I remember as a child in the sometimes cruel and harsh world of the school ground terms like, “She’s so up herself!” or “She loves herself!” being spat out with the most caustic of venom towards any girl who seemed in some way to set her own standard of self-evaluation and failed to find herself lacking, anyone who did not fit the cultural imperative to never be enough, or to always believe in the other more beautiful ones, over their own blessed and beloved flesh and blood.
It was almost the worst thing someone could say to you, as though, how dare you be self-possessed? How dare you exhibit self-love, self-determination? For some of us our autonomy was beaten out of us, or buried deep inside the psyche as we followed the imperative to fit in and belong. I feel that as a girl and then as a woman I was taught by my culture to always seek beauty through the eye of the beholder, the eternal question, am I beautiful enough? Can I belong to the externalised, ever-changing, ever-elusive phantasm that society enthrals us with? I am beautiful when you say so, I am beautiful when boys like me, I am beautiful when you see me. And when I am not seen, not liked, not met, I am left with the innate assumption of my own failing in the face of the task of being beautiful.
A part of me gave up a long time ago trying to be beautiful in the eyes of the world and I have felt a sense of liberation in that surrender to being something other than what the world was telling me beauty was, with my hairy armpits and unpainted face. Claiming myself for myself in a secret, private way, turning my gaze from that of the world and choosing to love myself despite the fact that I did not belong to the myth of beauty. But now I come to see a deeper layer, which we are so deeply robbed of, the birthright of our own sense of innate beauty, that essential flowering of essence, that overflowing love that oozes from the heart of one who knows themselves to be truly deeply loved and beheld in beauty, not in any worldly sense but in the sense of deeply belonging within their own skin, to their own body, their own unique expression of the myriad ways of being beautiful in this vast tapestry of life. Indeed there are as many ways to be beautiful as there are beings alive on the Earth. How revolutionary an act it is to love oneself for all that one is and to boldly gift the world with that walking in the truth of one’s own beauty. Showing life what it looks like to belong to one’s self. Thankfully not all of us are subdued. I am always in awe when I witness this in a woman, her flagrant blooming in the face of the world’s smallness, eclipsing our narrow prescriptions of conformity.
Each one of us has a birthright to beauty and belonging, to knowing oneself to be deeply loved and treasured by the great river of life from which we spring. I long for my daughters to know themselves as this, and to know this more deeply than the shallow projections of our world, of too fat, too short, too flat, too round, too soft, too old, too wrinkled, too dark, too light.
Shame is a terrible affliction to carry through one’s life and our culture breeds it with relish. It is the essential ingredient in the monopoly on beauty, the multi-million dollar industry of women seeking to know their beauty through the lens of the world, an eternally futile endeavor. We will never arrive in ourselves, never catch our own tails in that cruel dance of manipulation.
I long for a world where every woman wears her body with pride and belonging. If I could whisper in the ears of those little girls in the school yard who were chided for their sin of self-love I would say, “I dare you to! I dare you to love yourself with all your vast power and might! I beseech you to belong to yourself and claim the birth right of your very own beauty, pluck it ripe and sweet right off the tree of life and take a big juicy bite. Know yourself and let that knowing illuminate the world with the radiance of a beauty lit from within. Do what you will in the game of beauty that you play with the world, but know that unless you come to know yourself with love, you will never be loved like you long to be. No one will ever tell you that you are beautiful enough times for you to know it yourself unless you claim it for yourself within your very own being, to know yourself as beauty, unhindered and unashamed.”
The beauty of the feminine is such a profoundly powerful force, it makes the stars turn on their axis, and the flowers bloom, it calls forth the bird’s song and the summer rain. When you see it truly and deeply expressed it brings tears to your eyes and joy to your heart. Our world is full of images of beautiful women, but I think there is a deep cultural fear of empowered expressions of feminine beauty and love. There is also I believe, a deep collective hunger to see this energy birth itself more robustly into our world, wholehearted and alive, liberated from it’s shackles of fear and shame, this tyranny we each carry within us.
I wonder if there is a more radical act in the face of this cultural conspiracy than to do this deep inner work of truly coming to inhabit one's own unique expression of power and beauty. To really relish the swinging of one's own hips, to really treasure the swell of one's chest under the rise and fall of one's own enlivened breath, to truly grasp the miracle of one's own incarnation. This sentiment of self-love is epitomised so exquisitely in the writing of the recently deceased and extraordinary poet and writer Maya Angelou. In her poem Still I Rise she writes,
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
We come home to ourselves in all that we are through inhabiting our profound capacity to be the sacred receptacle for the love and the beauty and the power that is the feminine gift to life.
When I speak of beauty I do not mean pretty or tame or ornamental. Beauty is not always easily digestible, it can be fierce and can alter the course of one's life. Beauty is not always safe, and it can be found in the ugliest of places. It can be expressed through powerful emotions of rage and compassion. Beauty is often unearthed in our pain, when we fully come to own our shadow places and the terrain of our wounding. It is found in the most unlikely of places, within us and without.
When we are taught to be ashamed of ourselves, there can manifest a great hidden fear of being seen, or heard, or even ever truly known for the fear of not being enough. And all of that divine expression of beauty and love is withheld, thwarted, submerged, compressed and I see now that the world misses out on the fullness of our feminine blooming, that we lose so many opportunities to let life sing us, unhindered and abandoned, holy conduits each, for the source from which we are born and will return to.
What if I had known from my youth that it was my right to sing myself into being, seen or unseen? That it was my right to belong to my life, whether I was passed over or beheld by the eyes of man. For it is not that I am special, that I now commit to allowing myself to know myself as beauty, it is not because I am or ever have been better than or more worthy of praise than any other in the expression of my beauty, but it is because life has only ever manifested this unique expression once, in all the history of the world. There is no one else who can sing this particular song in this particular way. All of my ancestors since the beginning of time have given their lives so that I could be me, alive in this body, at this time, in this blessed moment. I no longer want to wait for permission to shine. Why do I need anyone else to tell me whether or not I am worthy of my own love? Why do I need to know that I am liked before I can set my fire to blazing and sing my heart-song to the universe?
I am free to be beautiful, in my worn and weathered skin, with all my scars and curves, and holy treasures. I am free to be beautiful, because I am me and I am alive and because I am beauty and love embodied, as we each are, every single one.
Lucy Pierce © 2014
Lucy Pierce © 2014