Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Attention: You can stop searching for beauty now

Photo by Iman Woods Creative

My relentless pursuit of beauty has kept me from showering for an embarrassing number of days now.

This isn't some statement of societal rebellion or a social experiment. I haven't had a moment to spare because I've been trying to write myself a love letter.

Not easy.

Turns out, my subconscious is addicted to lying to itself, insistent upon pretending that I am weak, broken, ugly and somehow not enough. And as it turns out, those aren't the ingredients for a very good love letter.

Women are weird. We desire at our deepest core to be considered beautiful. Yet we refuse to admit that we already are. We (choose to) identify with our pains and insecurities, while waiting for someone else to tell us that one thing that we need to hear in order to finally acknowledge our worth. We play the (silently resentful) martyr to look strong, we slice up our faces to look pretty, we compete with people who are nothing like us to look accomplished. We chisel away at who we are in an ironic attempt to feel whole.

What if -- and this is a bizarre shot in the dark here, so bear with me -- what if we told ourselves whatever it is that we are trying so desperately to wring out of the world? What if we wrote a love letter to ourselves, saying exactly what we need to hear?

Gasp. That would make too much sense.

An Erie woman is leading an effort to try to encourage other women to do just this. The Inner Beauty Project started after 30-year-old Iman Woods wrote a letter to herself to help cope with post-partum depression. The experience was so empowering that she launched a Web site (theinnerbeautyproject.com) and created a contest to try to encourage other women to write their own letters.

I met Woods, who is a photographer, when I was the editor of Women's Magazine. She introduced herself as a "girl in search of true beauty." Which is, incidentally, also my bio. Then, we both found out we were pregnant in the same week. And we both ended up with premature babies and post-partum depression.

If you meet certain people for a reason, God wasn't being very subtle with this one.

Now, Woods has launched a project based on the belief that "true beauty shines brightest in darkness," and my personal search for beauty has been focused down to one single point on the World Wide Web. I find myself reading and re-reading the letters that local women have written to themselves, as if they were written to me.

You have wrinkles now, your hair is getting gray, and your teeth are not as white as they used to be. Yet, you are more beautiful now than ever before. Did you hear me?
You are more beautiful now, than ever before.
Your beauty lies within your capacity for love, the courage, integrity and determination you show -- not the length of your eyelashes, or the size of your thighs. 

I find myself floored by the stories of strength, and then shocked that these amazing women would still have feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, even though I do it, too.

You need to stop beating yourself up over this. You couldn't have stopped it because you didn't know it was happening. She couldn't tell you, she was too small, just 12-weeks-old and he did his best to hide it. What you need to remember are the promises you made to Jasmine that day in the hospital, the day she died.
I find myself saddened by letter after letter from women saying they had never thought to do this for themselves, and that after so many years of fighting their own various battles, they could finally hear words that brought them some kind of peace.

All of our lives, women are sent one basic message: Self-criticism is the way to self-improvement. Deep down, we all know this isn't true, but the lesson runs deep and the pattern is difficult to break.

It can be broken, one woman at a time, one voice at a time. Each of us needs to stand up for the one person who we are most under obligation to protect. That person is ourselves. By learning to embrace who we are, recognize what we have accomplished, and know we can carve out our own futures, we can escape the viciousness of self-criticism and self-loathing.

Iman's Inner Beauty Project is celebration of not just what we can be, but who we already are.

And finally, even though my "love letter" might always be a work in progress, I have begun to hear my inner voice soothing my anxieties. It keeps telling me that I am strong, healed, beautiful and more than enough. And the craziest thing is: It's totally telling the truth. I might even start believing it, one of these days.

My voice also keeps telling me something else: That my hunt for beauty is over.

I guess I should add that to my love letter, and bcc Iman Woods.

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