Beauty in the Breakdown
There I was, sitting next to my partner, wiping tears and trying to find my truth in beauty. I felt completely foreign in my own skin, at least 100 miles from feeling beautiful.
It was our long-anticipated milestone anniversary night; a celebration that had visions of extra-long beauty prep, shaved legs, heels, red lips, and that special black dress from the back of the closet. Instead, I was in a comfort sports bra, left over maternity dress, and unlatched shoes (from my 30’s) that I squeezed my swollen feet into. The jewelry no longer fit over my (previously loose, chicken skinned) puffy fingers. My folded parts flamed sweaty “hot flash” bullets from equal parts steroid medication and perimenopause symptoms.
My eyes leaked over my swollen “moon face” cheeks, which burned like fire tears in my crow’s feet crevasses. My middle-aged reading glasses fogged from emotion, making it very hard to read the menu.
“You look beautiful”, beamed my partner. Sincere, purposeful, and tender.
“No, I don’t. I’m not. Stop it.”, argued my inner critic. I was adamant that my medicated, menopausal, middle-aged body had no reason to receive such gestures. Not from my partner, and certainly not me.
I knew this was a problem. I felt deeply unsettled. Why did I say this? I don’t believe it. Why can I not accept the word beautiful? Why does that word stir up messiness for me?
My partner meant it as a holistic “heart, mind, body” compliment, why was my reaction to deflect and reject?
We launched into a deep, but fruitful, conversation about our childhood memories of beauty. How was it modeled to us? How did we observe it from our mothers? What did we hear? How was our perspective as a kid different from that as an adult? Did we notice shifts in our security and confidence as our lifestyles, ages, bodies changed?
I remember watching my mom downplay her body over and over in front of a mirror, a camera, or a picture. I watched her “Jane Fonda”, buy “fat-free”, and explore every “diet” routine available. I rarely heard her affirm her beauty. She suffered a lifetime of body insecurity, shaped by self and others, so that when it was said to her the instinctual response was “No”. (Just like me.)
I’ve lived highs and lows in my body journey. Marathons to babies to brain surgery.
Strong to helpless.
Confident to self-sabotaged depression.
I’ve been the recipient of (unknowingly) hurtful middle-school remarks that buried themselves deep into my body insecurity. I’ve dressed through 90’s skinny culture where the goal was to be thin as Kate Moss. I’ve been body proud in my 20’s, body timid in my 30’s, body renewed entering my 40’s, and body confused climbing to my 50’s.
I watch my 14-year-old niece learn from a new culture model of self-acceptance, confidence, gratitude, and body pride. Young adults are hearing role models like musical genius and lyricist Lizzo use a new standard of body positivity for all shapes, sizes, and colors. Language of vulnerability, bravery, gifts of imperfection are normative thanks to Brené Brown’s mentorship. A new, beautiful foundation of truth…and yet, she (my niece) still faces insecurity, how she appears to her friends, the list goes on.
She and I learned from different models, yet still face common insecurities.
Truth is, over time, our bodies will change. Our perspectives on/of beauty will change.
Culture, age, life stage are only some of the teachers. We have an opportunity to learn AND un-learn from our own experiences and mentors around us.
As I reflected on mine, I was more aware how much I had to learn from the younger generation AND those who have gone before me. We all are mentors; 14 to 47 to 87. We all have a role, from friends, coaches, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, colleagues.
There is value and teaching in every story.
Because of this, I was compelled to open our audience invitation to “Middle School thru Menopause” for our annual Freedom Movement experience. We are all worth it. We learn, encourage, and support each other.
May we all find beautiful together in an honest space. May we share its nuances, light and shadows.
There is beauty in the breakdown.
By Amy Vallejo.
Join us! We'll be at the FREEDOM MOVEMENT event with Amy on May 7 2023, Seattle. The experience celebrates freedom and beauty found in all women. We boldly embrace vulnerable, brave steps toward whole-self confidence and body confidence.
Amy is the founder and co-collaborator of Social Creative Workshops, Anticipate Wedding & Events, and Social Creative Conversations Podcast. Her inspiration is found in creating experiences that connect people, foster conversation, cultivate relationships and celebrate creativity. Amy loves adventures, eating, and spending time with her husband and 3 kids.
Photo credit: SK Creates