So I had a photo shoot this past Monday. Like, a real photo shoot. Where my “not good enough” ego takes it’s favorite place centerstage. Right in the spotlight. Which causes my face to rest in some weird “I kind of have to poop and I kind of hate the world” way, along with causing my body to move like Mr. Universe trying to do yoga.
At least, in my mind that’s what I think I look like.
So somewhere in the beginning, I make (what I meant to be) a self deprecating comment. I say, “I just feel so masculine all of the time.” At which point, April, the photographer, moves the camera away from her eye and holds it a bit lower, pointing the lens to the floor. She looks at me for a moment. I anticipate her to bat this comment down. To give me the expected “No you’re not!” fluff that other people usually throw my way. Haven’t we learned to reject people’s assertions about themselves (unless of course they’re utterly positive in nature) in an effort to make them “feel better”?
When she opens her mouth next, I don’t hear fluff. I don’t hear compliments. Instead I hear, “Tell me about that?”
So I explain it to her. I can’t remember exactly how. But I’m sure I referenced feeling bulky and bigger, or not wanting to wear heels to the shoot as my “girly” friends suggested, or not feeling feminine in any way shape or form at all.
You know, the usual ways I explain away and justify my own self loathing. When I say I feel masculine, what I mean to say is, “I don’t think I am beautiful.”
Again, a moment of silence.
I am paraphrasing here, because I don’t remember word for word how she said this, but what she said in response stunned me for a moment. She said, “Then own it. That’s who you are. Trying to be or come off as anything else would be inauthentic. Masculine energy in a feminine woman is a beautiful and powerful thing.”
And without skipping a beat, she pulled the camera back up to her eye and resumed shooting.
I’d love to say I carried on channeling my inner Tyra the rest of the shoot, but I didn’t. Though April’s words stuck to me that day and followed me home. They played over and over again in my head and they begged of me one simple question: Can I accept myself and love myself fully- exactly as I am?
My mind raced back to a conversation a week or so earlier, as I met with a friend for tea. I remember her telling me how she had always tried to be the funny one in her old group of friends. How her humor was full of sarcasm and self deprecation too. How she tried to be social and energetic and the life of the party so she could fit in and be accepted…and how over the years and through self-growth, she realized- she never really liked to be the center of attention. How she prefers tea with close friends or nights in reading a new book. How when she takes the self-shaming out of her humor, she isn’t “the funny one” anymore. How she didn’t want to be if it meant she had to put herself or others down. How the mask she had lived in slipped away and how when she wasn’t covering up she could finally feel the sunlight on her face again.
I sat in my room…staring across my bed to the mirror hanging up on my door. I saw dark circles under my eyes, I saw a face that was rounder than I thought it should have been, I saw lines around my eyes when I tried to smile and teeth that weren’t perfectly straight. I heard a thousand reasons why I should wish I was different than I was.
I shut my eyes as hard as I could, and told myself to look deeper. So I did.
This time when I opened them I saw a different woman. This time I saw eyes that were tired. From restless nights. From hiding all of the time. From the stress of trying to figure it all out. From too many losses to count in the last few years. From letting herself down. From the grind that she’s in every day to try to grow, let go, and move forward. I saw a face that carried the weight of years of owning someone else’s problems. And years of mustering up the courage to be strong. A body that held all of her hateful thoughts about herself inside, storing them for later use, when she needed another beating. I saw a woman who was weary of her own lashings. But a woman who kept standing up no matter how tired she was, no matter how many times life knocked her down.A woman who desperately needed to take ownership of all the wonderful things she was, before she buried them so deep with food and alcohol and self deprecating humor that she may never be able to uncover them again.
And I saw beautiful too. Eyes that sparkled when the light hit them just right. An energy that, yes, felt kind of masculine…but in a strong way. In a way that meant she wasn’t frail anymore. In a way that meant some gusts of winds have hardened her skin, but she would not be pushed over by senseless blows. A masculinity that felt…beautiful and…feminine. I saw beauty in her furrowed brow as she analyzed life at every turn. I saw a body that has been used as a whipping post for her own belittlement, that now deserved to be loved, just as it was in this very moment- because all it had ever done was what she had told it to do.
And in that moment- for the first time in a long time- I realized I could stop trying to be something I wasn’t, even if that truth settled in me only for a moment or so. I knew it would come back. That the universe would send me more moments, more Aprils, more tea dates with friends, more smacks about the head reminding me to embrace the circles of my own trunk. And I felt relief. Because the only circles I had ever accepted were the ones I was running to get away from the simplest truth that’s taken me almost 31 years to figure out:
We are who we are, and thank God for that…because (and I say this in my most assertive, strong and femininely masculine voice I have) – that is fucking beautiful.