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:
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?