I went to my local Walgreens a while back to pick up some candy. I’ve been going to this Walgreens since 2012 and most of the workers know me, especially the cashiers. While standing in line to check out, one of the cashiers said, “It’s good to see you again!” I smiled. Nodded. “It’s good to see you again too.” He swiped my chocolate and flavored water into the system and then before asking me if I had a Walgreens reward card, he said, “I know you probably hear this a lot, but you’re very beautiful.” I smiled, thanked him, paid for my goodies and went on my way.
Today is Saturday, and I am currently sitting on my bed watching YouTube videos on the “StyleLikeU” channel. “SyleLikeU” is a mother-daughter team leading a movement that empowers people to accept and express their true selves. The duo selects a “group of individuals to participate in a project in which they will remove their clothes to honor how style is not the clothes you wear.” To them, “style is not a façade, it’s knowing who you are, it’s comfort in your skin, it’s what’s underneath.” After 30 minutes of watching videos I stumbled upon Caitlin Stassey’s interview titled, “Being the ‘Pretty Girl’ isn’t always so pretty in Hollywood.” The entire video shook me up, but this quote specifically.
“People think beauty opens doors, but it opens doors to cliff edges.“ – Caitlin Stacey
When I was in 2nd grade, Scouts would come up to my mother and I at the mall and give her some card. The magic of living in Los Angeles! My mother would take the card, smile, and throw it in her purse. She’d never call. When I was in 8th grade I overheard a conversation between my mom and grandpa. My mom was worried that I wasn’t doing as well in school, especially in math. My grandpa agreed that it was true, I wasn’t the brightest at math, but “at least I was pretty”. He then went on to say that if school wasn’t for me I could open a beauty shop and do makeup. While introducing me to people, my grandpa would ask them if I they thought I was pretty. (He still does this to this very day). The conversation would sound something like this.
Person: Hey there, you are visiting your kids and grandkids I see.
Grandpa: Yes, yes. We come visit so often.
Person: That’s great!
Grandpa: This is our oldest granddaughter, isn’t she pretty?
I was mortified. Wasn’t there anything else that he could say? Didn’t I bring anything else to the table? Another example, (Also, in 8th grade) happened when I had a crush on a boy, who found out that I liked him. He told his friends, and while they were laughing about how the weird new girl had a crush on a popular kid at school, one boy stood up and said “hey—she’s weird, but at least she’s pretty”. I was within ear shot.
At this point of the story, you’d think that growing up with this type of constant validation made me somewhat conceited. Surprisingly not. I didn’t think I was pretty. I mean, I’d hear it all the time, and yet—being beautiful was something I was always searching for. I wanted to be beautiful so badly. I wanted to believe it.
At 16 I went on my very first date with a boy named Charlie. After walking around in Forest Park we sat down on a bench in a nearby park and this 16-year old boy looked at me and said, “Tari, you’re very pretty.” I was shocked. I was on cloud 9. I had reached a point where I’d only believe I was pretty when I was told. By myself, I didn’t see any beauty. I’d learned to rely on outside compliments in order to feel worth.
At 16, a male family friend started harassing me. He was probably in his late thirties during that time. I didn’t know what to do. He’d claim that he was so overwhelmed by my beauty, that he couldn’t help himself. And so, here I was, made to feel uncomfortable whilst being validated. During this time I developed a huge inner conflict. I wanted to be pretty, but I also wanted to run away from it.
I turned to food—or lack of it. I wanted to shrink smaller, smaller, and smaller until I could disappear. When I said I was struggling, people would tell me how beautiful I was.
“Don’t worry, you’re pretty. You’re strong.”
Pretty was a word that I’d heard so many times—flung throughout my childhood. I had started deeming it as some shallow exchange of words that was rarely ever meant—it lost all meaning to me. My mom was equating beauty with my thigh size. My grandparents were equating beauty with blemish-free skin. “If you have clearer skin,” my grandma said one day. “You’d be prettier. Don’t you want to look good?” Or. “If your waist was just a tiny bit smaller, your body would be so nice.” My grandpa said one day. I was 17. I didn’t know how to respond. Why was a 65-year-old man making comments about my body?
Nowadays, I’m still battling with what beauty means to me. I’m still trying to figure out why I want to be so beautiful so badly, but yet at times want to be self-destructive so that word doesn’t linger over me. Yes, I want to be beautiful. But I also want to be inspiring. And Smart. I want to be told that I am the habit that’s impossible to quit. I don’t want my beauty to rely on the number on the scale, or the size of my pants. I want to be beautiful whether or not I have blemishes on my face, or I’m carrying an extra 10 pounds. I don’t want how I look to make one quiver. I want how I make you feel to make you quiver.
So, here’s a bit of words, from a Huffington Post, my best friend Clare sent to me 4 years ago when, after one terrible evening. I texted her, and asked her if she thought I was ugly. This was her response. I read it quite often:
“I’m not gonna stand here and tell you that you’re beautiful, like that’s gonna fix all your problems. Sorry, I just won’t. I’m not going to tell you of the worth you have. I’m not gonna wait for you to come to grips with whoever meets you on the other side of the mirror. I’m not gonna tell you that loving your curves makes everything better. Because what if it doesn’t? And what if you’re still sorry over that cookie you had two hours ago?
I’m just going to tell you that you’re kind of strange. You’re kind of quirky in the sense that no one ever fully understands the person that you are so you carry it like a secret between your smirked lips. Yes, you’ve been waiting for a moment to prove people wrong. I cannot wait to see that day.
I’m not gonna tell you that you’re beautiful. You have not needed to know you’re beauty so much as you’ve needed to see that you’re capable. I am gonna tell you that no bone inside of you has ever been a mistake. And no struggle inside of you has ever gotten rooted without a reason. Babe, if you’ve got struggles then let’s start raging. Your tiny fingers were prepped and created for battle. If you want to stand here and wallow for too long about how you need to fix every itty bitty thing inside of you before you can ever get out there and do something that matters in this world, you can. I can’t stop you. But I can tell you that it’s this stupid, fragmented idea inside our heads that if we can just fix everything about ourselves then we’ll somehow be adequate enough to love on the world. The best thing you might be able to do today is get outside, thank the skies for this day, and be the best darn broken piece of lovely you can be. Broken loveliness is the world’s most common language. We all speak it so we might as well get fluent.”