I met Carly freshman year of college. I thought she was refreshing. I thought she was crazy talented. (Disclaimer: I still think she’s refreshing and crazy talented!) I remember waking up marveling at the sound of her voice seeping through the air vents as she belted in the shower. “Elton John”–a song by Carly, still makes me shiver to this day. Back then, I was still navigating my way around myself, and I always thought if I could be as poetic, as rhythmic, as present as Carly always was, then life could certainly be a little better–a little smoother. Carly, keep shining. Keep writing. You’re beautiful, and worth it, and here. Thank you for sharing.
I’ve started this series because through my own self acceptance search/journey I’ve realized that we, as humans, all have problems with our skin suit no matter what it looks like. The point of this series is to confront our flaws AND to highlight our excellence. I hope one day we’ll all be able to wake up and that voice in our mind which lists all our faults on repeat will be much quieter if not silent. The mirror will be less scary. We’ll smile as we pass our gorgeous selves. We’ll have a bounce in our steps. One day we’ll love our bodies exactly as they are right now. We might have bad days . We might have bad weeks. Yet once we unlock that key, that key of self love we’ll know we can get back to a sanctuary within our bodies. Our bodies and our selves are waiting for that love, waiting for that permission to just be. As I said to Carly, (and as I say to all my future spotlights), be gentle with yourself, you are meeting parts of yourself that you have been at war with.
1. What makes you feel beautiful?
Appearance-wise? My favorite things. I have certain jewelry, certain clothes, certain makeup that consistently make me feel beautiful because I love them, I know they suit me, and the moment I put them on, I feel more like myself. The fun, if sometimes frustrating part, is that those things change every day, and it’s sometimes a trial-and-error process figuring out which dress or lipstick is going to fit whichever version of myself I’m looking for that day. As far as a more internal sense of beauty? I feel beautiful when I dance, be it at a club or in a studio or in my bedroom listening to loud music from 2007. When I’m appreciating my body in that specific way, it’s only for me. Only about me. And I love it.
2. What makes you feel powerful?
I feel powerful when I’m really utilizing one or more of my abilities—when I’m at the bouldering gym successfully doing something new, when I’m on stage belting a song I wrote, when I’m able to use my whole brain to solve a problem. I feel most powerful when I feel capable, when I feel talented. There’s a huge difference between being told you are something, knowing intellectually that you are that thing, and believing that you are. That can go both ways—positive and negative. But in my case, a lot of my insecurities come from having been told I am talented, I am smart, I am beautiful, but not believing it. I spend a lot of time in that middle stage, where I know, I do, I know I’m wonderful in so many ways. A lot of what I’m working on in myself, what I have been working on for years now, is believing it. I feel powerful when I believe in my own worth.
3. What would you tell your past self about beauty and bodies?
I would tell my past self two things, one “superficial” and one not. The first thing, the “superficial” one, is that perceived norms and expectations have very little to do with actual beauty. Fourteen year old me wasted hours obsessing over her broad shoulders and narrow hips and distinctive nose, realizing over and over again that “pretty” isn’t someone with muscles or sharp features or freckles. She was wrong. “Pretty” is visible happiness, and you can exude that no matter the shape of any part of your body. The second thing, the “deep” one, is that your body’s history dictates neither its worth nor its future. As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and abusive relationships, as someone who used to struggle actively with self harm, as someone who has sought out more than my share of unhealthy coping mechanisms and made many, many mistakes, I have finally come to realize that no matter who else has touched my skin, no matter how, no matter what floors I have picked this body up off of, nothing can make it any less mine. Nothing can make it any less beautiful. Nothing can make it any less powerful. The way I and others have treated my body in the past has no bearing on how I should treat it now or tomorrow or five years from now. It is just as worth taking care of today as it was before the memories and scars.
4. How does your skin color make you feel?
As a kid and teenager, I was incredibly insecure about being so pale. You can practically see through the skin on my wrists and feet—I turn blue! Sometime around the end of high school I finally realized how absolutely stunning my freckles are. But, as I’ve gotten older and better educated, I’ve also learned what an enormous privilege it is to walk the world in this white body. When I think now about my skin, I’m thinking about a really profoundly good essay by Eula Biss entitled “White Debt.” Every white person should read this thing, seriously, Google it and you’ll know what I mean.
5. How have you struggled with your body?
I’ve struggled with a lot of the somewhat usual stuff: I don’t love my nose, I have stretch marks, I wish my proportions were different, etc. But I think my biggest challenge has been with the way I treat my body. I have historically been really terrible to myself in a huge variety of ways—eating like crap, abusing alcohol, not speaking up for my desires or boundaries, that kind of thing. I think that stems from mental stuff, but I also think the two are more inextricably linked than we like to admit to ourselves. My biggest struggle with my body, then, has been my mind.
6. Complete this sentence… “In my body is a safe place to be because….”
In my body is a safe place to be because I am the keeper of this particular temple, and I have finally learned the value in maintaining it.
From Carly, with love.