As we enter into a new year, many of us try and figure out what our next 365 days will hold, or at least what we can control. Some make goals; some make resolutions. Others don’t wish to put that much pressure on themselves and just allow January 1st to be another day.
Ever since I was little, I do two things on New Year’s Eve: I have my 12 grapes sitting by to make those twelve wishes at midnight, and I have a paper with my aspirations, goals, and resolutions for the new year. Most wishes never come true and many of my noted ambitions never bloom. But, I do it every year. Just last year, less than half of my wishes came true. It doesn’t mean I won’t be chomping on my 12 grapes this go around.
It also means I will never stop making resolutions and pushing myself to grow. There are just a few resolutions I have made this year (already tucked away in my journal), but there is one I wanted to share. It’s important to be transparent with some resolutions because others not only can hold you accountable to them, but they too may take them as their own.
One of my largest struggles these past 3 years, and honestly even before then, is coming to terms with how the world has defined beauty and how I’ve allowed it to influence how I see myself. It’s no mystery how much I’ve changed these past few years. My life took a drastic turn, my physical appearance has morphed through many stages, and my emotional well-being has been through a vicious brawl. And I’m still transforming, still brawling, still lunging into those dark spaces with a mini-flashlight hoping to illuminate bits and pieces of my old self.
So, after being inspired by Bené Brown’s “Anatomy of Trust” talk (link here), I wanted to unravel what beauty means to me. It’s such a heated word, much like the word ‘trust’. I even find it to be sometimes scary or unsettling, mostly because I never felt I embodied the word ‘beauty.’
In any case, the first place to start is the dictionary. What does the mighty Webster say about her?
beauty: (noun) the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit; a beautiful person or thing.
And then there were a few examples, of which most were about physical appearance. Everything about the word, though decently defined, gravitated mostly towards the eye, not “the senses.”
I needed to break down beauty past it’s traditional definition. Much like Ms. Brown, if I don’t like the definition of a word well enough… I redefine it to more suitable and genuine terms.
The best way to do that is with a big, fat, ol’ acronym.
R = Reflection. Stare in the mirror. What do you see? What do we do when we look at ourselves, when we pass our reflection in a department store or a random hallway? We look for the flaws. Is our hair okay? Is there something in our teeth? Are there bags under our eyes? It’s such a natural instinct to identify what is wrong with us instead of celebrating what is right.
And in our reflection is not a favored, toiled over menu of assortments we were allowed to choose while inside our mother’s womb. There isn’t a drive-thru in utero where we could go, “Yes, I’ll have the short legs, the chubby fingers, the pointy nose, and the overused brown eyes, please. And make them extra dark.” None of us get to make those decisions. Hence, why do we all put so much emphasis on a reflection we weren’t even able to approve of beforehand? How have we decided to allow this to play such a major role in who we are? I know I do.
When I was younger, I developed an unhealthy interest with Kirsten Dunst, particularly her ‘beauty‘. This was spurred because of Spiderman (who would have guessed!?). I remember thinking that because I didn’t resemble her, I wasn’t considered that cute. I was just average — not something Spiderman would ever swoop in to save or fall in love with.
How crazy is that? How we see beauty as only an outward appearance, and particularly as things we don’t posses, as opposed to things we already have in our possession. Our reflection is only a piece of who we are and what is engaged in the definition of beauty. Instead of fighting what we see in the mirror, we should embrace our infrastructure. So what if I have brown eyes? Imma rock them fudgey circles hard. So what if I have small breasts? Going bra-less is a gift! So what if I have a large forehead? More room for stolen kisses. What is surely so terribly wrong with your reflection?
A = Altruistic. This was one of my favorite words to learn in school. It isn’t something tangible. It’s a gift we can give to people in our actions and it feels great quite frankly. It has nothing to do with what we look like, and yet it defines us so much more than our height, our weight, or our hair color. When you are removing your needs and are unselfishly focusing your energy on helping others, something wondrous happens. Suddenly it doesn’t matter what you are wearing or how you are looking, and yet, it shows all over your face.
In college, I was blessed to be a part of a group called “Invisible Children.” We had a few male members in the UF chapter, but it was unintentionally a fiercely female based initiative. All of us women came from completely different backgrounds and all looked undeniably different. One night, we all had a get together at one of our leader’s homes and they had this gorgeous backyard — perfect setting for a picture. It is still one of my favorite pictures of (most of) us.
This is beauty. We all came together for a cause and worked tirelessly some weeks in order to raise money, plan events, collect books, and contemplate ideas on how to better reach our goals. Nothing shines more brightly than when you are not focused on yourself. By digging and toiling for others, you are polishing your own beauty.
I = Independent. We’ve all heard the words, “Confidence is sexy.” Being self-aware and able to generate your own confidence is not an easy task for some. Because we dwell so harshly on our insecurities, we lose out on independence. We absorb every slight, criticism, and skeptical comment thrown towards us and inevitably deny all the compliments. By allowing these elements to control our thoughts, we aren’t able to attend this part of our beauty.
I, though feeling a tinge of chagrin admitting this, still struggle deeply with being ‘single’. When I started going through TSW, I profoundly used my ex-husband as my pillar of strength. Knowing he was there gave me this gift, this ability to convey confidence. Being in a social setting didn’t sting as harshly with him by my side. Going grocery shopping wasn’t such an anxiety provoking experience if he was holding my hand. There was a validation I took from his presence — that I, so ugly and falling apart, was able to find someone who wanted to be with me, which in turn, meant that I held beauty at some previous point before my body started to decay before our eyes. But now, with his absence, it has shaken all of that to rubble. I forget about everything inside of me and recoil at the mere thought of people not seeing a ring on my finger and concluding that this poor, unattractive girl must flounder finding someone to love her. It literally goes through my mind EVERY time I leave my house. I hate making eye contact with people — a definite sign of diffidence, and not the endearing kind.
This is such a sad and lonely way to live. To allow my outwardly appearance to mess with my independence. I don’t wish for my condition to control every facet of my life anymore. Part of beauty, of finding beauty in others, is their way of efficiently getting passed their aberration. They do not let it define who they are. When we are independent, we steal the spotlight from our fear to our fortune. Once we start to develop and dwell inside that independence, it’s then easy to see the beauty within ourselves.
N = Noiseless. Beauty is a humble trait. It does not need to boast or brag or be adored vainly. Anyone who is doing something is order to solely gain glory is not being genuine.
When I think about this notion, I think about the many women in my support groups, most of whom I’ve never met. One woman in particular, Stephanie, has done more for me than I could possibly explain. She not only gives me free balms for my skin, but has generously sent me little gifts over the past couple of years. Does she make a show of it on Facebook or social media? Never. Nor has she ever expected praise for it. And there is a difference between receiving praise and expecting it. Beauty deserves recognition but does not demand it. Stephanie is noiseless in her acts of kindness. Trust me when I say that being noiseless only amplifies your beauty. If we could all put our desire to be praised aside and practice our altruism modestly, our giving in silence will be all the fuel our beauty needs to thrive.
B = Bravery. To be confident in the face of fear takes immense bravery. When people, especially those who have been bullied, are able to be independent and strong while out in the world should be crowned the Emmeline Pankhursts of our time. Whenever I think of the word bravery, I think of Lizzie Velasquez.
I can’t imagine there is anyone else who has taken more insults and more lashings than this precious human. She has risen above all of the adversity rushing her way. A day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t brazenly (and displaying cowardice sitting behind a screen) call her something callow or derogatory. Through all of this Lizzie has taken each blow and given it purpose. She is a massive role model and voice for those who are ‘different’ than the aesthetic status quo. And that does not mean she doesn’t break down at moments or is an impenetrable emotional fortress. That is what makes bravery so much more inspirational — it’s not an easy thing to be. But those who chose to be brave, to get out of bed every morning with a smile, they are a beautiful gift in this often cruel and vicious world.
O = Origami. Many might find this one strange, but beauty isn’t always a positive idea. Sometimes we need a little pain to understand beauty. She takes many forms. People dying isn’t beauty; losing your job isn’t beauty; going through a traumatic medical condition isn’t beauty. However, what we take from it can be; how we handle ourselves during those heartbreaking times can be magical.
Vulnerability is not always seen as a virtuous, ‘share-time’ quality. When we cry, we usually mask our tears. When in distress, we whelve our emotions in hopes no one else can see them. As humans, we push away those chest pounding moments. But we need those moments. Sometimes we can come alive in those moments.
Being an artist (both writer and dancer), I thrive on both joy and pain. I thought it was strange at first, this desire to listen to sad music or dance to a melancholy melody. But, we need this. The fullness of beauty would be lost if we did not have both sides of the bridge. And there should be no shame in this.
It’s okay to embrace this range of beauty. In fact, it’s essential to do so. When we are able to express these emotions honestly, we are unfolding another facet of beauty inside ourselves. So, if you hear that mournful tune, let it move you. If you develop a connection with that character on the screen who beat the odds despite losing things they cherished, applaud them vigorously. And if a poem allows you to drift off into a memory that taught you a lesson, then untie your knot of comfort and drift. When you are able to be this open, this transformative with the world around you, beauty is revealed.
W = Worth. This one is huge. The ability to drown out the doubt or confusion when it comes to other’s perceptions about yourself is everything. When you can establish your worth solely from your own integrity and emotional stability without allowing the way others treat you diminish your value is as imperative to the human spirit as rainfall in a deadly drought.
In a world that is spun by likes on Instagram and retweets on Twitter, it becomes harder and harder to maintain that steadfast mindset on what we are worth since we readily seem to put it into other people’s hands, even strangers. We are filtered beyond recognition and we put our bodies and wallets through vicious torment trying to be one with our ‘natural habitat.’ Yet, in the end, there is nothing natural about us. We squeeze ourselves into corsets; we frizz, fry, and flatten our hair until it’s runway perfect; we indulge in handbags, clothing, and jewelry that is beyond our paychecks. This is what fashion magazines call ‘beauty’.
That is something I find particularly heinous when it comes to the need in ‘solidifying’ our worth. There are sadly many examples I could give, but there is one that sticks out. I was told about a conversation a friend of mine had with a male who said he only likes girls who are completely bare downstairs and finds anything else basically nonnegotiable. I am no stranger to the esthetician’s bed, but to hear that I have to infant-ize my Pandora’s box in order to be considered attractive is deplorable. All these high standards that women (and men) are having to combat can drive one’s self worth into the ground. It takes a true beauty to know that being wanted and being valued are two very different things.
And this is where I fight tooth and nail. It’s a civil war inside myself, a conversation I know I am not the only one having. Since being divorced, feeling the beauty of ‘independence’ is not the only thing that has eluded me. I very much view myself as tarnished, unlovable, and not worth the time. What I am going through is not a walk in the park and it’s difficult to explain to people. I haven’t felt value in myself, especially when it comes to the idea of being in a new relationship. If my partner and I couldn’t make it through this tough time, why would anyone else want to deal with the ups and downs of my condition? My worth was deserted on that flight home one year ago. I have put such an emphasis on the package I come in that I have forgotten how beauty is not only something more than skin, it is also a mindset and posture. If I don’t find myself worth being with, then no one else will. Yes, my body isn’t what it used to be and yes, it may hinder the amount of male attention I receive, but that should not be the scale where I balance my worth. No one should.
I, like many others, have allowed the actions of someone else to sway whether or not I have worth. The cycle of self-loathing and irrational self-deprecation has to end. Self-care and self-love is the only way to attain the beauty that is in all of us.
On a car drive this summer, in one of the many destinations for my documentary, a loved TSW warrior told me about a girl who is blind. As all blind person’s can attest (except maybe for Daredevil…), they are not able to see anything. That sense is lost to them. And when that sense is no longer a valid way to distinguish someone’s beauty, it’s remarkable how that can change a life. The blind girl was happy to be blind. She was not imprisoned by the vain and cynical ways of the world in how we should judge people before a word flows from their lips. You are able to experience people on an honest level. That is what matters. That is what counts. You are able to fall in love with the whole person despite whatever a mirror reflects.
So, as 2017 comes to a close, I hope to also close the chest I’ve come to fill with insecurities, self-doubt, and blame for not being good enough. For 2018, I am preserving this new definition of beauty and will hold myself accountable to only speak to myself as I would others. My skin is not all I am; it is merely a piece. And I guarantee this journey will not be blameless. Shortcomings will occur, but as long as we all can give ourselves time to grow and work on the things in our life that need a bit of mending, we’ll all be the better for it. I’m rooting for you all and your resolutions while I search for the pot of gold at the end of my R.A.I.N.B.O.W — and that pot of gold is me. xx
Love, B. R. Banos