[What I ate for breakfast today: jasmine rice, a fresh egg, and a LOT of kimchi. When Adam makes kimchi, I eat it at almost every meal. To whomever ends up next to me in yoga class: sorrynotsorry.]
A few Sunday mornings ago, I was getting fancied up for the first West End Farmer's Market of the season. Kamal stood next to me as I put on eyeliner, animatedly talking me through his plans for the day. Suddenly he interrupted himself, his own eyes widening, to whisper, reverently, "Mama--what's on your eyes?"
"It's purple!" I said. "You like it?"
Even wider eyes. "Did you...draw it? On your face?"
Supernova eyes. "Can you draw some on my face?"
My first impulse was to say no--three year olds don't wear eyeliner!--but then I considered. I mean, wearing makeup at all is pretty arbitrary. There wasn't really a good reason I could come up with that I should get to put fun purple stuff on my face and Kamal shouldn't--so, per his precise direction, I drew a sun on one round little cheek and a star on the other. (The sun, which suffered from a lot of wiggling and chatting during its application, was later entirely erased through Kamal's unrelated weeping. That's a whole other story.)
We don't wonder enough about the whys of beauty. All we're told, from the moment we're aware of beauty at all, is that we're not beautiful enough.
I don't mean, necessarily, that your family tells you that. I hope your family members are people that helped you see how perfect and complete you are. But whether they are or aren't, there are a million messages coming at us from everywhere telling us we need to improve. We need to be thinner, have smoother skin, have more symmetrical features, have shinier hair and smaller ankles. We need to use makeup in a way that draws attention away from our big noses and small chins. We need to dress in a way that draws attention away from our broad shoulders, our round bellies, our big quads.
I don't know who came up with our standard of beauty, but I'm not it. I'm not skinny, tall, young, white. And yet I have the nerve to feel beautiful. Those bags under my eyes? I earned them, sitting up at night with my sweet, sleepless child. I flaunt the shoulders I got from Kamal lying on my back for "a ride" when I do pushups, from pulling weeds, from shoveling compost. I show off the quads I got from biking Kamal to preschool and myself to work and all over town at the speediest safe speed possible, since I'm always running late to everything. My big, crooked nose--I don't know where it came from, not my mother or my father, but I have a really good sense of smell and can still sing an aria pretty decently and can make funny faces with it that make Kamal laugh till he falls over.
Anyway, the point of this post isn't to tell you about why I like myself the way I am. It's about why you should like yourself the way you are. Always remember this: the commercials you see, for slimming bathing suits, for weight-loss "boot camps," for frizz-decreasing hair serums, for mascara, for clothes, for almost everything--there's no end to them. They say, in essence, "Buy this, and then you'll be pretty enough. You'll hide all the things about you that don't fit our narrowly-proscribed standard of beauty, you'll fool everyone, they'll all think you're a beautiful person. This is the solution."
Except it's not, of course. There are always more commercials, more ads. You'll buy the hair serum and then the commercials will tell you you need the boot camp or the meal-replacement shake or the concealer. If you listen to the messages the advertising industry shoots at us like so many arrows, you'll never know that you're already beautiful.
You are. You are beautiful. You are beautiful enough. You deserve to be here, and you deserve to shine, and you deserve to do that in whatever way works for you--not the way the commercials tell you to shine. (Those commercial writers don't know you. They don't know the things that make you interesting, or the reasons you wake up in the morning, or the last thing on your mind at night. They are writing to a demographic with the goal of making you believe they're talking to you.)
Whatever you want to put on or take off your body, you will be beautiful. You can line your eyes with kohl or cry a purple sun off your cheek; you can show off a shiner from a bike crash or show off the belly in which you carried your baby four years ago. You can wear leggings as pants or wear a dress that no magazine would recommend for your "body type." (Your body is not a type any more than you are a demographic.) You can wear pajamas to yoga class. You can wear an eyebrow ring with a business suit. You can make all your own clothes from thrifted finds, or choose a daily uniform.
Let me be clear: I'm not going to judge you for buying the hair serum (there's some languishing in my medicine cabinet right now!), or signing up for the boot camp, or getting lash extensions or whatever you want to do. I just really want you to do it because you want to, because it's fun to manifest yourself outwardly, not because you feel you have to in order to merit leaving your house or being treated with respect. Just let it be fun. Let it be as entertaining and silly and harmless as a kid getting his face painted. Because, really, that's all it is.