On Having and Losing Beauty

“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”’-Diana Vreeland

My sister was an adorable child. She had gorgeous blond curls that bounced around her face. When she smiled her mouth extended horizontally and her whole face changed shape. In a radical effort to show all her teeth she tensed every muscle in her face. The expression brought a whole new meaning to turning a frown upside down. Adults loved her, they praised her on her curls and were constantly affirming her adorableness. I stood next to her with brown straight hair and a cut that was aptly nicknamed after a mushroom. I went through a very long phase in my life where I only wore ‘boy’s’ clothes. I wanted to play in the dirt the way my friends who were boys did. I wanted to have what they had, the carefree sense that comes with knowing that your appearance is irrelevant. Next to my sister, I learnt what I was missing and what I was expected to be: cute.

Long before I could understand what it meant, I, like most young girls, was learning about the politics of beauty. It comes as no surprise to me now that this became evident so early on in life. In fact, it’s now clear to me that it is impossible for females to avoid this reality, because our bodies occupy it. Beauty is a currency that is owned by women and defined by men. Just like any other currency it can be bought, traded and stolen, and just like many other contexts women are commodities and men profit.

Most women do not acknowledge the separateness of their beauty or its impact on their lives until they’re much older. As is true with many things in life, we often do not recognize the value of what we have until it is gone. It was when I lost my beauty that I realized the separateness of this force from my individuality and how much these external standards informed the space I took up in the world.

Up until my years in university if anyone had asked I would never have used the adjective of ‘beauty’ to describe myself.   I had started off life as a tomboy and I had grown into an awkward body, much of which needed fixing in order to measure up: teeth straightened, contact lenses acquired. I suffered from anxiety, battled with depression, and lacked confidence. After my first year of University, it seemed that quite suddenly I noticed a change. My braces had finally been removed, I stopped wearing my glasses, and I started wearing makeup. When I walked through the courtyard at school people seemed to notice me. Guys would look me in the eye as I walked past, and girls would run their eyes up and down me quickly.   People would ask me things, and talk to me as I was buying tea at the cafeteria. As I became more comfortable in my ‘new skin’ I began to realize the power of this currency. I felt as though a magnetic force field had surrounded me and was now pulling people towards my centre. I became popular, I became more confident, I became a leader, I became more of myself, I became desired. This, I thought, must be what it feels like to be a woman. This, I imagined, is what it feels like to be seen.

Five years later I developed adult acne. All of sudden the force that had been pulling people to me was gone and only an insecure shell of a human remained. My face was constantly red and inflamed and I fell into a deep depression, I stayed inside, I hid, I once again became invisible. Suddenly much of my political power had been ripped away from me. Suddenly the space that I occupied no longer aligned with the beauty standard assigned by males. In straying from that standard I lost a number of advantages that I had previously enjoyed.

I no longer felt the same power in influencing men or gaining the respect of other women. I no longer had confidence not only in terms of my appearance but also my competencies, friendships, and love. I was lost because the world told me I was no longer beautiful and the rules told me I was less without prettiness.

I think most women go through this feeling of disenfranchisement at some point in their life, when they feel they lose grip of beauty as a means of social currency. Usually it is when they begin to age and they realize society no longer values them as it used to. I learnt before most, the ephemeral fleeting nature of beauty. I learnt that it was a false construct that would arbitrarily be assigned to me, or taken away, and that if I was going to be happy, I was going to have to learn to live independent of it.

I don’t owe beauty to anyone. Before I understood that beauty was a social currency, I was free from the arbitrary standards, independent of the male definitions that constrained me. I fit into my own definition, I played sports, I had a strange haircut, I wore tear-away pants. I was free from any obligation or expectation to appeal to someone else’s ideal. Instead of painting myself to be seen by others, I learnt to let myself be seen, without affirmation, without doubt, without shame. Beauty may come and go, but I won’t let my body be marked by it. I won’t allow my worth to be defined by it, for the minute I do, I am paying a price for femaleness and the money is going into a man’s pocket.

 

Cardboard Kingdoms

I remember building cardboard kingdoms in fourth grade. We watched a movie where power was erected through stones and mortar and maintained by the guillotine, and then our teacher instructed us to build our own. So I ate up my rice krispies and stashed away its box. Until one day I had collected a considerable pile of trash, not unlike the rocks and mortar that built a moat around privilege and wealth and refused to let anyone else enter.

The edges needed to be ridged so there were spaces to hide the weapons, and the princess could be protected. There needed to be a bridge that could lower and rise to carefully control the flow of entry.  There are some for which the doors are open and others that will never see the other side of the lifted planks.

In hindsight I think I would have been better served recycling the cardboard, finding a park and sitting down to share my rice krispies. That’s the thing about power, it looks good from the outside, but once you step in and the moat is surrounding you, you are alone. That is when you realize that your prize is made of garbage and when it rains the entire structure will turn to pulp.

photo source: https://unsplash.com/search/castle?photo=5YtjgRNTli4 

Floating On

I nestled my chin into my jacket as the cold air whipped against my skin on my bike ride to work, when I saw him out of the corner of my eye.  He was making his way to the office in the opposite direction.  Despite all our failings and my better judgement I could not help but wonder why our paths continued to cross.  I looked away because I couldn’t stare rejection in the eyes, because I was scared.  So I squinted with intent focus and felt my legs go weak with heaviness, as I softly whispered to myself just keep going.  Once the figure had passed in my periphery I let out a sigh of relief, and everything became easier: movement, breath and being.

Rejection was behind me and I could move forward.

As I approached the pedestrian bridge I  shifted my path around a pickup truck.  I watched as men with large steel toed boots and offensively orange jackets closed the blades of their industrial cutters around the fragile necks of the secured locks that adorned the bridges rails.  Orange jackets and armoured men nonchalantly breaking commitments pledged by strangers.  They worked with a detachment and finality that could cut through more than metal.  As I rode by, I slowed, sensing their purpose was larger than the assignment of lightening the bridge.  They were making space for new love.

I looked down and I saw the ducks.  They bobbed as the water drifted them downstream, currents keeping them together or bringing them further away from the others around them.  They surrendered themselves to the waters and spun along with the flow, wanting nothing more or less than to be, and to move on.

I suppose it’s time to focus my eyes on the road ahead, find some protective gear, and let the river take me where it chooses.

Uncomplicating Love

I often rant that the world used to be simpler. That without the Internet, smartphones, and paper towels, love was easier, as if human interactions have become more complex alongside the evolution of our tools.

I think this theory was a product of my millennial ego, my tendency to overthink everything in life and my desire to explicate and justify my loneliness. In my defence, it also seemed this way on television. In old films a handsome fellow would catch the gaze of a pretty girl at a dance, they would spend months going to the movies, meeting each other’s family’s and giggling over ice cream before he asked for her hand in marriage. They would spend a lifetime together making babies, cooking meat pie and doting over their grandchildren. Their love would waver, but never die; it would be challenged, but never fail. There was an attitude of persistence in love. That persistence, combined with a sense of faith in love, made bonds unbreakable, made ecstasy irrelevant and made questioning dangerous.

I have now realized that this sense of nostalgia is a fiction I created to appease my loneliness. Love is love, people are people, values may have shifted, but everyday I build my own reality. I built the false narrative — with the help of TV and movies, and millennial things — that love is extremely complicated and that when I feel it, I will feel it viscerally. When I experience real love the framing of my world will change, small blue cartoon birds will follow me around and I will dance to a song that only I can hear in the middle of the day in a crowded place. Not only will I feel the shift, but the whole world will respond and my life will never be the same again. This is a world where love is a chemical reaction that requires an exact measure of many different elements in order to catalyze the perfect result.

This myth of real or true love is dangerous. Particularly, in the context of the current information explosion, which has exposed us to worlds that we didn’t know we wanted, products we didn’t know we needed and displays of love that make us feel inadequate. We live in a world where no one buys toothpaste without researching all the brands and the effects of whitening properties. We want to know everything about everything and we want to know that we have the best.

This is an attitude that has set us up to fail at love.

In order to succeed at love we must first demystify its supernatural qualities. Not to develop a cynical approach, but instead to have a sense of realism about what love looks like on a day-to-day basis. This process of injecting reality into our views on love will also help us develop more faith in love. We must also dispel the culture of scarcity around love. The idea that it is ‘once in a lifetime’ or that it involves finding a ‘soul mate’ puts us into the chaotic search for a needle in a stack of hay, only the needle has been transformed by a warlock to look exactly like a piece of hay. It’s frantic, it’s impossible, and it will result in the hunter feeling exasperated, desperate and alone.

Here are some things to consider when taking stock of your views on relationships: What expectations do you have when it comes to the experience of falling in love? What sort of pressure do you place on yourself and on your potential partner around living up to standards of love and relationships? Whose standards are you using to measure your relationship success? Are you constantly questioning your relationship or wondering if there are better options out there?

Reflect on these questions and remind yourself that in love there is no best. You can’t research your way to the answer, and there is no perfect endgame. The reality is we are all just living in entropy. Nothing is perfect, and no relationship can be written as a chemical equation. It may not look the way you expect. It will not be perfect. The perfect one may pass you by.

When you are able to accept this, you will open yourself up to love. Love is no more complicated or simple than it ever was in history. It is as easy or as difficult as we make it. Once you start thinking about love as something that can be felt and experienced everywhere and with anyone, finding love becomes a far less stressful experience and a much simpler one. You need to accept that your partner will not fill every space in your life and that it is okay to also seek different forms of support and connection from friends and family outside of your relationship. When you stop questioning and searching for the best or better in love, you will find satisfaction and happiness. If you cherish every experience of love or almost-love for what it is, and you constantly seek more of it in your life then you will find bounty.

In its essence love is simple and plentiful, so long as we continue to view it as such and fill our lives with it we will be happy, full and satisfied.

Potential Energy

I feel all the potential energy of the world crowded up inside my heart like the potential energy of a leaf falling from the height of a cloud.  How at the top it is light but when it lands the whole world will shake.  All of the what ifs and could haves are settled inside of me, building up energy from being contained.  They sit there waiting to fall.

Photography by Ileana Skakun: https://unsplash.com/search/heart?photo=dNjMqj4emkc

You are Love

Putting pen to paper
I bring life and shape
To this void
Sending a message
As old as time
I am reassured
That those who need it
Will hear it
You are kind
You are loved
You are needed
That is my purpose
That is my pride
That is my work
Messages of love
And notes of solidarity
Sent into the ether
To be grabbed by those
Who hear then
Feel them
Need them
It’s my love letter
To the world.

What If

I haven’t been writing. I have been giving my dreams and thoughts away to universes that are lost and untrue. They are worlds that I extrapolate from a single moment or gesture. They are universes of what if’s, alternative endings and falsities. These worlds taunt and torment me, mocking my decisions and reminding me that I am the cause of my own suffering. I am the one who destroyed these fictive realities. I am the one who made them a fiction. It has been by my hand that these relationships and hopes have come undone.

I break it and then rebuild it in my mind, the only space I can mostly control. Then I let the pain and disappointment seep under my skin and tell me poisoning lies. The two worlds, real and contrived, begin to blend and I am left confused and torn up.

So I come back to the page broken and looking for validation from the pristine white blankness. It’s the only space I have found where every feeling is true and told. It is my safest place, reminding me that I am real, alive and a creator, not just of fictions but of truths.

The Thing Is

The thing about you is that
You're a runner
Your legs are long and spindly
And your body built for moving fast
You have no patience, no time
For slowing down and staying a while

Which is why when you turned on your pillow
Looked me in the eyes and said
"I really really really like you"
I knew you had fallen fast
But that you may never fall deep

The thing about us is that 
We were only ever in passing
Our story was a treat
You wanted to keep tasting
Because it was so sweet
But it would never keep us full

The thing about me is that
I don't know if I'll ever be full
I have a deepness inside 
That may be infinite
I'm not sure because I have yet to find the bottom

So the thing is
This was never meant to be
But it still means something to me.

Stage

It’s 9:40am on a Sunday morning at the train station.

Beside me there’s a woman seated in the waiting area huddled around a pizza box. Her face is not within view, it is inside the box, ravenously consuming the slices; her head is bowed in shame. It seems as though she is committing a most intimate act and is trying not to draw attention towards herself.

Across from me, there’s a mother caring for her autistic son, while her daughter slaps her with resentment. The mother kindly turns to look him in the eye and says “Mathew would you like some food” he makes a groaning noise back, which she knows how to interpret much better than I. “Are you sure, you don’t want an egg sandwich?” “Groan.”   The mother makes a scathing remark about her husband and how useless he is. The daughter responds with “If you don’t care, then why the heck did you bring him” pointing to her brother, “you paid for everything hotel, show, everything, why, what’s the point?”

Next to me, there are two men in their mid-twenties moaning in agony over headaches that will not abate and musings over last nights affairs. One of them pulls up a half-naked photo of a woman on his phone and points it to the other and they chuckle together, sharing a pat on the back, and proudly celebrating their conquests.

I am sitting here watching, and listening to the performance.

There is another man a few seats over. He is in his late twenties with circular glasses framing his green almond eyes, red pants to match his red shoes, an old-fashioned button-up wool vest and a bowler hat. He is feverishly typing away on his computer. Perhaps he is writing about the sad uninteresting-looking girl who is a few seats down and seems transfixed to her phone. I depressingly wonder about the words that are going into writing my story.

I suppose “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

Twinkles

The skyline is lit up like the stars it hides. So instead of looking up we are looking forward.  Instead of staring with our heads tilted wondering about humans’ place in the world and the vastness of the universe, we marvel at our own work and the vastness of ourselves.

We are disillusioned.  We are so small. If you need proof, think of all the lights you cannot see, the ones that find their home beyond our world. Not the ones stitched together with bricks and mortar and illuminated by electricity. Think of the stars.

When I see the buildings twinkle, I know they are only the charm of an imposter. They’re winking at us. Pleased and proud, like the fraudulent jeweller, they have us fooled.