Beauty is so many things. Beauty is 300lbs. Beauty is 80lbs. Beauty is white, it is black, it is yellow, it is tan, it is pale. Beauty is a smile. Beauty is laughter. Beauty is tall. Beauty is short. Beauty is strength. Beauty is confidence. Beauty is anxiety. Beauty is depression. Beauty is make up. Beauty is natural. Beauty can be found in anything and anyone. I truly, truly believe that.
I did not grow up conventionally attractive. Not by a long shot. I shall use the phrase “was”, but in general, it is still “am”. I was 5ft even. I weighed 65lbs when I started high school, and 20lbs of that was in my ass, hips, and thighs. I was pasty enough to damn near glow in the dark. I had big, ugly freckles. I had long, long, wild, frizzy, curly but not cute curly red hair. My finger nails didn’t grow and constantly had, what I thought was dirt, underneath them all the time. (Turns out, it wasn’t dirt, but a result of being very iron deficient…) My teeth were all messed up and ugly. My face was round, and head shots made me look like I was heavy, even in my 65lb state. I used my hair to cover my face, all the time. My eyebrows were dark black, and people constantly thought I dyed my hair because my eyebrows never matched. I was loud. I was smart, way too smart.
All through junior high, I wore big, baggy jeans…because no one needed to know how big my ass was. Like…tight in the waist and 42in pant legs. With mens t-shirts. Spiked necklaces, chained wallets…I wore black lipstick and grey eyeshadow. I had a few friends, some girls who were so kind to me…that I still stand in awe of them to this day. (Yes Kari, I am looking at you.) But truly, I had 1 girl that I could count on for anything. I had a boyfriend, and I am about 90% certain it was only because he was convinced I would kill myself if he didn’t stick around. He was a good guy. A great guy actually. He is a pilot now, married, and still a great guy from the little contact we have kept.
Junior high was one of the most trying periods of my life. I was bullied, teased, treated like crap. It was relentless. I remember the names of very, very few girls from my junior high…but I remember my Regina George. I am not sure I could ever forget her. The things they said, the things they did, the things written on my locker, the notes left in my locker. Kill yourself. You’re hideous. No one will ever love you. Just die. You disgust me. Whore. Bitch. Worthless.
It changed me…it changed me to my very core. I stopped talking. I stopped reaching out to people. Depression set in. Anxiety set in. My ability to relate to people was gone. Whenever I opened my mouth, the very first thought I had was, “am I annoying them?”
I went to a magnet high school, studying to be a teacher, one in a bad neighborhood that was nowhere near where these girls went to school. I needed to start over, to know no one…to be a new me. I needed a new image…but nothing about me had changed…so, I changed my style…I chopped of my hair, which was a huge mistake…the clothes got much tighter, the make up got more typical for the era (2001), which meant too much blush and blue eyeshadow…but nothing else about me had really changed. I was still too smart…I was still loud when I did speak…and I was still terrified to speak. But my first high school, it was like a dream come true. I had friends. I had a place to fit in. I had boys interested in me. Granted, I had terrible taste and got into multiple abusive relationships…but hey, I wasn’t alone. I was still ugly, but it was okay, because my friends were pretty and they put in good words for me.
My world crashed down around me when I got expelled. My life may as well have been over…especially when after completing a year of court program school, I had to go to the high school with all of my junior high tormentors in order to graduate. I worked my ass off through the summer to get enough credits to graduate early…to get out of there. I joined the Navy and never looked back.
Things were very different in the Navy. In my program, I was one of the only women. When I was instructing at my first real command, I was the only woman on my shift…60 people on my shift…and I was the only woman. I was “popular.” I was asked out all the time, I was interesting, I was whatever…but at the end of the day, that constant nagging feeling that everyone was so annoyed by me was still there. My (ex) fiancée confirmed all of my fears, on a regular basis. I was still ugly, but he loved me anyway.
Moving to Japan was the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. It was like junior high all over again. I was young, I was too masculine (seriously…abs, toned arms, sculpted legs…a body I miss every single day), I was tough, I was mean, I was in charge…and everyone hated it. The girls hated me, the men wanted to screw me because they had heard I was easy…and no one wanted to actually be my friend. My last year there, I finally developed a relationship with the people I love to this day. I met my (now) husband. But, it was the year I finally stopped giving a shit about everyone and everything. I did what I wanted. I slept with who I wanted because why not? Everyone had decided I had slept with everyone anyway, regardless of my actual life…and in those moments, I felt pretty. For the first time in years and years and years, I felt like maybe someone liked me, wanted me, like I mattered again. Shallow and stupid and regretful, but realistically, it led me to my current life.
When I moved back to the states, my (now) husband was still in the midst of his divorce…for a long time. The depth of that situation and how it affected my mental health is not something to delve into publicly on the internet…but suffice to say, the things she said about me, well, I was worthless and ugly and unwanted again. How could anyone want me? I was still short, pasty, freckled, and with wild, uncontrollable red hair. I had lost most of my toning and definition after I hurt my knee and my shoulder my last deployment and had to stop working out like I was…I was still too loud, and never had anything interesting to say. I was nothing like his ex-wives, so why would he be interested in me? I was not his type. I was just comfortable, and I was sure that once his life settled down, I would be alone again…
I started doing regular photoshoots, just for the shit of it. Almost entirely for suicidegirls, because I fit in there. I didn’t look like all the other girls in my world. I fit in with the tattooed, pierced, pasty freaks that existed in that world. They were my people. They were so beautiful to me. And somewhere along the way, I just stopped caring.
I am still ugly. My hair is wild and untamable. It is an ugly shade of auburn, not even a pretty red anymore. I am short, so very short. My nose is weird shaped. My face is too round. My teeth are all messed up. My smile is forced and terrifying. My toning and definition is out the window, and I have gained so much weight that I barely recognize myself. (Seriously…when working on my back, my artist grabbed my love-handle and I about died with mortification…because when the fuck did those even start to exist on me…I swear they weren’t there a moment ago…) My ass and thighs are still huge. My breasts barely exist. And my brain is constantly out to get me. I still cannot talk to people for fear of annoying them. I ramble and get lost on my words and get so very loud. I am still convinced that people are disappointed whenever I walk into a room. I still cannot deal with my life without wanting to curl up and cry. I cannot see another woman without thinking about how much prettier she is than me. I still spend more of my time wishing I were dead than I do thinking about anything else.
And then, I see a photo of me…I see my strength, joy, and beauty captured…by Tara, Beth, Jess, David, Odir, Sunshine, Rick, Alissa, Brooklyn, or whoever…in those fleeting moments, I feel like I am beautiful. Like every one of those girls were wrong. That my wild hair is passionate. That my pasty skin is porcelain. That my eyes show my pain. That my smile lights up a room. That my tiny little breasts are perky and well adorned. I see the beautiful artwork unfolding on my body, telling the story of my life and my passions. I see the scars of self harm. I see the pain I overcome every single day to continue on with my life. And in that moment, all the ugly disappears.
And in the rare moment, when a woman I find stunning tells me I am beautiful…it makes me want to cry…because that can’t be true. When a man that has beautiful taste in women tells me I am attractive, it is almost enough to make me believe it.
I have never thought of myself as beautiful. I never will. It isn’t in my nature, my conditioning. But I have learned that there is beauty in everything. Even the ugly.