“Now we make you ugly, my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close she sprayed my neck with her whistle-spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. It’s a nasty life, she whispered.”
~ from Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
What is the definition of true beauty? I’ve often written about beauty; the beauty found in nature, the beauty of motherhood, and the beauty of simplicity populate this blog on a regular basis. I find my soul searching for beauty in the everyday moments of life, my heart clinging to those images that I fear will be simply flashes in an overly full life. Beauty, in my world, is found in the landscapes that surround me, the spirit of my children, and the thought that right now, this moment, is everything it needs to be.
But after reading Prayers for the Stolen, the opening quote above has lingered in my mind. What does true, human beauty look like, and how does it influence how we see the world, and how we interpret the moments of our lives?
Mary Wollstonecraft believed that “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Does physical beauty hinder a woman’s ability to be seen as an entity onto herself, trapping her in some sort of self-imposed prison? Our media would certainly have us believe the contrary; daily we are barraged by messages of power and strength born through a beautiful exterior, with intelligence and inner fortitude taking second place to air brushed images of ‘real women’ on our social media feeds.
A few years ago I wrote about Iran’s banning of the Barbie doll, and in some ways, I agreed with their attempts to squelch the stereotypical image of westernized beauty – in my own home, I had experienced a similar ‘banning’ of Barbie for my own daughter. Although not a fan of censorship in any form, their alternative to Barbie did seem more physically realistic. As a mother, I’ve attempted to create a home where strong, healthy bodies are honored and valued over what type of clothing or make up we adorn those bodies with. I’ve hoped that these words for my own daughter echo those of Eckhart Tolle when he reminds us that ‘If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” I want my daughter to harness the power of her inner beauty,blooming into a woman who is seen first as a beautiful human from the inside out.
I hold onto the hope that together, we can teach our girls that physical beauty is not the end goal of womanhood, and also that physical beauty doesn’t have to hinder us or force us into fallacious roles adopted out of some perceived societal expectations. I hope that our daughters will learn that true beauty burns from within, that beauty is no indicator of intelligence, and to truly grow into woman hood, as Mary Wollstonecraft reminds us, “[I]f we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex.” Beauty, in my world, has no bearing on success, happiness or an ability to chase our dreams. True beauty, in my world, comes from the inside out or the outside in. It really doesn’t matter how we get there, as long as we eventually find it.
This post was inspired by the novel Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Ladydi was grew up in rural Mexico, where being a girl is a dangerous thing.She and other girls were “made ugly” to keep protect them from drug traffickers and criminal groups. Join From Left to Write on February 18 we discuss Prayers for the Stolen. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.