On beauty… and comparison… and being comfortable in your skin

When did you stop believing you were beautiful?

It’s a question that’s been milling through my mind a lot recently. One I’ve been asking myself and one I’d ask every woman I came across, if only we had the time for all the tears and the laughs and the healing. One I’m so afraid to unpack and delve into and… eventually… answer, because it’s probably a Pandora’s Box.

I mean, let’s face it, while there may be moments when we can’t help but appreciate the way our appearance, poise and personality blend together in some expression of our very best selves, being able to live with the firm belief that we truly are beautiful… always… the way well-loved girl children do, is a gift not many of us possess. Anymore. Just yet.

It’s a question that resurfaced recently while I was watching a video interview with the absolutely gorgeous and spunky punkrocker, Meredith Graves.

Forming part of The What’s Underneath Project, the video shows the pretty young woman wearing a cute outfit – one she’s obviously really comfortable in – sitting on bar stool against a wall.

As the interview progresses, the directors ask her to remove an item of clothing every second question or so, until she’s finally stripped down to nothing but her underwear.

meredith graves

Vulnerability.

That’s what it’s all about.

Throughout the discussion, she touches on a number of profound topics. Things like – being judged on appearance alone, not being taken seriously in her field because of the way she chooses to express her femininity, having a problem with her size and learning to come to terms with the amount of space she takes up in the world.

(Sound familiar? It sure did to me)

At one point she says: “I’ve grown up my whole life playing second fiddle to the pretty girl… and it took a really long time for me to realise that it’s okay to be who I am.”

While her words hit home and prodded poignantly at my own insecurities, it was my reaction to them that made me do a double take.

I didn’t believe her.  Not for a second. How could a girl so pretty really feel that way? It was impossible!

Well, obviously not. Because there she was, saying those exact words. Without even a flicker of fishing-for-compliments-fakeness.

There I was doing the judging, deciding who gets to feel insecure and who doesn’t.

Crazy!

I continued watching and listening to Meredith exposing her soul and found myself nodding profusely throughout, especially when she answered the following question (which is quite possibly the pinnacle of the interview, for me at least):

When do you feel at your most beautiful?

“When I’m riding my bike. Always,” she says.

And continues, sharing a little anecdote: “I’m obsessed with flowers… anyway, so I stop with my bike by the side of the road and I hacked all these daisies… and I shoved them all in my backpack and I’m trying to ride in traffic. And I’ve got these daisies whacking me in the back of the head because of the way the wind is going and I realise…

That’s pretty much the only time I feel really, really beautiful is when my circumstances are so strange that they allow me to see myself as a small component of a much bigger world.”

While I’m definitely on this one with Meredith, I guess it’s different for all of us.

For me, I think, I feel at my most beautiful when I find myself immersed in a moment of transcendence. Like, when I get to turn my face to the sun after braving that first under-wave dive on a summer’s day and trail my fingers across the surface of the ocean while doing a little spin and watch the perfect sphere of splashes that follow. A habit of sensory pleasure I’ve carried with me since my earliest swims.

For you, it may be entirely different. It may be found mid-adrenaline rush or maybe in the brushes of a make-up kit. Perhaps it lies in the fierceness with which you fight your battles (and those of others) or possibly when you’re flitting between various selves on stage. There are as many scenarios as there are women.

And, while we’re always tempted to compare, the truth is… we simply cannot.

Because, comparison truly is the thief of joy.

And isn’t joy the ultimate beauty secret?

Joy and maybe finally finding a home in your own sultry skin.

Perhaps Sandra Cisneros said it best:

“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.”

What is ‘home’ really?

Sunset Nadia Krige

A couple of weeks ago I posted a quote from Pico Iyer’s “Why We Travel” essay – probably one of the most intelligent pieces of travel writing ever.

And today, in one of those divine little coincidences (because I would probably not have bothered watching it if I hadn’t read that essay) I came across this amazingly profound TED talk by the very same man.

Somehow Iyer managed to cover and connect a whole range of topics I’ve been mulling over in my mind for a long time now with such ease, humour and simplicity.

Ah, you know, topics like travel and home, being in-between and feeling ‘out,’ yet fitting in with others who are other kinds of in-between, stillness as opposed to movement and movement in stillness…

I keep joking about having a quarter life crisis – that I’m generally just unsure and restless, yet at the same time also kind of excited about this weird feeling of metamorphosis.

Watching this made me even more excited… like maybe I’ve been thinking relevant thoughts after all (some of the time at least). Like maybe I’m not too far off with the things I’ve been pursuing… or at least trying to. Like maybe I will eventually be able to come up with some sort of suitable response to the whirlpool in my head – maybe not as profound as Pico’s (maybe that also comes with age and practice and experience), but a response nonetheless.

The talk is stuffed with quotable gems, but these are a few of my favourites:

“And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project onto which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections. And for more and more of us home really has less to do with a piece of soil than a piece of soul.” (About our super mobile generation)

“There is one great problem with movement and that is that it’s really hard to get your bearings when you’re in mid-air… I began to think that, really, movement is only as good as the sense of stillness that you can bring to it to put it into perspective.”

“I do think it’s only by stopping movement that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about… and find a home.”

“Movement is a fantastic privilege and allows us to do so much that our grandparents could never have dreamed of doing, but movement, ultimately only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is of course not just a place where you sleep, it’s the place where you stand.”

Oh, and I also really liked this description of the night sky:

“A great overturned saltshaker of stars”

Check the video out for yourself below:

Help me remember

Last night I was trying to remember something. I was scrabbling around in, what sometimes feels like, my 1920s hatbox filled with fogged-over pictures from the past few years, trying to capture whatever it was I was looking for.

But to no avail.

Then I decided to contextualise things for myself, knowing that this normally gets those rusty wheels churning again… and do you know how I did this?

I thought of two things: where I was living (because, as you know by now I am a bit of a gypsy) and what I was reading at the time of the event I was trying to remember.

For some reason, these two variables always seem to assist in filing memories in some workable order.

I can look at my bookshelf and pick out, say for instance, Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and know that I was living in PE and loving my job at Die Burger, but also missing home and my family and my friends and my boyfriend and the vibrancy of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Betty’s Bay, at the time of devouring this heartbreaking novel set during the Nigeria-Biafra War.

And this would lead on to other thoughts, like the Sunday market at the beach I used to frequent where an old man sold home-made fudge of the most phantasmagorical flavours for ridiculously cheap, and that one time I went to the movies all by myself, watched a chick flick and celebrated with a large box of popcorn, Whispers and a cooldrink. Then I would also remember the backroads of my neighbourhood, the ones I would take to miss the morning traffic, and that warmth spreading through my chest and to my cheeks when I got to the office to find one of my stories had made it to the front page…

And suddenly PE would be real again. Not a half-forgotten, did that really happen? slide that flicks by too quickly in my mind. But a clear and crisp clip from a not-so-long-ago part of my life.

I suddenly realised that I tend to do this quite often.

And wondered if other people do too…

 So, I’m interested… how do you contextualise memories for yourself? Maybe by relationships? Music? Pets? Seasons? Fashion?