When I think about my mother I am sure she was beautiful, well to me anyway. But I was ashamed too. I couldn’t always love her the way I thought I should. She was loud, blunt and often rude. And she lashed out at us, left us at home far too long on our own with people we didn’t know. I thought I was too ugly for her and then she died.
My Dad told me I was beautiful
Living with my dad was different. He was alive, creative and famous. He’d hold me on his lap and stroke my hair and tell me I was beautiful. In fact everyone around him and associated with him told me that. But I was only 10 and I didn’t really understand.
Dancing made me alive and also hid my shame
When I danced I felt something I couldn’t quite describe; an exhilaration and expansion that went beyond looks. To move through the space and tumble to the floor made me feel alive, rooted and the terrifying feelings would subside. I felt seen and my soaring body hid my shame.
My breaking heart
But in the girls bathroom I was afraid the other girls would hear me pee. It was easier to drink small sips of beer and sneak a puff on my Grandfathers Pall Mall cigarette then feel the breaking of my heart.
The first kiss didn’t work and neither did the boys who paid me to kiss them after that. They called me a whore. I didn’t know what that was. But I felt the meaning behind the words and it hurt.
I fell in love with someone too old. He promised me that no one made him feel like that. He told me I was too beautiful for words and did things to me no one else would. But I left him. He wanted to bottle me like a firefly in the dark.
My husband told me I smelled wrong. I buried my feelings and worked harder. Why did he love me anyway? It was hard to tell. He told me other men would always want me. Did he tell me that to absolve himself?
Happy in my skin as an older woman
As an older woman I no longer search for the meaning of “beautiful”. I’m happy in my skin. I remember beauty in the coloured petals that stain my fingers as I whirl them into circles and prayers. I see beauty in the hollow winds that scream up the trees. A beautiful moment has no opposite.
What makes a woman beautiful? That’s no one’s place to say.
A woman defines her beauty in the way she loves and holds her world.
These things cannot be taught. Beauty is not a definition.