Beauty

I wrote last week about “my beauty”. I cringed a little as I wrote it, wondering if it would be misinterpreted, wondering if I needed an explanation or a disclaimer. I left it. It haunted me. Beauty is a loaded word.

My first boyfriend told me I had no idea how much my physical appearance impacted my life. How being considered “beautiful” paved my way. I laughed at him. I wanted to be beautiful, but in my eyes, when I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t. When I was dancing professionally in my early twenties, a man who saw the show every night said to me once after a couple of drinks, You’re beautiful in real life but when you’re on stage, you’re not at all. Or something to that effect. In theater school, the head of the department told me I was a chameleon – that on any given day I might look completely different than I had the day before. Meant as a compliment, it made me feel strange. Like a shape-shifter. Someone with little definition. Someone easily forgotten.

For many years I believed I was invisible. It still haunts me from time to time, particularly in this world of blogging and tweeting and suggested Facebook friends. When I became a mama and everyone was drawn to my daughter’s big blue eyes and lit-from-within smile, I began to believe my days of being anywhere but the background were over.  Not that I want to compete with her in any way – I am thrilled that she shines. I just wanted a glimpse of my pre-baby self when I looked in the mirror. I struggled to lose my baby weight. I got a horrible hair cut. I thought to myself, At least I’m kind. People like that.

Along came 2010 and my relationship with my body went haywire. After the broken leg, I started my pregnancy with Ben pounds away from what my full-term weight had been with Ada. With nausea, bed-rest and then grief as my companions, I stood on the scale one day, shortly after his death and read 203 pounds. I felt like a foreigner in my own skin and when I looked in the mirror, all I recognized was my eyes.  There are few photos of me from this time but here I am, well hidden, at Ada’s 3rd birthday party, 11 days after Ben died.

I wanted to be healthy again. I wanted my feet to stop hurting from carrying the weight. I wanted to run and jump and play with my child. The quest began, the only rule being no dieting. The path was a lesson in acceptance and love. Somewhere along the way – I think shortly after I stopped eating gluten – I began to feel lighter inside. An internal weight lifted and I could feel myself in there. I could see in my mind’s eye the body that existed under the grief, under the protective layer I had carefully built up. I learned to see the beauty in my full belly, my big thighs, my back that looked so much like someone else’s. I honored where I was, knowing that the healthy weight goal I had set was attainable, that there was no rush, that I would find my way.

I reached that goal just over a year after I set it. 53 pounds shed alongside thousands of tears. I feel healthier than I have since I was a kid. I have a fitness goal now – to move my body doing something I love six days a week. But the biggest benefit of all of this work I’ve done – physical, emotional and spiritual  – is that I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life. It’s not the cat-call inducing physical beauty of my teens and twenties. It’s not the stunningly put-together beauty of some of my friends. But as I watched myself stretching on my Pilates reformer the other day, singing along with Snatam Kaur’s angelic voice, I realized I am in love with who I’ve become. Not everyone will see it, and it’s clouded some days, but there is a glow coming from inside that is so bright, when I catch a glimpse I am awed by it. I will never look like this again:

Age 17. Despite hip bone sticking out, I thought I was fat.

Or this:

Age 21. With my beautiful mom.

Or this:

Age 27. My “Princess Di” headshot.

I wouldn’t want to.  I love the wisdom and groundedness almost 40 years has given me.  My belly hasn’t yet recovered from carrying life and it will, or it won’t. Some days it bothers me. Most days it doesn’t. I’ve grown accustomed to the gray in my hair, though I’ll likely continue to use highlights to smooth it over for another decade or so. When I wrote of beauty, of my beauty, this is what I meant. I’m not about to win a swimsuit competition or take anyone’s breath away with perfectly coiffed eyebrows but just as I see what is beautiful in (almost) everyone else, I now also see it in myself.

Do you see that beauty when you look in the mirror? Do you see your own inner light? If not, what would it take to let that glow out? What would it take for you to fall head over heels in love with yourself?

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13 Responses to Beauty

  1. Jessica M. says:

    I have to say “the princess di cut” (the name not the actual picture) really made me laugh LOL thanks for that 😉 What a lovely post! Beauty is int he eye of the beholder – that much I have learned in life. I know that when my husband tells me I am beautiful that he means it even if I don’t see it in myself. It has been years since I could look in the mirror on a regular basis and think I was beautiful – and even that was for a short period of time. Weight for me has always been an issue – still is. But for now I focus on rest and growing my rainbow – weight can wait and I do think I am beautiful in other ways. I have no interest in being stick thin but I want to get myself healthy when I can in the future. Beauty is such a loaded owrd – like you said. Maybe one day I will grasp it’s meaning to me <3

  2. Lindsey says:

    I love this post. What I find the most beautiful is your clearly hard-won acceptance of yourself, and the peace that radiates off of the page here (and surely from you in person). I don’t think I am beautiful. Your radiance (which is clearly more than purely physical) inspires me deeply to keep looking for ways to embrace myself, though, so, thank you. xox

  3. Roos says:

    Wow, that “Mario Testino” shot! Thanks for sharing these old portraits – maybe followed by a recent one soon? How brave of you to lose the weight and reach you goal without dieting!! I think that shows amazing courage – just as all other steps of your inspiring journey you’re sharing with us.
    Holding you from afar!!! -x-

  4. Laura says:

    I loved this post 🙂

  5. pamela says:

    What Lindsey says. There is a calmness here that radiates off the page and inspires and encourages me to accept myself more. I am definitely working on it – much thanks to gorgeous posts like this. Namaste.

    PS I know you are considering beauty as an inward light, but you are stunning to look at as well!!!

  6. Stereo says:

    You know, Alana, when I had the pleasure of meeting you, the first thing that popped into my head as you rounded the corner in your simple jeans, white shirt and colourful scarf, was “God, she’s stunning.” I wanted to say it, to tell you but I didn’t want to embarrass you. So this post, this post is perfect.

    Alana, you’re stunning.

    And Mister totally agrees 😉

    Much love to you.

  7. Alana says:

    Beautiful friends – thank you for bringing tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart. While my first impulse is still to brush off the compliments, I will simply say thank you. (If I knew how to do that little heart icon, I’d add one here).

  8. Celina says:

    I love how you are coming into yourself – finding comfort in who you are. You are such a beautiful soul, inside and out. It really resonates with me when you talk about not being seen. I have went through a lot of my life feeling like the one that is forgotten. I can remember a face from a party one year ago but rarely is recognition reflected back in that persons eyes to me.

  9. Christa says:

    Yes. You are beautiful, my friend, you truly are.

    Really.

    XOXO

  10. Brandee says:

    I second what Onyi said. To meet you in person, and then to read posts like this…to see how hard-won the self-acceptance is to see a truly beautiful person, inside and out.

  11. jojo says:

    loved seeing you through the years and reading your path to self-acceptance and about finding your inner glow.

    sometimes i see just plain old age when i look in the mirror. and beauty these days seems more defined to me how i feel when i am in the moment. speaking my truth. connecting. that is when i feel beautiful. i give less weight to what i have in the past – such as perfectly coiffed eye brows and such. some days i still catch myself. but these days less and less. i am learning to find a new kind *beauty*. thank you for the reminder!

  12. Simone says:

    Hi, new here, I would like to say that as I get older myself, I can see more beauty in older faces, I now see why young glorious beauty can be enthraling (when I was young glorious and beautiful (hahaha) I couldn’t), but also I can see the path we walk in life and it’s stages in other peoples faces, especially women, I can see they had their happiness, their sadness, their joy. I think that is absolutely beautiful.

    I think we should be kinder to ourselves, if we have no thoughts about how we want to look, we can see the beauty in how we actually do look rather than disparrage ourselves about how we should look (in our own view).

    We might not ever become ravishing and fresh like morning dew again (like our daughters), but we can -and we really must, I forgot to say that, we must- be kind to ourselves and express our beauty in our age/ age appropriately to our childeren, because I saw my mother in her age and be beautiful in her age; and it is such a comforting experience and example when one day you find your first grey hair or wrinkle. It’s OK.

  13. Simone says:

    P.S. Your mom looks like a great example to me.

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