Well here we are – it’s 2021. To borrow from the guys at Pod Save America, I feel nauseously optimistic. There are so many daunting challenges to solve, and I believe we can face them.
In 2018, Tarana Burke said, “I believe we are entering a period of answers. . . . We’re trying to build something that has never existed. It is going to take every single one of us doing all the things we can at capacity in order to make that happen.”
All of us, doing all the things, at capacity. That’s quite a call to action!
When I think about what dims my capacity, I see my weakened self-esteem, uncertain health and poisonous beliefs. As humiliating as it is to admit, my feelings about the way I look and the way I’ve treated my body as a result are behind almost all of these things that lessen me.
Despite professional and creative success, a good mind and luxurious independence, navigating the pain, confusion and conflict around my appearance has been one of the profound struggles of my life. We point to foot-binding as a dangerous example of beauty standards devolving into physical torture. But how many of us carry the brutal, invisible wounds of willfully mutilated self-esteem?
I’m planning on spending time in 2021 wrestling with and writing about the havoc that beauty standards have caused me. I didn’t even realize until my late forties that I’d spent decades locked in a trance cast over me as a child growing up in Los Angeles.
For nearly ten years, I’ve been unspooling deeply embedded beliefs about what beauty is and isn’t, who gets to decide if a woman is beautiful/valuable and, most importantly, what beauty is for.
One stunning moment of freedom came a few months ago:
On September 4, 2020, the first day it was legal in Alameda County, I walked into a salon and walked out with a shock of platinum silver hair that mellowed into salt and pepper in the back. A few weeks later, when I went to get new headshots, I felt something surprising and unnatural when the camera was trained on my face. I felt delighted.
Right there in the photo shoot, a light started to glow inside me, nourishing me in a way that the male gaze, which simply consumes, never had. I started to smile without being forced. I laughed. For the first time, I blossomed in front of a camera. I felt enlightened, brightened, transported in an afternoon into a new relationship with my appearance.
I didn’t expect that revealing my bright white hair would give me the power to joyfully redefine “beauty”, to inhabit it on my own terms. I didn’t expect white hair to make me feel exuberantly free, to teach me how to celebrate who I am. But it did. And it does.
Here’s the whole essay if you’d like to read more!
I’m scared to write more about appearance because I know that writing about toxic beauty standards may implicitly endorse them. I know that I have a form of Stockholm Syndrome – I still over-identify with my captor’s definitions of “beauty”. I fear the gender and identity land mines surrounding this potent and complex subject.
But I am forging ahead anyway. Because I desperately want to increase my capacity. Maybe by writing about my fears and struggles, I can help you increase yours too. There is so much we must accomplish in the years ahead. Let’s be strong and free and full of love for ourselves so we can do it all!