Chasing beautiful

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I’m eternally grateful for being woken up to the insane myth of societal beauty standards. Over the past year, I’ve immersed myself in learning — or better yet, unlearning— about the history of beauty standards, the patriarchal mood swings that dictate what is beautiful and acceptable, the toxicity of diet culture and the ways in which we are held down by our obsession with appearance. It’s a total scam. I’m speaking as a woman, of course, but this whole beauty/attractiveness scam hurts men too. It also must be noted that I’m speaking from a place of extreme privilege— I’m white, thin, able-bodied, gender-conforming and generally beauty-standard-conforming too. People with bodies that don’t carry this privilege face prejudice and violence as a daily experience.

In case you are also fed up with this bullshit and with feeling as thought your looks are the most important thing about you, allow me to share a few starter resources to dismantling this shit idea of beauty.

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One quick, readable primer I found is Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees. She tackles constantly-changing beauty standards, female grooming expectations, oppressive beauty routines, uncomfortable clothes, Instagram woes, the myth of “strong is the new skinny”, pesky body shamers and all of the other things that hold us back.

 

“After years of being bombarded with societal messages about the importance of beauty, our self-worth barometers have started to overvalue one factor: our appearance. For many of us, how we feel about the way we look has become the deciding factor for how we feel about ourselves, our worth as a person, our life, everything. When we think we look good, we have confidence for days, but when we think we look bad, we feel defeated, and none of our other accomplishments matter.”

Rees brings some truth about loving our bodies… which is to say, cool if you do but it’s also okay if you don’t. We are all so much more than our bodies and we can still nourish and appreciate and respect our bodies even if we don’t love our cellulite or acne or belly. There! I said it. I don’t look at my stretch marks and think, “Oh what beautiful life-giving badges of courage and motherhood,” but I am trying to look at them and… not care much at all. To not think they are beautiful, not think they are disgusting and certainly not to think that they in any way define me or my worth.

 

“Obviously, the advice to love our body comes from a well-meaning place. But it's also misleading because it keeps women stuck on their mirror image by reinforcing the idea that their physical form is the gatekeeper to happiness. Yes, you should strive to cultivate respect and compassion for yourself, as a human being, and your body (including the way it looks) is a part of that. But if your goal is to be happy and feel confident, understanding that you are more than your body is miles more valuable than writing love letters to your individual body parts.”

Another article that caught my eye was “The Best Skin-Care Trick Is Being Rich” by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic. Because, yeah, it’s true.

 
Celebrities wouldn’t be as distractingly beautiful without dermatologists, estheticians, and the women behind the beauty counters at Bergdorf Goodman. You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.

Rich people can buy beauty, and not just in the form of obvious plastic surgery, but in all of the small and secret ways that money can buy you better skin and nutrition and time to spend on those things.

LA Johnson/nPr

LA Johnson/nPr

Finally, this piece from NPR’s Code Switch “Is Beauty In The Eyes Of The Colonizer?” by Leah Donnella drives home the innate connnection between white supremacy and societal beauty standards.

 

“Think about why that person is beautiful. Is it because of their perfectly white teeth? Their thick, shiny hair? The fact that their features conform perfectly to Western beauty norms?”

Donnella goes onto note that in our society, “beauty is a facet of power.” It’s not just about self-care or self-love, the perception of beauty and attractiveness and unlock spaces and opportunities while systematically denying that access to others. She notes, that “the body positivity movement and the fat-acceptance movements have also consistently pushed back on the idea that thin, young, white, able-bodied women are the epitome of beauty — or that beauty should be a precondition for respect to begin with.”

So, team, let’s stop chasing beauty so feverishly, yeah? Let’s stop skipping the pool party because we hate our bodies in bathing suits, let’s stop piling on makeup when we’d rather be fresh-faced, let’s stop thinking we have to conform to one specific, though ever-changing, ideal of beauty. Let’s unchain ourselves from that myth and reclaim our time. Choose which parts of beauty are fun for you or a creative outlet - maybe it’s your hair or nails or makeup or clothes - but then dump that beauty crap that doesn’t spark joy. And leave your good books, podcasts and Instagram accounts here so I can add to my anti-beauty-standard rant.

Next up: chasing skinny…

My two-year-old

Note: I found this essay in my drafts folder and remember now that I didn’t post it because it felt too mushy, too saccharine, too much. Looking back on it several months later (Clark turned two in late July), it feels just right. He already seems much older than he was this summer, but still just as sweet.

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Well, my sweet boy, you are two. I stop myself every time I think, "How can you be two years old already!" because, in fact, you are so obviously and perfectly two. You are our best buddy, our silly trickster, our early morning snuggler, our beautiful, wild two-year-old boy. 

Once again, your birthday has come around and I'm frantically searching my journals, my phone, scraps of paper and feeling the inadequacy of my notes. No amount of words, no number of poems could adequately describe the depth of my love for you, Clark Wilder. I knew we'd love you, I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know I'd love you this much and I certainly didn't know how hard it would sometimes be. These are the longest days and shortest years of our lives. I wrote a note on my phone this year: Everything is harder now, everything is sweeter now. That's how every day feels.

 
Everything is harder now, everything is sweeter now.

You fill us with such love and tenderness; your laugh brings me to my knees with its beauty and the feel of your little juice-covered, sticky little hands in mine is a much-needed salve.

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You wake us up with a kiss, taking my face in your hands and saying "Wake Mommy!" You love hiding and sneaking up on people and playing with your bear, puppy, lion, froggie and ducky. You love that darned Peppa Pig and, of course, Elmo and Curious George. Your new favorite is the Wild Kratts and their creature adventures. I think you fall asleep every night dreaming of popsicles. You know your colors and a lot of numbers and animals. You look up for airplanes and clouds and "hoppy birdies".

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You pick up rocks and sticks and jump in every puddle you see. I don't know if you look like me anymore or just your daddy, but you look damn good. You have friends at school and at night pretend to call them all on the phone, or the remote control or sometimes through a secured line on a calculator. You color and make snakes with Play Dough and climb and jump on everything.

You are the sweetest boy I've ever met. Thank you for being you.

I like to think of the last photo as Clark’s face when he learns to read and eventually finds this sappy love note from his mom :)

Life lately

Early yesterday morning, I took pause to marvel at how deliciously beautiful Clark is. How delightfully snuggly. We were spending an early morning watching cartoons, because I was too bleary eyed to do anything else at that hour. “Mommy, sit here. Mommy, come too.” He absentmindedly played with my rings and snuggled up as PBS Kids rolled in the background and the world started to wake up.

A few hours later, we were both in tears in the back of my car. He wouldn’t sit in his car seat; I was out of tricks and bribes and patience. I lost my cool, regained it and repeated that cycle a few times as I navigated the surprises and monotony of toddler negotiation. When I finally gave up and just sat next to him, upset and defeated, Clark touched my cheek and said, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” My first thought was, “If you were really sorry you would have gotten in your car seat 20 minutes ago ya little punk!” My immediate next thought was, “Oh. So this is parenthood.” Your child breaking your heart and putting it back together again and again.

Drop off at daycare was harder than it had been in months. Clark didn’t want me to leave, didn’t want to let go, wouldn’t calm down. I finally got to work 30 minutes late and right in time to walk into our weekly staff meeting and take my place at the head of the conference table. I was exhausted and scattered and not sure what other emotion to feel.

When I picked Clark up in the afternoon, him and his bestie were each rocking little baby dolls. His teacher said, “Clark is just the sweetest. He’s so kind. When someone is upset, he always goes over and asks “Are you ok?” and pats their back.” My heart swelled. A few minutes later, we started another round of get-in-the-car-seat diplomacy.

That’s it. No conclusion drawn, no life lesson learned. Just a vignette, a blur of the ups and downs of life lately. So much joy, so much frustration. In an effort to beat the writer’s block of the past few years, I thought I’d share a little with you :)

Families belong together

"Change the world one friend at a time"

I paused in my car to hear the end of a story on All Things Considered with a recording of young children crying at a detention center. I heard the sounds of their trauma, the terror in their cries, the heartbreak and heartrage of their parents and the wild-eyed frantic desperation their mamas felt when their babies were stolen from them. 

I paused again on my walk inside, up the beautiful new path we paid to have built to our door, in the backyard of the home we own, in a city where we feel safe, close to family, with heat and air conditioning and clean water and stability. Where my ethnicity and race and language and education afford me privileges that others are systematically denied.

I stepped inside. My husband and toddler greeted me with their handsome grins and hugs. Clark was having a tough night. He spent much of it crying and whining and tantruming, which is unusual for him. For a fleeting moment I thought, "Here I am, enduring my son's inconsolable cries just like those mothers seeking asylum." What a foolish thought that was. No, this was nothing like what those mamas at the border are facing. Clark was crying because he wanted a pop. He wasn't crying from fear or terror or trauma. He wasn't afraid for his body. He wasn't wondering where his mommy or daddy was. He wasn't crying for human touch that the guardians of the stolen border children aren't allowed to provide. He wanted dessert, that's all. When he eventually calmed down, Chris and I quietly poured ourselves a drink  and the three of us set out for an evening walk around our neighborhood. We weren't afraid that anyone would take Clark from us or that one of us would be arrested or deported. We weren't fearful for the safety of our own bodies, or imagining the bullets or handcuffs or humiliation that might come upon us. We were a young family on a walk, nothing to see here.

How do you reconcile your immense gratitude for your life with your visceral, shared pain of the world? I'm having trouble finding that edge and balance. I still fret over picking out new couches to brighten our living room. I still concern myself with my weight and my skin and my clothes. I'm worried when all Clark eats is cheese and toast and strawberries. I admonish myself for not having planned a family summer vacation sooner because all of the charming Airbnb rentals are booked. Flip that:  I have a home and a living room and money to buy couches and cheese and toast and strawberries and paid vacation time and the luxury to still worry about all of those things. 

I guess what I'm saying is, there is a lot of pain in this world and today I'm haunted by the cries of babies who have been torn apart from their mamas and daddies. I hear the pleas of brave parents who risked everything they had to save their babies, to leave their homeland in search of safety and freedom. 

There is no such thing as other people’s children. We will fight for these kids like we’d fight if they were our kids. Because they are. We will fight for these mothers like we’d fight if they were our sisters. Because they are. If my country was ravaged with violence and my children were in constant danger, I hope I’d have the courage to do whatever it took to get them to safety. I hope that when we got there, we’d be cared for instead of terrorized. And if I were ever separated from my children, I’d hope that some mothers, somewhere out there, would care enough to get them back to me.
— Glennon Doyle, founder of Together Rising

You know what to do. Find an organization you trust who is doing the work to end this crisis and give. Give more than you think you can and please, for the love of progress, don't complain about their overhead expenses or employee salaries. Listen, love & give. If you need a nudge in the right direction, Together Rising has been doing an incredible job researching and connecting with on-the-ground organizations to pass through 100% of the money they raise. You can also donate through ActBlue and have your donation split among several trustworthy orgs. Cup of Jo published a great piece dispelling myths and suggesting ways to help. Families Belong Together is organizing non-violent actions and rallies as well as encouraging support for organizations on the ground. 

It's ok if...

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Real quick, in case you're waiting for permission, I hereby declare that it's ok if:

  • Your baby/toddler doesn't sleep through the night
  • You're not as interested in dropping those last few pounds of baby weight as you thought you'd be by now
  • You breastfeed your 14-month-old 
  • ...but you wish you could wear regular, non-nursing bras again
  • You can't imagine having another baby yet
  • You haven't taken a romantic vacation away with your husband since the baby
  • You don't enforce a strict schedule at home like the internet says you should
  • You are ready for bed by 9pm
  • You are both addicted to and paralyzed by to-do lists
  • You don't daydream of staying home full-time with your baby
  • You spend too much time on Instagram
  • You're worried your blog is going to turn into a mommy blog
  • You are ready to donate 75% of your pre-baby wardrobe
  • You are grateful for a wonderful daycare but your heart still hurts a tiny bit when you drop your baby off in the morning
  • You are happy and tired and grateful but sometimes quite whiny
  • You still try to control everything, even though you can't

And, of course, it's ok if the opposite of these things are true for you. It's all ok, and you're ok and you look nice today even though that dress doesn't fit quite the way it used to but it's hugging those mom curves and there's something kind of nice about that. Grab a cider doughnut and make this week a good one :)