Sunday, November 10, 2013

And Yet: an Exploration of Self-Worth

A chilly November morning broadens to a sunshine-filled afternoon, cornbread in the oven and a 'rustic retreat' candle flickering beside a cup of sweetened earl grey. This day in its infancy is imbued with home, a full house of pets and kids and energy. City and Colour fills the air, and fingers all across our home flicker across keyboards and pages--studying, learning, writing, coding. We are a family of curious ones, finding adventure lying just beyond a bottle of glue and a pile of one-man's-trash, inspiration in a book of Japanese characters. We are a learning, yearning bunch. Quality time is chopping and bubbling in the kitchen while our hearts stir and simmer with conversation. I can't wait to one day share a name with these lovelies, the souls of my three favorite friends, daughters and their father.

There is so much beauty in the embrace of our human capacity and potential. Personal growth is the mission statement of this little brick house on Benson Street.

And yet.

This morning, like every morning, I find myself staring with disappointment at my reflection. Turning and posing, pulling my shoulders back, standing taller. Sucking in my belly, pushing out my curves in varying angles until I convince my disapproving inner voices that "I guess I look okay." Catching myself reaching for a different sweater to wear to the kitchen (that will be covered with an apron anyway), preparing to switch into something a little less form fitting. It doesn't matter that the only people who are going to see me in these clothes know all of me, physically, emotionally. It matters even less that they love all of me--especially the parts of me that have nothing to do with how tight my sweater is.

So I slap my wrist and force myself to wear the sweater that's a little too short. Too short to cover the belly-bulge that these striped pajama pants seem to over-accentuate. It doesn't matter that this outfit is perfectly comfortable, or that my grandmother mailed me these pants as a little gift before my surgery in 11 days. What takes precedence is my appearance. How thin I look and feel.

This is daily. Daily my hair is not the right shade of blonde-in-a-bottle, everyday my chin is too broad, my nose is too round, my scars are too red, my breasts hang too low, my teeth are yellowed, my hips are too round, my calves are too thick, my eyebrows are too straight, my skin is too flaky, my bangs are too thin. 

But I'm a feminist! I tell myself. I should be able to dismiss all of this. How I wish it were so easy. I don't want to be a walking example of society's complaints about media and consumerism. I want my peers and children and partner to be inspired by my radical self-confidence, to be in awe of my ability to be beautiful and not care about my beauty. I want to be a walking contradiction, in all the right ways and in none of the hard ones.

So I declare every day, with urgency and anger: You are more than your body. 

My looks do not define me. The number on my pant size has no correlation to my capabilities. How my tummy protrudes from my body does. not. matter. Even still, as I write this, there are angry and self-righteous voices in my head telling me I am wrong.

These negative voices are not of society, they are members of my own family. I read often about girls with self-confidence issues who say something like, "I know it is ridiculous that I feel this way. Nobody has ever actually told me I was fat or unattractive, or not worth as much because of my body-weight/shape/appearance." But I have. It echoes like demonic cries in endless caverns within me. I am plagued by the negative voices who have literally told me how to look in order to be better. I still love the people who have spoken these things to me, but it has forever severed my ability to trust them--and forever severed my ability to believe that my talents, dreams, and compassion define me less than how many miles I can run, or how many pounds heavier I am than someone else's ideal.
It is for these reasons that I do not speak the words, you are more than your body with a gentle kindness, or patience and sensitivity. That's not how I was torn down, so that's not how I'll build myself back up--up into a sane, self-aware woman who doesn't have to feel masculine to feel strong. 
So often I find myself saying that I was born into the wrong body. Some days that means I "should" have been smaller, thinner, darker. More exotic. Other days that means I feel like I should have been born a man. My whole life I've found myself thinking, I wish I were a boy. Nowadays I still hear a voice within saying, I don't feel entirely like a woman. I wish I were a man. 

The reasons for these notions lie deeper than media or gender roles, closer to my own self-awareness. I can't refute the fact that my entire life I've been more acutely aware of the sexual nature of existence and that it has always made me feel a little off-kilter from societal norms (particularly in my sheltered and religious upbringing, where most of my beliefs and ideas were knocked down for being sinful, or at least unbiblical).

I won't delve into the intricacies of my sexuality today. That conversation will come in its own time. For now, I'm still staring at the complex hardware that lies spewed across the table, each little trinket a broken-apart mess that did not come with an instruction manual.

I want to feel beautiful and I want to feel strong. Though that beauty isn't for me, it's for the men in my world; I am desperately seeking the approval of my father for the times he commented on my weight, telling me how uncomfortable I looked on stage in my high school musicals, or how much better I'd look 20, 40, 60 pounds less than I am; for my partner, in his grace and affection, trying needlessly to prove that my body is as worthy as my heart (not for his benefit, but my own. How complex our own enlightenment becomes). And the strength I desire is for the women in my life; I long to appear brave, fortitudinous, and bold for my mother and the trials of mental health we both face, for my daughters whose bodies are rapidly becoming unfamiliarly womanly to their own eyes, for my best friends who face the same pains and frustrations of modern feminism alongside me.
I find myself relentlessly questioning, what does it mean to feel like less of a woman? What are my perceptions of femininity and masculinity? What about my upbringing or my present understanding of gender roles causes these conflicts with me?
How genuinely I wish could find those answers. How freed it seems I would be if only I could understand. I seek these answers and share with you my questions. It isn't with certainty or confidence I open myself to you, dear reader. Earnestly and again I unfold myself to you, the world, leaving the wounded parts searing and raw.

Hoping tirelessly for enlightenment and praying cautiously for wisdom.

*For another radical read about beauty, check out my girl Hannah Brencher and why she's not gonna tell you that you're beautiful.

No comments:

Post a Comment