Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Standards of Beauty

Whenever I look at photos of my friends and my family - particularly the girls - the first thing I always think to myself is, My God, everyone's so beautiful. And no, I don't mean that in a lesbian, I-want-to-rip-off-your-clothes-and-have-my-wicked-way-with-you (and I believe I've proven since time immemorial that I am painfully heterosexual), but more of, an appreciation of an aesthetic that is always lost in the land of the Tall, Skinny, and Pale-Complexioned.

And of course, there's also the part where I feel like an ugly duckling in the water. I mean, just look at my cousins, in the first place - all tall and coltish, and they can wear almost anything and get away with it. I have to remember that I have breasts and thighs and a body that doesn't inspire metaphors with a horse...unless the horse we're talking about is pregnant or overweight. And while I've grown into accepting the fact that I will never be skinny and svelte in this lifetime, there's still that old pain that knows that one is not as beautiful as one would like to be.

Growing up was definitely painful - in an all girls' school where everyone took off their clothes before and after PE, there was a certain sense of shame. Not in nakedness, because you knew that everyone had exactly the same bits you had, but more in the sense that you knew you didn't fit in, that you weren't perfect like all the other girls had, that maybe you had a bit more wobbly bits than everyone else. There are days when I admire my younger sister Bea because she carries herself with infinitely more grace than I ever did at fifteen - and she's a good 30 to 40 pounds heavier than I am right now. But she's beautiful, in that innocent, confident way that I know I never was in high school. I was too conscious of being too fat, too short, too pale. I hid beneath baggy jeans and baggier shirts, and refused to wear anything that would emphasize the fact that I had breasts. I never wore make-up if I could help it; the first time I consciously put on face powder and lip gloss was when I was nineteen. I never thought I was beautiful; compared to everyone else, I was a fish out of the water. My cousins called me "dugong" or "sea cow" when we were adolescents. I think that says a lot.

My friends - goodness, you should see my friends. They're gorgeous, but not in that shallow, model-type way where somehow, everyone ends up looking exactly the same, coming from a cookie-cutter mold. I think I was lucky enough to have friends who possessed a certain (to borrow a cliche) inner beauty, a grace that I always envied - even when we were at our stupidest, our lowest points. I love complimenting my friends when they look exceptionally well-dressed, or when a certain cut or style suits them well - these are the things glossy magazines will never publish: the quirk of a smile, a certain light in the eyes, the way things seem to shimmer and shine. I mean, bespren Jilly is gorgeous, and she doesn't have to be model-thin or waif-like or belong to a certain skin tone. And to a certain extent, I envy that. Not so much that I want to be like her in that fashion, but simply that she could be so effortless in the way she is. My friends will never fit the mold of what is conventional in this society, but it is in this difference that makes each of them lovely, a kind of prism that reflects back a thousandfold, each aspect glittering in a certain kind of light.

And myself? I'm not sure. There's still that self-conscious adolescent that hides underneath the skin I wear now. I know that I will never be as beautiful or as graceful as the people I'm with - I'm too round and bouncing and funny/weird/whatever that I don't really think there's anything remotely poetic with the way I carry myself. (Except maybe in my imagination, haha.) I'd like to think I know my limitations: of what I can wear, or what I look good in. I aim for being put together well enough that at least things are in place, but I always find it surprising when someone tells me that I look good, or that I'm pretty, or whatever. And it's not false modesty - it's genuine surprise, because I know that while I may be a lot of things, good and bad, I am not the model-standard aesthetic. I am not conventional, and hence, the hesitance to use the word "beauty" is something I do not think I deserve. But then, as the poets say, "beauty is truth and truth beauty" - so I suppose that, one's truthfulness about one's self, the stripping away of pretenses and masks, of knowing who you are, does help.

But there are days when I look at certain photos, certain angles - and I used to simply hate the way my photos were always taken, because I always thought I looked horrible - and I think to myself, "Well, that doesn't look half-bad at all." So yeah, I came a long way from being likened to a slow-moving sea creature that does nothing more than sleep and eat and give birth, I suppose. But I look at my tummy and thighs, and I look at my friends and cousins (who seem to have won the genetic lottery hands down) and realize that I still have a long way to go --

And that I may never even get there.

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