I love my body.
I’ve never heard a woman say these words, in this sequence. In fact, I’ve never heard this sentiment expressed, in any way, shape, or form, by any person in my life.
And I, too, struggle to say these words.
Many praise me for my ‘skills’ and ‘talents.’ (And, oh, have I invested many hours into attaining certain levels of proficiency in many ‘oddball’ crafts!) However, herein lies a disconnect in gender values; men are typically favored for their achievements and abilities, whereas women, more so, for their looks.
It is in this dichotomy that I do not feel that I am doing my lady parts justice.
See, I don’t particularly care to ‘look pretty.’ It is challenging for me to muster the desire to learn how to look beautiful. I dress more for comfort than appeal; unfortunately, it would seem that the two are mutually exclusive.
As a result, I feel that I am less of a woman—I am less of a person that I ought to be, and thus, less deserving and less valued as a person.
But is it selfish or unrealistic that I want to be told, even just once, that I’m beautiful?
And even if such an event were to happen—being told that I am beautiful—I don’t think that I would believe it. I don’t think I could believe it.
It seems obvious to me that I do not appear normatively beautiful. As it were, society considers me, and others like me, lazy for not having the knowledge, or the means, to achieving normative beauty standards. In a world which places value on a woman by her attractiveness, women like myself can feel less valued by falling short of these standards.
All in all, we just want to feel naturally, intrinsically beautiful.
I don’t want to buy into the beauty myth, but here I am craving some ‘ideal beauty.’
Here I am, inevitably a consumer of it.
And it’s so conflicting! As a woman, I have a social obligation to look beautiful. But not too beautiful! Looking too beautiful makes a woman a ‘bitch,’ a ‘skank;’ an ‘attention whore.’ Perhaps even ‘shameless.’
There is a balance to find just the right kind of beautiful.
And as I struggle to find my sense of identity, another burden presses upon me—this obligation to present oneself as beautiful.
People tell me to ‘be myself,’ yet I feel that those same people cannot, and will not, let me.
Women in my life that I respect seem to casually hold conversations defining the fashion habits of other women. Not only that, but they are sometimes self-deprecating of their own bodies.
It’s painful to hear self-inflicted weightist and ageist comments against the transitions of beauty for the perpetuated habits of living and the inevitable life process of maturation.
Yet, I emulate these women … or rather, I want to emulate these women. These women are independent, smart, kind and compassionate. They take control of situations, merge into discussions with ease, and communicate freely with just about anyone. Yet, when I see them feeding into the normative beauty myth, I cannot help but feel pained by their conversations of physical attractiveness.
I’m pained that these women represent the person that I ought to be, and yet, too, the person that I’m struggling not to be.
As I try to navigate the world of womanhood, I often come upon dialogue that I’m sure is only too familiar with women (ladies, my apologies for any overgeneralizations—I speak on behalf of my own experiences). It pains me that many of the women in my life speak about beauty this way:
“I can’t believe that she would leave her home with/without (style of) make-up/hair/attire!
“She’s finally ‘cleaning herself up’—she’s begun to wear make-up; she’s dyeing the grey out of her hair; she’s dressing nice.
“Are you really going out in that/those (insert clothes)? People will be looking at your [insert body part(s)].
“In my older age, my [insert body part(s)] is/are sagging. I have wrinkles/sun spots/cellulite/scars!
“I’m/She’s so fat; there’s no space between my/her thighs.
“In x scenario, it’s actually okay if your thighs touch!
“You look thinner/as if you have been putting on weight.
“Honey, you should really eat more/less. You could do with more/less meat on your bones.
“She’s/I’m too fat/thin/tall/short.
“My nose/ears/hair/eyes/mouth/teeth/face/breasts/stomach/hands/arms/thighs/butt/feet… is/are too (insert totally subjective unfavorable quality that should, in no way, create an objective means through which to determine the value of women).
“Can you believe that s/he looked in the mirror this morning, and decided that s/he was presentable?”
I wear underwear under my yoga pants.
I buy 3 T-Shirts for 10 bucks at AC Moore. My only casual shoe is a pair of old running sneakers.
Comfortably tucked behind sports bras, my chest appears ‘disproportionally’ smaller compared to, well, my everything else.
I wear tie-dye clothing because tie-dye looks freakin’ awesome, not because it brings out my eyes or complements the hue of my skin.
And my skin: I’m not thin. I have acne scars on my face, chest, and back. In my young age, I have surgery scars and stretch marks.
But you know what? I’m comfortable.
And although it’s incredibly hard for me to say that I feel beautiful, on some level, I think that I can believe that I am beautiful. It can be difficult without social validation of physical beauty, but I’d like to think that I pursue a definition of beauty which transcends a person’s physical appearance.
This beauty, I can experience when dancing tango.
When I dance, I can sever the associations that I attribute to interpersonal connection and its contingency upon physical beauty.
For one, I think that feeling beautiful comes with a sense of liberation.
Not only liberation from feeling less than what you deserve, but also liberation to express one’s humanity, in a means which not only is comfortable, but gives one a sense of value.
When dancing tango, I can both escape and bask in those qualities that I attribute to ‘beauty.’
I can abandon the insecurities I feel pertaining to my and others’ perceptions of physical attractiveness.
When with a partner, we already share a contract of connection; I do not have to feel uneasy that I may be in some way hated or unpleasant—we’re already together, dancing! We can simply enjoy the company of one another, engaging in an activity which we both mutually enjoy.
I can, too, bask in the liberation of ‘feeling’ beautiful. As a follower, I can express the freedom of beauty through my movements, connecting to my leader to exact his or her interpretation of the music.
As a leader, I aspire to share a dance which allows my follower to have fun; I want him or her to feel the freedom to relax in my embrace, to ‘let go’ of their inhibitions in the same way that I do mine.
I feel a genuine sense of satisfaction when, after a shared Tanda, we can walk off of the dance floor smiling—a testament to having connected with one another, if only for about seven and a half minutes.
Sharing and connecting with others, engaging in activities which make one feel whole, competent, and autonomous, embody how I feel that beauty ought to be perceived.
However, personal perceptions tend to filter how we may value people. To only see what is skin-deep can often deprive us of opportunities to know people for who they really are, and the potential that they truly have.
I experience a lot of conflict when listening to/speaking about beauty. I still feel very reluctant to contribute to conversations about (physical) beauty, especially when they take on a derogatory nature. I feel reluctant, too, when normatively physically beautiful people are having these conversations—the gatekeepers of beauty.
My tango experiences, so far, have offered me some relief from the tensions that I experience with beauty, though I still hope to grow more proficient in the art so that I can more easily and readily connect to others through the dance.
My hope for any reader of this work is not to dole out half-hearted compliments to the women in their lives (for example, saying “you’re beautiful” to others without being able to define why they’re beautiful). Rather, I would hope that readers become more critical of their inner voice, and become more conscious of how what they say can affect both themselves and others.
Also, I want to empower the reader to know that their voice, in a very literal sense, can make a difference; how something as small as having conversations of certain topics can perpetuate or redefine certain ideas within communities.