It is a rainy Saturday morning in May. I get up, the lessons of the past day, fresh and resounding in my mind. I scrub my bathtub and sink, thinking and thanking my Creator for another chance at life. I offer my words and my life as a sacrifice and hope they please him. I shower and get ready to meet two gorgeous women for breakfast. After an hour and a half, my belly is full. And so is my soul.
The sun is still on her day off and the clouds are moody about it. They keep crying. Their tears pour from the skies in quiet, gentle showers. It is Sunday the next day and so I try out three outfits for church. My roommate and I come to a decision. We deem the third outfit, a light blue off-the-shoulder dress and nude shoes with gold embellishments, the winner.
I like what I see when I look into the mirror. Standing there for a few more moments, I go back a few years ago, to a time when I inched closer to reproach for my body. It is pertinent that I provide some context here. I am an African woman who possesses her mother’s features. Her rosy cheeks, her nose, her full hips. Of my siblings, I am the least lean. This did not come without certain remarks from some extended family members. Now and again, I would hear “are you sure you’re not eating your sister’s food?” It was a casual jab that made my heart bleed. Being Nigerian means that you do not take certain things seriously. Knowing this did not take the sting out of those words, often laced with big smiles.
Perhaps I had acted without wisdom in some respects. I enjoyed food thoroughly and now and again, disregarded my parents’ counsel to eat a little less.
Puberty hit and stretch marks became permanent visitors. You know, the kinds that show up unannounced and have no immediate plans of vacating your space. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like that they spread out on my arms without regard for my feelings. I didn’t like that they were there. I didn’t like that I didn’t take my mother’s soft and flawless arms. I didn’t like that they didn’t respond to cocoa butter, shea butter, aloe vera, stretch mark creams and soaps, and the ultimate, bio-oil. It broke my heart when one day in boarding school, I discovered that my bio-oil had disappeared from my locker. Where and how was I to find it?
The morning before mass one Sunday morning, I wanted to dress up in a pretty sleeveless dress. It had a white background and was adorned with green, turquoise blue, and black designs. I examined my appearance in the mirror and did not like what I saw. Because I didn’t want anyone looking at those crooked lines, I promptly found my mother’s leftover foundation and poured some of the brown liquid onto my palm. Smoothing it over both sides of my upper arm, I nodded, satisfied with the result.
I grew up in a happy home and knew that I was loved fiercely. I believed that true beauty resided on the inside yet I knew that appearance mattered.
In the weeks leading up to my graduation from secondary school, I enlisted my mother’s help as my coach in my quest to become more fit. My father and siblings cheered me on and my mother and I bonded. I was satisfied with the outcome of that exercise and felt beautiful on the day I graduated. I felt even better, knowing that I had done my parents proud by winning prizes.
I think something profound shifted after those years. Perhaps the hormones wore off and I could think and see more clearly. Beauty had never been something I had always thought about with a standard in mind. For me and for others, being presentable was all that mattered.
An important part of growing old is growing up. This is the area where many of us fall down. It has taken seeing myself through God’s eyes to get to the place of true beauty, one that never fades.
I also believe I became inspired by people who regarded themselves with admiration and considered it normal. As a person who is always looking to do better and be better, I find it difficult sometimes to hush and say “I like where I am and who I am.” I fear complacency. I don’t like or want to be ordinary and so I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. But without knowing it and through God’s help, I found myself with people who affirmed me out of love. Find those people. Keep them. Be them.
In a previous post, I outlined my qualms with society’s idea of self-love. Out of love, not spite, my parents cautioned me when I overate and it would have done me good if I listened. We all know that excess weight predisposes us to coronary diseases. It is my firm belief that self-control is an act of love, even towards self.
I owe the person I am today to all of my experiences. I don’t want a filtered, airbrushed type of beauty. I want the crooked-nosed, gap-toothed, sun-beaten type of beauty. Beauty was never meant to be just superficial. Beauty was meant to orient man towards heaven, towards the author of beauty. I want the kind of beauty that wells up like a spring, from within.
If my stretch marks disappeared overnight, I’d miss them. They have greeted my eyes every morning for years now, and have taught me a great many things about what fills a person with beauty and grace.
Quiet the chaos and clothe yourself with dignity and strength. According to Pope Benedict XVI, you are willed, you are loved, and you are necessary. Believing any less would be selling yourself short.