I used to wait for my roommates to go to sleep so I could creep down the hallway into the kitchen and fill a bowl with food.
It was odds and ends of the things I could find in the fridge and I would eat until I reached the bottom of the bowl. I never told anyone how I was a vacuum cleaner at night, that I was trying to fill some kind of emptiness inside of me. It was a secret sworn between me and cutlery and the 1 a.m. hour.
I'd cry and I'd cry and I'd cry. And no one knew the desperation that visited me when I no longer knew how to control myself. How I just wanted to shrink smaller, smaller, smaller until I could disappear. Who taught me to be less? Who taught me to be so fragile?
My mama is like a gust of wind. She is stronger than I know how to be. She is all the sorts of love you wish you could grow up and become. She never taught me to be small, so I never learned it from her. My mama had promised me the stars and I just settled for the crumbs.
My mama would probably say:
Beautiful is loud footsteps. Knowing the weight of your own footsteps, not your torso. Beautiful is knowing that you came here to make a ruckus. Beautiful is being so big and bright that it makes it impossible for people to take their eyes off you. Always they will wonder, what will that one do next?
When I said I was struggling, people would tell me I was beautiful.
"Don't worry, you're beautiful. You're strong."
Like just telling me "You're beautiful" was enough. I couldn't help but laugh. I was uncontrollable. I was sad. I was a sometimes, some days, most days animal.
Beautiful was a word that I'd heard so many times -- flung from girl to girl in some shallow exchange of words that was rarely ever meant -- that it lost all meaning to me. Beautiful is a bound-up, broken word in a culture that matches it against thigh sizes and blemish-free skin.
The world had drained out all the metrics of measuring beautiful and replaced it with scales and calorie counts.
I'm not gonna stand here and tell you that you're beautiful, like that's gonna fix all your problems. Sorry, I just won't. I'm not going to tell you of the worth you have. I'm not gonna wait for you to come to grips with whoever meets you on the other side of the mirror. I'm not gonna tell you that loving your curves makes everything better. Because what if it doesn't? And what if you're still sorry over that cookie you had two hours ago?
I'm just going to tell you that you're kind of strange. You're kind of quirky in the sense that no one ever fully understands the person that you are so you carry it like a secret between your smirked lips. Yes, you've been waiting for a moment to prove people wrong. I cannot wait to see that day.
You're weird. You're a little odd. You've never fully fit in but you are finally coming to grips with the fact that you don't really want to be a follower. And baby, if you don't want to be something, then just don't be it. People will tell you it is not as simple as that. But what if they're wrong? And what if it is? Maybe we are all just 30 seconds away from stopping something for good and being different people today.
I'm not gonna tell you who to keep in your life. I'm no expert in always keeping the best company. But I am gonna say that someone out there believes in you. Someone out there needs you alive and breathing today. I am gonna say that someone else out there, they don't see what you are. They never have. They never will. I'm not gonna tell you to cut the cord or break the tie but I am gonna wonder why you're clipping your own wings though... I cannot do anything but wonder why you're letting someone snuff the light out from your eyes. You could be so bright, you could be so bright.
I'm not gonna tell you that you're beautiful. You have not needed to know you're beauty so much as you've needed to see that you're capable.
I'm not going to tell you to just get over it. If it were that easy, maybe we'd all do it. We'd have no issues. We'd have no internal struggles. We wouldn't walk this line of good and evil every day. But I am gonna tell you that no bone inside of you has ever been a mistake. And no struggle inside of you has ever gotten rooted without a reason. Babe, if you've got struggles then let's start raging. Your tiny fingers were prepped and created for battle.
Struggles are going to make you a fighter. Where I come from, we kiss the dirty ground for struggles. They are going to make your story that much resilient. You're not going to survive them, you are going to absolutely obliterate them.
I'm not gonna tell you you're dainty, and fragile, and a flower in the field. I'm not gonna turn you into a delicate line of poetry when you were born with so much feist and zeal and madness inside of you. How dare the world not tell you, right from the start, that you are some kind of warrior.
I'm not gonna tell you that you'll always like yourself or that you'll always believe in yourself. If you're the least bit human then you've given up on yourself too many times to count this month already. I'm not gonna promise you won't do something to hurt yourself or others around you. I'm not gonna act surprised if you admit it happened last night. But I am gonna tell you that deciding to believe in victory, that it was made for me, has made all the difference to me.
If you want to stand here and wallow for too long about how you need to fix every itty bitty thing inside of you before you can ever get out there and do something that matters in this world, you can. I can't stop you. But I can tell you that it's this stupid, fragmented idea inside our heads that if we can just fix everything about ourselves then we'll somehow be adequate enough to love on the world.
Darling, you're adequate. While dancing. While speaking. While ugly crying. While spitting game. While struggling. While fighting. While laughing like a lunatic. While singing Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs. While slamming the door and walking away. In every little crook of you stands some sort of adequacy that the world would do anything to keep you unconvinced of.
And maybe I've got no street cred, no authority, no weight in saying this, but I'm not gonna let you be the world's largest living and breathing apology. I'm not gonna let you say "sorry" any longer -- as if "sorry" were your second language -- for things no human should ever have to apologize for. Say sorry when you've hurt someone. Say sorry when you've really misplaced your words and actions. But stop saying sorry for standing there and showing up to life everyday. You're not an apology letter, you're a thank-you note just waiting to happen.
And the best thing you might be able to do today is get outside, thank the skies for this day, and be the best darn broken piece of lovely you can be. Broken loveliness is the world's most common language. We all speak it so we might as well get fluent.
The best thing you might be able to do today is forget yourself. And forget all the people you've tried to be. And forget all the people who told you to be someone different. And just look around long enough to notice that we all need some sort of pick-me-up on a Monday. We all want some kind of worth. We all struggle to see what is really right in front of us. We all deprive ourselves and get it wrong. We all wonder about the bigger picture and who made it all. We all wonder when we'll wake up and finally, finally, feel like we were made to take on this day. We all wonder when, if ever, we'll get better at this whole human being thang. Maybe "beautiful" is an overly diluted word but there is no denying that you are surrounded, surrounded by people who've wanted to be warriors too. With loud footsteps. And the power to make a ruckus. And the kind of heart that makes people wonder, what will this one do next?
I'm not gonna tell you that you're beautiful. Sorry, I won't. I am just going to stay here. And I'm not gonna give up on you today. Because I've found we stay standing when people don't give up on us. So I'm not giving up on you today. Or tomorrow.
You cannot mark the day on the calendar when I'll walk away from you.
That, my dear, is just not happening.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
After the media focused on her <a href="http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/lady-gaga-shows-off-25-pound-weight-gain-in-tight-outfit-2012229">alleged weight gain</a> in September 2012, Gaga hit back at critics by baring her body in photographs, sharing her struggles with an eating disorder, and inviting her fans to join her in a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/09/26/lady-gaga-puts-bulimia-and-body-image-on-the-table-in-a-big-way/">"body revolution."</a>
Adele says she <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57376080-10391709/adele-talks-about-her-body-image-and-weight/">tries not to worry</a> about her body image and doesn't want to be a "skinny minnie." "The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body -- only then should you try to change things about yourself."
The actress <a href="https://twitter.com/RebelWilson/status/253324823005118465">took to Twitter</a> to say, "I'm not trying to be hot. I'm just trying to be a good actress and entertain people."
After the March 2012 frenzy around Judd's "puffy face," the actress fought back in <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html">The Daily Beast</a>, calling the media out for making women's bodies "a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others."
Tate's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-tate/mom-pictures-with-kids_b_1926073.html">essay</a> about body image and motherhood not only broke the Internet; it has sparked a movement of "moms who stay in the picture."
On her informed, thoughtful blog <a href="http://www.the-beheld.com/">"The Beheld,"</a> Autumn writes about beauty, body image, appearance and her two -- that's right, <em>two </em>-- mirror fasts.
Gruys went on a year-long<a href="http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/"> mirror fast</a> during which she did not study her reflection in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, or look at photographs of herself.
"I am always in support of someone who is willing and comfortable in their own skin enough to embrace it," the singer said in a<a href="http://www.ianslive.in/index.php?param=news/Aguilera_wants_to_empower_women-389922/ENTERTAINMENT/15"> recent interview</a>.
At the 2012 New Yorker Festival, the magazine's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, asked Lena Dunham, producer, creator and star of the hit HBO show "Girls," why <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/lena-dunham-new-yorker-festival-emily-nussbaum_n_1948596.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">Dunham is naked in so many scenes</a>. Dunham responded, "I realized that what was missing in movies for me was the presence of bodies I understood." She said she plans to live until she is 105 and show her thighs every day.
Chung <a href="http://fashionista.com/2012/10/alexa-chung-on-her-upcoming-line-and-struggling-with-body-image/2/">responded to critics</a> who suggested that her slight frame made her a bad role model for young women, saying: "Just because I exist in this shape doesn't mean that I'm, like, advocating it."
The NYU student started the amazing <a href="http://thebodyloveblog.tumblr.com/">Body Love Blog</a>, where she posted this picture of herself and wrote an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stella-boonshoft/self-portrait-ask-me-why-_b_1987406.html" target="_hplink">open letter to those who feel entitled to shame others</a> for the size or look of their bodies.
This 5-foot-tall, 200-pound singer spoke openly about her weight to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/beth-ditto-talks-skinny-privilege-fiancee-body-image_n_2057290.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">The Advocate</a>, saying, "I feel sorry ... for people who've had skinny privilege and then have it taken away from them. I have had a lifetime to adjust to seeing how people treat women who aren't their idea of beautiful and therefore aren't their idea of useful, and I had to find ways to become useful to myself."
Follow Hannah Brencher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hannahbrencher