Because I Don't Believe in "Beauty"

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Instagram, there's a button you can push called "Explore", and when you hit this magical button, dozens of pictures appear, pictures from all different kinds of people all over the world. Sometimes I like to hit this button just to remind myself that life exists outside my sphere, to remember just how small I am. One day I pushed this button over and over and there were so many pictures-- Norway, China, Italy, Russia-- snapshots of life, slivers of earth, tiny telescopes offering glimpses of people and places I have never seen before and will never see again. But as I pushed this button (over and over and over again), I read the comments at the bottom of the pictures. Sometimes they were actually in English.   In every picture that contained a busty brunette, a tall, lithe blonde, a skinny, puckering wafer of a toned, tan twenty-something, there would (unfailingly) be the trailing comments of her preteen fan club.

"You are so beautiful! I wish I could be as pretty as you!"

"It's not fair how beautiful you are!"

And most damaged of all:

"I would die to be as pretty as you!"

Die. Die? DIE. No matter how you say it, dead is dead is dead. That a thirteen year-old, still a child-- glasses, braces, and boy bands-- should be willing to sacrifice the gift of her very life to be tall, skinny, blue-eyed, and blonde. To have the conventional brand of "Beauty".

I was disgusted. I was shocked. But more than that, I empathized so very, very deeply with these girls whose parents had put extensive safety measures on their daughter's Instagram account to prevent creepy old men from looking at their pictures, yet who couldn't prevent the violent mind-rape and soul-twisting of their little girl by a cannibalistic, sex-obsessed media.

I'm sad because I know and I remember the ugliness of her jealousy and despair. I never vocalized it like her, but I felt like a different species, subhuman, when I stood next to someone who looked like how a person was supposed to look. "Beautiful."

So I changed myself. I changed my size and my colors and my texture and my type. I changed my conversation and my clothes. It was such a slow, subtle transformation that I barely noticed. But I didn't even really look like myself anymore. I was still there, small and quiet, on the inside. But the "better", "prettier" me was on the outside. I could fake it and it worked. I attracted the kind of people who valued "Beauty", the right kind of shallow, flat people who cared more about their body than about their heart.

That kind of violence, however, can have debilitating consequences-- physical and emotional. After months of hurting I needed to heal. I knew that I needed to find a fact, a hope, an idea, a truth that I could hold to that would keep me grounded, keep me sane, keep me happy and hopeful and grateful.

I was on the top of a mountain in the English Lake District when I found my idea, my truth to keep me safe.

Picture height-- Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. Picture the depth of the drop, the worn, ancient grayness of boulders chipped and stones heaped, the whiteness and coldness of air molecules decelerating their incessant dance of bounce-and-swap-and-flee in the high altitude, but most of all the deep view, the vast view, the gargantuan and archaic and god-like view of cloud-shadowed, stone mountains and cavernous, gouged valleys and sky-filled lakes and the endless horizon that extended from the boots I had torn my muscles and rattled my bones to plant upon the peak. If a picture is worth a thousand words, even millions of words could not accurately reconstruct my attempts at mountain goat leaping between the giant, lichen-stripped boulders that balanced so delicately and disorderly upon each other up the side of the mountain, the desolate, dust-filled air and moon-like landscape of the paths between the peaks, the suddennness of unbroken, crystal swaths of snow, the surprise of Indonesia-green cliffs and waterfalls, and the fear of shattered ankles and vanishing into the forever downwardness as I found myself careening down the side of the mountain, alone as far as the eye could see, just to catch the last coach to Keswick.

I saw myself so clearly then. I was a broken pilgrim who had come to the mountain to worship... something. Something bigger and better and infinitely more real than glossy magazine ads and perfect hair and skinny, skinny bodies. I felt myself leaking out of my body, the earth rushing in through the cracks. The prison of my skin dissipated, or maybe it unraveled and blew away in the wind. All I knew is that the facade was gone. I saw the real, real, real, real, REAL beauty all around me. It was wild and raw and natural and everything it was created to be. If some person had come and replaced the jagged, organic, unrestrained beauty of this place with perfect, ordered lines, smooth artificial turf, had trimmed and tucked and taken away-- the thought of it made me crazy. No one could possibly top the real, wild beauty of an untouched mountain. I thought of myself. Why couldn't that be me? If the mountain was perfect just the way it was, pure, existing exactly the way God intended it to-- then why not me?

I felt as though I had finally woken up, that I had finally come home to a place I belonged to but had long since forgotten. Here, in a space crammed tight with air molecules peeling off trees, with leaves and blades and stalks rich with chlorophyll and carotenoids, with jagged igneous rock, I was earth-- timeless, faceless-- I was everything. I was simply the raw, untouched, wild Morgan I was meant to be.

I stopped starving myself and ate wonderful healthy foods instead. I stopped coloring my hair and trying to look and act a certain way. I read more poetry. I love the earth and my family more. My friends are adventurous and original and wild. I have never felt cooler in my life.

My advice to the young who are dying to be "Beautiful"-- stop.

Stop believing in and reaching for a standard that will leave you feeling ugly and sad and empty. Embrace your texture and your color and your type. Love the things in your heart and say the words in your brain. Be with the people that fill you with joy. Eat the natural foods of the earth. Be kind and serve others. Be grateful for the goodness in your life.

Love yourself.

Love others.

Live responsibly and frugally and do good deeds.

Choose to be happy.

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