Redefining Beauty In Order To Heal

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

– Confucius

I’m drawn to pretty things like a shallow moth to a flame. Sunsets, shoes, dresses, Chris Pine –  we’ve all got our weaknesses, and things that sparkle are definitely mine. I often get lost in thought when I come across something that pleases my eye, and forget where I am or what I was supposed to be doing. I’ve offended plenty of people by zoning out over a pair of impressive earrings. My obsession is equal parts nature and nurture, as my parents regularly showered me with dolls in shiny dresses with matching houses and toy cars. In that regard, I am virtually blameless for my shallow nature, right?

I used to have a very narrow mindset about beauty. It was so narrow that I didn’t even fit into it. For things to be beautiful they had to be perfect, stainless, balanced and bright, just like the dolls I loved so much.  A thing had to be wholly good to be worthy of such an esteemed acknowledgement.  I aspired to be like the things I considered perfect, and I was disappointed time and again when I inevitable fell short. Beauty became something intangible for a young woman like me, so I settled for

The thing is, now that I’ve grown emotionally, what I consider beautiful has shifted. When I started down the path towards deliberate, dedicated healing I was finally able to shift ever so slightly toward a new definition of beauty that  made room for more.The shift wasn’t easy by any means. It required a lot of analysis of how culture shapes beauty ideals, confronting my own self-loathing, and TONS of therapy. Most importantly, it required that I take the time to rediscover the great things about myself. It’s been proven to me time and time again that self-love bleeds out into the world if we make it a priority.

These days I’m still drawn to all that glitters, but it doesn’t just have to be gold. As I grow to love myself, I’m learning how beautiful imperfections can be be. Now I know we don’t have to be delicate to be beautiful. We don’t have to be flawless, or look a certain way, or wear certain things. To me, the most beautiful thing in the world is a person embracing their freedom to be.

What makes you feel beautiful these days?

Chippy the Dog GIF

 

 

A Perfectly Odd September Mood Board

When I prepare a mood board it’s usually done with the intention of reflecting what months, or various times of year, mean to me. December is a time for holiday imagery, October is solely for pumpkins, and that has worked great for me in the past. But what happens when you come to a month that has no easily assigned imagery? What are we supposed to look forward to without the road map of cultural practices to guide us? Better yet, what do we look forward to when the page of the mind is blank?

I’ve run into this conundrum with September. In my culture – black, American, raised Methodist – there’s really nothing. There are events that have been solidified into the mind like Labor Day and 9/11, but I couldn’t put a finger on what the month of September was besides the period of time before Halloween. Being a professional over-thinker, I started to explore what I wanted this time of year to symbolize for me. To start, I listed off all the things that have happened to me in September: I was married last September, ten years ago I survived a suicide attempt and recovered in September, and I love the fashion spreads that hit the shelves in September.

From there I looked a bit deeper, in the hopes of pushing away the words to get to the feeling in my heart when I thought of those things. The words that came to mind were love, strength, beauty, and freedom. Love kept me alive long enough to meet my soulmate, strength got me out of bed and out into the world to try life again. The beauty of the world, and creativity of its inhabitants, keeps me excited and enthralled in life. Last, but never least, I discovered that every day can be an opportunity to free myself from the darkness of my past, and that I am no less amazing from the days I might fail. Now it seems September might be the most important month of them all.

So, in honor of those truths, those lovely feelings in my heart, I want to share my September mood board with you. Enjoy!

Tessa Thompson for The Cut by Awol Erizku
Tessa Thompson for The Cut by Awol Erizku

Via Into The Gloss

 

Shame As Explained By The School Of Life

Have you ever been enjoying your life – perhaps laughing with friends – when you feel overwhelmed with the desire to hide from the world? Perhaps sometimes you feel bad, wrong even, for merely existing? It’s difficult to pin down where these feelings come from if it feels as though they’ve always tailed you, just a few steps behind to ruin a good time or justify the bad.

Lately, when I’m struggling to name the emotions which drive me to sadness or joy I turn to the video essays produced by The School of Life. The organization produces videos, essays, and classes dedicated to unraveling the complexities of the human psyche. I hadn’t considered the nature and root of shame until this video from The School of Life. After watching, I could see how trauma and cruelty had twisted me away from the truth that I am not something to be ashamed of, but rather someone to be loved and valued. I highly recommend watching the video below, then working with a therapist to unpack the ways you have found yourself bound in shame.

 

If you enjoyed this video from The School of Life, I suggest you subscribe to their channel for more information to aid in your journey.

Inspired by the Freedom of Afropunk Fest

Every year I look forward to seeing images from Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn. I believe the guests are hands-down the most stylish on the planet! Founded in 2005, the event offers people of color the space to express themselves without the binds of what they can or should be. As I travel forward on my journey to self-acceptance, I pull so much inspiration from the love and care displayed by the guests toward themselves. It is truly a radical act to like yourself enough to be who you want.

Black folks being “weird” and artistic and FREE is a mood we should all get behind. Here are some of my favorite images from this year’s fest. Enjoy!

All photos by Cheryl Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

Go check out more of these beautiful images over at The Cut!

It’s OK To Be Happy

My mother excitedly shook me awake at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning with more enthusiasm than she had any right to muster. I immediately started questioning every choice leading me up to that painful moment, because I’m well past the age of being able to do anything before 7 a.m. or after midnight. After a few groans, I rolled out of the bed I used to sleep in every night until I left for college, shuffled into the bathroom I knew like the back of my hand, then plopped onto the spot on their couch I’d claimed back when my brother and I would fight at the drop of a hat. You might be wondering why a (seemingly) intelligent woman like myself would subject herself to physical anguish and mental torment. Well, the answer is quite simple: The Royal Wedding.

As I mentioned recently, my mother and I are romantics – the kind who coo and melt at displays of affection, watch rom-coms on repeat, and read emotional drivel like our lives depend on it. I hate us while loving us, even more so as we watched Anderson Cooper build up the arrival of celebrity guests and a wedding dress like it was the moon landing. We passed mini pigs in a blanket and mini cupcakes between us that had been provided by my long-suffering father, and sipped on sparkling grape juice. Within thirty minutes I was awake enough to be excited for the pageantry, and I was soon enthralled by the magic of the music, location, guest list, and their love. Just take a listen to this beautiful music played by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and try not to feel something!

Still,  I couldn’t ignore a feeling of guilt floating in my belly, one I often get when I’m happy. With the world on fire around us, children being gunned down, people of color being subjected to racist vitriol and women’s lives regularly terrorized, I often feel like my happiness is unwarranted. My past isn’t perfect, but I currently live in a state of security. I have love. I know peace more often than torment, and my water is clean. Not many people can wake up with their only worries being what to wear or what to put into their smoothies. So, I regularly get that twinge in my neck when I laugh too loud. My body jolts itself out of the reverie, because there’s still so much work left to do.

As a survivor, my guilt has another level I’m only just now uncovering, but one that has nevertheless been ever-present. Essentially, I have a form of survivor’s guilt, but for the little girl I was that had to die so that I could survive. I felt guilty for experiencing happiness when I was the only one who knew what she went through. For years I’ve been mourning her passing and in the process became a monument to her rather than an individual. In my quest to reshape my life as I see fit, I’m finally ready to say enough is enough.

I know I’ve been a proponent of not avoiding conflict in the pursuit of comfort, and I always will be, because living life as a well-rounded person requires both eyes being open. However, I can’t neglect to add the truth that we do indeed deserve our happiness. There was a moment – rather a sermon- during the wedding that made my brain snap awake in regard to this.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I don’t think you have to be a Theologian to believe what Bishop Curry was saying. My journey has taught me a wonderful lesson that I have to work on remembering when I’m feeling guilty for needing joy during these dark days in the world: my happiness honors the little girl I was. By living, working, going on adventures, bringing joy to others and sharing in theirs I take back what was taken. In loving myself, I’m learning how to love other people. Besides, I’ve found that nothing pisses off bigots, misogynists, and tyrants more than oppressed people joyously taking care of themselves

Above all things, I want to be a good person, a worthy ally, and someone others remember fondly. To that end, I will be happy as long as I have room to feel it. You deserve to be happy, too. I hope you’ll let yourself experience joy this week while also fighting for what’s right in whatever way you can.  As always, thank you for taking this journey with me.

 

“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change the world.” Bishop Michael Curry