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.”

Why we should be thinking about our King Suits

Lunch time under the fig tree of forgetfulness

A post shared by nadia (@nadia_safaria) on

Just a small contingent of the clan

My mother is the eldest of 10 children, my father the third of four siblings.

Collectively, my extended family numbers close to 70… and I know each one personally.

Now, one of the absolute BEST things about descending from a clan of such colossal proportions is the stories.

Oh, the STORIES!

Some date back to well before I was born – like the one where Oupa Marius spent an entire morning in the ocean, trying to evade the long arm of the law for harvesting ‘alikreukel’ (or was it Oysters?) without a license in Tergniet. Sure, it was illegal, but he had been doing it for so many years that, really, what did a piece of paper really mean?! Besides, it was only one Checkers bag full of delicious contraband – I mean, come on!! Ah, it’s such a great story – wish he were still here to tell it (but my uncles and dad do a pretty good rendition too).

Others, I witnessed with my own eyes – like the time our young mothers decided to have a spontaneous race in Betty’s Bay’s botanical garden and unwittingly triggered a collective abandonment panic among their children. I remember not knowing whether to be horrified or amused as I watched my tiny cousins leave whatever they had been playing with and set off after their mamas – hair and tears streaming, sobs and yells echoing.

Another of the stories I witnessed myself involved my enigmatic cousin, Fi and a nonchalant phrase that slipped off her little girl tongue and right into the canon of classic Van der Spuy family (my mother’s maiden name) stories. In my mind at least.

It goes something like this:http://society6.com/joojoo/always-wear-your-invisible-crown-iji_print#1=45

Thinking about your King Suit

One day when I was somewhere between the age of 6 and 10 and Fi between the age of 2 and 6, our family went to visit their family in Saldanha Bay. It was close to the end of the year and there was much excitement about a Christmas play she and her older sister, Lea would be taking part in.

Now, Fi was especially thrilled about the fact that she had been given the role of a king (aka a wiseman). I don’t think she really cared about how significant it was that she had been promoted beyond the generic angel choir. Or that she would be getting more attention than many of her little friends.

There was only one thing that made this achievement truly exceptional to her, and that was the costume she would be wearing.

If memory serves, she even had the royal garb on display for us.

Anyway, as the evening progressed, so did Fi’s excitement and at one point it reached some sort of dubious fever pitch that got her sent straight to the bathroom to think about what she had done wrong.

My brother, Lea and I sat around, wide-eyed, waiting for her return. Would she blame us for her behaviour? And in that case, what communal punishment would our parents possibly dream up.

Our fears were soon stilled when Fi waltzed back into our company completely unperturbed after being released (about 10 mins later). There were no tears, no cross looks. The only difference was that her previous exhilaration had now melted into a transcendent serenity.

Noticing the far too slight change in demeanor, my aunt Fiona posed the question:

“So, Fi. What did you think about while you were in the bathroom?”

I’m sure she was fully aware of the fact that she should have said something like: “About how sorry I am for having been so naughty, Mamma.”

But instead she opted for honesty, and replied:

“Oh! I thought about my King Suit!”

There was a moment of astounded silence… and then a peel of giggles from us kids, followed by fully-fledged laughter from the adults (probably led by my dad).

It was such a silly little moment in the grand scheme of things, but something about it just stuck.

So much so, that “thinking about my king suit” has become a regularly used phrase in our nuclear family.

And the more I think about it, the more wise these words become. If I had to give it a bit of a pop psychology twist (which I love doing with EVERYTHING), I’d say it’s probably one of the most profound things we can do to live a happy and balanced life.

Why?

Well, in this world, we’re constantly being told how we should really be striving for more, how we can improve ourselves, what we’re doing wrong and how we simply aren’t good enough just yet.

We get sent to the proverbial bathroom on a daily, nay hourly, basis to think about our various sins and shortcomings – with every ’10 ways to be a more successful (fill in the blank)’ article that pops up in our Facebook feed, every television advert that renders our brand of washing powder inferior to the one that washes so much cleaner, every magazine cover that nullifies the beauty of our unique body shapes.

We get so caught up in what we lack and where we’ve gone wrong, that we forget about all the things that are so good and right and delightful and within our grasp already.

Our proverbial King Suits.

Sure, we aren’t exactly where we want to be yet and we do get a lot of stuff wrong. We’re human, it’s to be expected! But that does not mean that we have to constantly beat ourselves up about these things! Right? I mean, there’s always room for growth!

So, whatever your King Suit may be – whether it’s a talent you’ve just started coaxing from its slumber, a holiday you’ve been dreaming of or just a really good relationship that makes your life sweet – I challenge you to think about it next time you’re tempted to lock yourself in the bathroom and sit in sackcloth and ash.

Come on, let’s make a pact! If you dare to think about your King Suit the next time you’re expected to think about your naughty, naughty wickedness, I’ll do the same.

How about it?