Inspirational Speech: Reclaiming Beauty
- Eliminate all negative words about one’s own appearance. If that seems too big a stretch for some, then at the very least, eliminate this kind of talk around children and especially little girls, like my daughter, Adeline, who have not yet succumbed to the messages of a society that profits off of your self-doubt.
- In regards to body size, I believe that we need to stop using the word “fat” as an adjective. Fat, as it pertains to the human body, is a noun. It is something you have on your body. Like freckles. Or scars. Or armpit hair. But why on earth would I say “I am fat” when I certainly don’t say “I am freckles” or “I am armpit hair”? By using that language, we are enabling a usurping of identity. And we are all so much more than that.
- Stop referring to a diet as something you are “on.” A diet is literally just the way you eat. You could be on a diet of Skittles and cotton candy. To say that you are “on” a diet implies that you can be “off” a diet. And to imply that you can be “off” a diet creates a binary of success and failure—yet another way that oppressive systems create the illusion of powerlessness particularly for women and marginalized genders. We hear it all the time—I “cheated” on my diet, or “I was so bad today.” Let’s use language that perpetuates the healthy choices we make. “I’m doing my best to make healthy choices, and I love how it makes me feel. Sometimes I don’t make healthy choices, and that’s ok too. I’m still beautiful, human, and whole.”
- Eliminate the comparison game. We need to foster the mindset that beauty is not something any one person can have more of or less of than yourself. As humans, we are all born with the same amount of beauty—tons of it, in fact—and we choose to let it glow in different ways. Whether or not you fit into someone else’s definition of beauty is their struggle with seeing beauty, not your struggle with being beautiful. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Whether or not you fit into someone else’s definition of beauty is their struggle with seeing beauty, not your struggle with being beautiful.
- Stop quantifying everything about body size and shape. Size, weight, inches, calories, grams, BMI. We become obsessed with reducing and losing and diminishing numbers. Instead, the focus should be wholeness and humanity. Oppressive systems like patriarchy, heteronormativity, and racism thrive on the obsession to quantify and stay within lines, binaries, and boundaries. We need to stop giving it what it wants. Stop quantifying and start focusing on what we nourish ourselves with—mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
- Refrain from using microaggressive language that perpetuates the notion that it’s an extraordinary accomplishment to “achieve” beauty while simultaneously holding a societally marginalized identity or inherent perceived physical “flaw.” This is a direct manifestation of systemic oppression at the intersection of sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, heteronormativity, fatphobia and all other systems that dehumanize and indignify people based on identity. It is someone or something other than our beautiful diverse selves claiming the power to dictate what is and isn’t beautiful. What is and isn’t the “standard.” You hear these statements all the time, and maybe you even have said them. “She’s so pretty for a plus-size girl.” “She is beautiful despite the fact that she has birthmarks all over her body.” And so many more harmful phrases that perpetuate the notion that you must at least achieve the lowest bar of “normal” before even thinking about being considered beautiful. These phrases perpetuate the notion that someone had to overcome some perceived inherent flaw in their identity or physical appearance in order to still be considered beautiful. These are comments that reflect oppressive systems. Beauty is not conditional. You are beautiful, period.
Unfortunately, Adeline, I think that many of the students I’m speaking to today won’t believe me when I tell them how beautiful they are. The best I can do is empower them to rebelliously reclaim their own definitions of beauty.
The fact that you are reading this letter, Adeline, means one of two things. Either today is the day when I first heard you express that you believe you are not beautiful, in which case it is one of the most heartbreaking days of my life—to know that I’ve lost the battle against the societal message that you are not, and never will be, enough. And on that day I will be by your side, not telling you that you are beautiful, but telling you that you have the strength and intelligence to rebelliously reclaim your own definition of beauty.
Or, you are reading this on your 14th birthday, and you have not bought into the lies of society’s messages—as I unfortunately did as a teenager and young adult—that beauty needs to be achieved and attained. You are actively creating your own wonderful definition of beauty and you’re proudly radiating that beauty to everyone you meet. And if that is the case, my beautiful little one, I will consider that my greatest success as a mother.
Your Smart, Strong, Brave, Creative, Joyful, and Beautiful Mama