my illness is beautiful in a way, and I refuse to let it harden me to what mystery and vastness the universe holds. In fact, every spoonie I personally know has allowed their illness to shape them in positive ways. That kind of strength is one of many things I hear and admire in yourself, beautiful girl! 🙂
      Thank you again for your kind words, and for reaching out to me in the first place when we were both getting started here.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. abodyofhope says :

    PS, have you ever considered contributing to Project Naked?
    This is just the sort of thing they would adore. They are an awesome blog community for women on WordPress. If you cannot find them, I’ll send over the info later on. xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. abodyofhope says :

    I love that. I never really gave it a great deal of thought until you brought it up recently. How my chronic illness has changed the shape of my beauty ideal. But for myself, I’m glad to have my own special perspective on beauty- even if it may have come out of pain, insecurity growing up, food issues, bullying etc. But too many women share the same idea of beauty, and let’s break the mold dammit!
    Thank you!
    You are really good at organizing all of your thoughts into one post.
    My friends who read this also really enjoyed it. You have a way of expressing your own blooming definition of femininity without throwing other women under the bus. That’s hard to do.
    My husband helps me feel more free about my looks I have to say. He always makes me feel pretty no matter what. He shrugs off so much of what makes me want to crawl in a hole forever, and it helps to know he isn’t mortified since he is my caretaker. Knowing he can still see me- SEE ME- after caring for me in ways most people won’t have to endure until they are elderly- is beautiful.
    Thank you for giving the world another inspiring post. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. abodyofhope says :

    Hey Jessi, I was wondering if you knew how to enable your “Reblog” button or if you were not interested in other bloggers reblogging your posts. I’ve been wanting to reblog this post of yours for a while, but if you don’t want to do the whole reblog enabling thing, I understand ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

      I don’t know how to enable it besides where it says it is enabled under settings and sharing I think… I can’t figure out why it’s not working! that explains why I’ve never had a reblog before… I’m so confused though, it should be enabled! maybe I need to change themes again… such a pain! Thank you for alerting me to that!

      Like

    • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

      It’s working on this post now if I click on the post and go to that individual page, but not from the main theme for some reason. I know that’s pretty inconvenient.

      Liked by 1 person

      • abodyofhope says :

        Got it! I see that button and I’m with you 🙂 No worries. There are plenty of pages that don’t have any buttons visible to the public unless you go to that individual post, so I wouldn’t sweat that at all.
        I’m sorry if I gave you a big run around. Maybe it was my computer being wonky or something, but I just really have been wanting to reblog this one 🙂
        Thanks a bunch!
        (I’ll be doing it soon. I won’t forget your lovely post.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

          Thanks babe!! I needed to learn where that stuff was anyhow! ;D No worries! I should come back through and clean up the grammar first, I wrote this in some kind of trance, for sure! There was no editing process like usual, but I have gone back and fixed some random glaring errors. I’m still holding onto a half-way written Liebster award, and since I have maybe 10% as many followers as you do, I can still get away with posting that, no? First comes a pre-christmas post and pre-end of the year post I have written out by hand but don’t seem to be getting around to typing with any urgency… chronic fatigue has been ROUGH on me lately. think it may be hormonal because it’s that lovely time of the month. ugh. Can’t seem to focus, brain fog ruining everything, but I get like two hours in the evening on days I’m not too dizzy to move.Today is not one of those days. Dr appointment was way too much for me today! I hope you have been doing well, I need to touch base with you on facebook, but again, I’ve been avoiding that 99% of the way. Soon, I am hoping to get back into the swing of things. Two weeks of the blahs. I know this time of year is so stressful for all of us. and often sad as well, so I hope you are surrounded by love, warmth, and people who appreciate all the light you bring into their lives, as I do so appreciate you! ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • abodyofhope says :

            I’m sorry you are having a rough time girl. I hope you can get some rest after your Dr appt. Thpse are always physically and emotionally draining, aren’t they? I think even fro healthy people they are…even though I didn’t really go to the Dr that much as a healthy person, lol. I’ve also been quite down the past month so I really do understand the “blahs.” Even when we feel super horrible physically, if we feel strong mentally, we can fight. But when we are depressed on top of the illness, it makes one truly feel feeble. Yes, you are right, it is the season. They really shouldn’t make Thanksgiving and Christmas so close together! 😉 It doesn’t work for me… J/K Well, Hang in there girly. I always love reading your posts. Thank you for your support and being such an inspiration.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

      ps, I would LOVE for you to reblog this and any posts! I just didn’t know it wasn’t working, because it looked like it was and should have been working from my end. I will try it logged out on my tablet and see if I can find a reblog button… and again, I really appreciate the heads up!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. abodyofhope says :

    Reblogged this on aBodyofHope and commented:
    Finding out Fibro’s writing has inspired me in such a beautiful way. She is always pushing herself to dig deeper, to persevere despite chronic pain and setbacks with her health, and she is so willing to pour her soul onto the page, sharing it so generously with her readers.
    This is one of her most intimate, raw expressions of her truth pouring out; my favorite of her posts. I’ve been saving it to share with you.
    Hold onto your socks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mysticallunarose says :

    Reblogged this on mystical lunarose and commented:
    Very inspiring, great writing, supportive, just beautiful, I am sure I will find myself going back here time and time again!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kathleen says :

    If it wouldn’t hurt my hands I would be applauding your writing in this post! All the feelings you touched upon, all that goes through our heads as well. Thank you for telling us your story and for giving us the strength to own it! You just inspired me to continue owning it–especially on days when I try to compete with me pre-RSD self. So glad Body of Hope recommended this post! Sending a gentle hug!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Zyp Czyk says :

    What an excellent post – I couldn’t agree more!

    Being comfortable in our own skin is what makes us beautiful. I’ve noticed that confidence & kindness make even visually unattractive people beautiful.

    Don’t try to “look” beautiful – LIVE beautifully and BE beautiful instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessi Finds Out Fibro says :

      Your comment made me smile, thank you so much for your words and for the sentiment that beauty is in our attitudes towards our selves, not in our hair, make-up, clothes, or fitting into any category or stereotype. Beautiful people are absolutely everywhere.
      Thank you, again! 😀

      Like

  9. iamchronic says :

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing message! I needed to hear this today! x

    Liked by 1 person

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