I have been called beautiful all my life. As a young girl, with darker skin than either of my parent’s homelands would prefer, and big brown eyes, I was called beautiful by well-meaning adults.
As a teenager, encouraged by love and driven by grief, I stuffed myself with anything I could get my hands on and my mother asked me why I couldn’t just accept that I was beautiful.
My friends in college called me beautiful, landlocked in a sea of white, narrow shoulders and me with no hips and thick brown hair and a chest wide enough to weather storms. I was beautiful, boys said in between empty kisses, so beautiful.
I have been called beautiful all my life, and I am dead, dead, tired of it.
Because for every time I have heard someone call me beautiful, a television show or gossip column or magazine has told me otherwise, with a louder voice and wider sneer. I have heard girls sigh over my asiatic lack of wrinkles and cellulite while I sigh over their blonde hair that stays in bouncy ponytails and butts that jeans don’t slide off of. I watch girls all the time, wishing for her shape or her feet or her arms or her whatever-I-don’t-have and parsing the brilliant, outstanding human being that is Womyn into easily interchangeable paper-doll bits. And you know what it’s brought me?
Pain. Fear. Eating Disorders. An unfounded distrust of ‘conventionally attractive’ men and wimmin. An inability to believe in my own self-worth so all-encompassing that I gave up men who loved me, because the thought that they could love someone so revolting as myself was unfathomable.
Beauty has become a race to an unnamed and nonexistent pinnacle, the work of marketing agents and policy-makers, a way to give wimmin social power over their own bodies while the economic power remains firmly in the hands of mostly white, male, CEOs. There is no room in magazine beauty for my birthmark that looks like the Arabian Peninsula, no room for the stretch marks caused by my friend’s anti-psychosis drugs, no room for the scars from self-harm that riddled the back of my gym buddy.
Sure, they tell us love yourself, be healthy, but the next page tells us ten ways to reduce our belly fat.
And there are some out there fighting this. I see incredible wimmin beauty bloggers, friends of mine, role models, with stunningly perfect makeup and fashion week outfits. Hell Yeah. I see smart wimmin of color taking back their heritage, embracing tight curls and straight strands and everything in between. Atta way, sisters. There is nothing wrong with that— we all have our journeys to fulfillment, and we all gotta sleep at night. If perfecting that cat-eye is what brings you confidence and joy, you ain’t gonna hear a peep from me.
Except I don’t have the patience for that, because I am so sick of my beauty being a commodity to be traded amongst enemies and friends and acquaintances. I’m sick of reducing wimmin who cross my vision to features I rank against my own with alarming frequency. I’m sick of leaving the house feeling pretty and catching myself in a mirror and wanting to cry. I want to be beautiful, and I am, and I want to be beautiful, and I’m not, and running back and forth with a magnifying glass, trying to find which side is a lie, takes energy that I don’t have. My cup has runneth out.
So I say fuck beauty, and let’s talk about other things. Let’s talk about my work, let’s talk about my friends, let’s talk about anything but the body that blesses and plagues me constantly. I’ve got the world to conquer— and so, I dare say, do you.