Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, stared into your eyes, told yourself you were absolutely perfect and beautiful? And believed it?
The mirror doesn’t lie to you. So a few years ago, I stood in front of the mirror, the truth laid bare, looked into my eyes, and I declared, “You are beautiful.” The mirror didn’t lie; in my eyes I could see that I didn’t believe it.
My mind was my worst enemy. It was the only entity in my life that was constantly attacking me. You are worthless. You are not good enough. You are not smart enough. You will never make it. You aren’t deserving. Who do you think you are? What if you fail? What if they don’t like you?
I’d look in the mirror and notice how one side of my nose was slightly higher than the other; the enlarged pores on my face; the softness around my belly that pressed against the bathroom sink; the cellulite like dints to an already injured self-esteem; the stretch marks like overweight scars and wounded perfection; and my untamed hair like wiry knotted up black thread. I would look in the mirror to attack myself. It’s just Fucking crazy how harsh and poisonous we are to ourselves.
Where were these self-destructive thoughts coming from?
Maybe some of it came from commercials like Revlon that promised foam foundation for a poreless finish; shampoos and hair straightners that promised smooth silky hair; flawless women on TV and magazines concocted by weird science notions of perfection; and cultural and social norms that weighed in heavily on choice of hair color, skin care, nail care, clothing, etc. During my visit to Philippines this past summer, I observed most skin care products were advertised as having skin whitening agents, and I wondered what kind of self-destructive thoughts this created in a society where so many were already struggling to maintain their dignity among so much poverty and injustice.
Maybe some of the self-destructive thoughts came from the degree of rejection I had experienced in my life. To understand how an experience in my life affects me profoundly, I must dig beneath the pain of the experience. At the root of each experience is a message of worthiness or worthlessness; of belonging or exclusion; of acceptance or indifference. My father’s criticism and absence served to remind me that I wasn’t good enough. The poverty we lived in showed me that I wasn’t deserving. The anger and violence that surrounded me screamed that I wasn’t special enough. The uneventful birthdays silently seeped in as worthlessness. My poisonous mind never let me forget. It continued to attack me. Some of it, I didn’t even know was happening inside of me – I wasn’t aware because I wasn’t connected to my spirit. The two aspects in my childhood that kept me from complete self-destruction were the love that my grandmother poured into me, and the constant encouragement I had from the man I would come to know as my father.
Maybe it came from not being able to forgive myself, because without knowing it, I was my worst judge. I needed to learn to forgive myself for the time I punched my mother with fists of anger and resentment as we tussled on the ground like enemies. I needed to learn to forgive myself for the times I treated my grandmother with less than veneration; for using her vulnerability as a punching bag. I needed to forgive myself for robbing Carmen of a father for the first ten years of her life. I needed to forgive myself for not being there when my brother Alex most needed me. I needed to forgive myself for the few moments of insanity when I unleashed my anger against Carmen. I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on David. I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on myself.
Maybe some of it came from a male dominated world that shaped me to not trust my feminine spirit, and to trust this insane mind that was my poison.
I came to understand that it was all of it. The truth was I needed to learn how to love and accept myself before I could believe that I was beautiful. I needed to quiet the noise that distracted me from my spirit and kept me from discovering the love that existed within me, so I began doing things in silence. I wasn’t use to the silence, so it was uncomfortable at first. But something in me began to yearn for more of the silence. There was a calm solitude that accompanied the quiet. I could hear things that had often been drowned by the noise of the business in my life – the whisper of the wind, the rustling of the leaves, the singing of the birds, the quivering of the grass, the silence of the mountains, the vastness of the sky, the journey of the water.
The silence allowed me to notice the surrounding beauty, and I started to feel the beauty inside of me. I welcomed stillness into my life, and absorbed more of the beauty. If you take a bowl of muddy water and allow it to be in stillness, the mud will settle at the bottom and the light will sparkle through its transparency. After a while, I started closing my eyes and listening to the whisper of my breath, the singing of my heart, the silence of my soul, and the vastness of my spirit. I was filled with beauty.
My hair dresser once told me, “There aren’t ugly women, there are only women who have neglected themselves.” No hay mujer fea, solo mujer descuidada. One of the most powerful messages I learned from my Tita, was the message of dignity, to have self-worth. She struggled with her sense of identity and self-worth for a greater part of her life, but in her latter years she came to understand that the love she poured into others, she needed to pour into herself. Loving herself meant she made time to get health appraisals and follow up with her doctors; instead of always lending money to family members, she began using it to travel and discover new adventures; and she never stopped feeling pretty. She never got too old to dye her hair red, wax her eyebrows, get fuchsia pedicures and manicures, wear jewelery that shimmered like flowers in spring, or dress fashionably; not even too old to wear a cute bathing suit. The love she had for life and for herself was manifested in her colorful and bold appearance, her robust yet dainty walk, and her sense of adventure. She was beautiful outside because she was beautiful inside.
We all have to find our own beauty. About a year ago I decide to allow my greys to bloom again. I love them! Does this mean that because my grandmother dyed her hair she didn’t really love herself or embrace her natural beauty – absolutely not. It is up to me to understand whether I am whole or not. I know that if I am not whole, dying my hair will only give me a false sense of beauty, but the real work will still remain at a spiritual level. Attempts at a concocted beauty rather than the beauty that naturally grows from within will only get me temporary beauty. I want to be my grandmother who despite her wrinkles from working under the harsh sunrays, her arthritic hands, and slight limp due to four hip surgeries, still felt worthy and beautiful enough to make herself over. She wasn’t vein, nor was she trying to hold on to some false sense of depleting beauty – she just wanted to look the way she felt inside.
I’m discovering my beauty on my own terms, through the love I am learning to draw from within. As I discover the beauty within, I learn to be more comfortable and accepting of my exterior appearance, without needing to fulfill societal expectations of what beauty should look like. Do I love myself enough that I could go bald and still think I was beautiful – I’m not sure. The point isn’t to go bald simply to go against social norms; the point is that if being bald is something I yearn for, then I must love myself enough to be who I yearn to be and find it beautiful. It’s a continued part of my journey that I am all too humble and excited to continue. The measure of my beauty will always be whether I can stand in front of the mirror, look into my eyes and declare, “You are beautiful,” and believe it regardless of my outward appearance.This April 22nd I will have lived 38 years. And I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life!