I had nearly forgotten what it was to feel beautiful. I knew when last it happened. It was a night early in December, looking at a man who months earlier when I saw for the first time I had but one thought, Well, fuck. Because he was handsome in that way that buckles the knees--that way that feels perpetually just-beyond-reach. No one should be that good looking. And I was dating a man who became less and less attractive each time we met. A man who in the following months would break up with me twice and then invite me to Paris only to leave me at the airport. A man who never wanted to see me naked. And I became so angry. Not with him. It wasn't really about him, he just happened to be driving the story in a very particular way. It was that I didn’t walk away sooner. That I didn’t say no to Paris. That I didn’t say hey, you, not.good.enough.
I should have said it on so many occasions.
Because he was not good.enough.for.me.
I can’t quite forgive myself the experience of him.
Did he not think me beautiful, I would wonder. When really the question was, did he not think me worthy?
And frankly, who gives a fuck if some so-not-worth-it-guy thinks me worthy or not?
But these are the questions. And because worth is a really, really heavy question and really, really hard struggle—until of course it becomes the lightest, best thing in the world (but that takes time and I'm not there yet)—but because worth is at the heart of what-this-here-life-is-all-about and thus LARGE AND TERRIFTYING I ask instead about beauty.
Did he not think me beautiful?
Am I not beautiful?
And I began to answer that question outside of myself, searching the eyes of men everywhere—at work, on the subway, in restaurants, in past-lovers. I began to cobble together an image of what I looked like based entirely off of what I read in the eyes of mostly strangers.
Which. Let me be frank. Is a terrible, TERRIBLE idea.
Because it meant the image of myself was distorted and inverted and tenuous and totally turned-around because 1. what the hell do I know about what any man sees when he looks at me and 2. what the hell do I/should I care?
I always get a little riled up when people give me a hard time for writing about the fact that I think life is hard. Because, I do, I do think LIFE IS HARD (and what rock are they living under that they think it isn’t? or maybe they're just more skilled at it all; that's a very real possibility).
But I have never once said that I don’t think it’s worth it.
IT IS SO WORTH IT. And worth it precisely because it is so hard.
Which means you have to keep showing up. (and sometimes--very often, actually--I forget this).
You have to constantly rush headlong at the things that scare you most. Which means you have to take risk after ever-loving risk. And you have to remember that the reward is in the leap itself, not in what comes of it. Because when you take risks you add value to your life. Or when you ask for what you need and what you want—no matter how hard or painful OR TERRIFYING it may be—you learn about your worth, about your extraordinary value (damn if Tom isn’t always right).
It’s about movement. It’s about constant movement.
I had forgotten. I had really, really forgotten.
I had forgotten that I have the ability to forgive myself. I 've been so busy walking around with clouded eyes worrying about my value and beauty that I forgot that I get to forgive myself. For worrying about those things which are so not the point. For all those so-not-worth-it-guys. And for all those moments I’ve been so-not-worth-it myself. And I’d forgotten that I have a pair of polka-dotted pants that feel incredible to put on. Which is so stupid, I know. And yet, IT’S NOT—it’s a thing. A REALLY, REALLY BIG THING. Because for more time than I care to admit I couldn’t bear to wear pants, couldn’t bear to exist in my own body. And now I can. And I do. And so yeah, I have a pair of polka-dotted pants that on a cool April night I wore out into this city that I don't often like, but occasionally do and how did I forget that? That it’s occasionally really okay. And I had forgotten that for the past few years now I have been lucky enough to live in a small studio apartment that, though way too expensive, is in a neighborhood that is almost entirely magic. Forgotten that, every night, someone in this city is making music. Good, sweet, redemptive music and that I have a body to feel it.
I think you have to live life really hard, but with great levity. You have to be okay with clomping around and making a bit of noise and doing it all totally gracelessly. And when you go down really hard you have to figure out how to get up lighter than you were before. Levity and will and strength. I’m not particularly good at any of this. I’m still working on it.
I will never know what I look like. Reading my image in other people’s face, or in the mirror, or reflected back by a camera, I will never actually see what other people see when they look at me. Which is something my mind has a hard time sitting with it. Until I back up a bit and recognize that it’s part of a divine humor and yes, actually, it is a bit funny.
I felt really beautiful riding the train to work the other day. And then I thought, well, that really doesn’t matter does it? And not in a fatalist way, but in that way that’s like well, I lost six years of my life to an eating disorder and enough of that--it really doesn’t matter. And then I thought about it a bit more and I thought, well actually, yes, it does matter. But it matters because I feel valuable.
When I feel beautiful, I feel valuable. How's that for a simple, pretty perfect equation?
Worth is the point. Always, always, always. And maybe I’m supposed to be better at all this by now, but I’m still learning and I’m okay with that.
I am really, really, REALLY okay with that. In this moment, at least. Tomorrow, who knows...
photos by Jason Baker