As a human, woman, and athlete I'm aware of how my body feels, looks, moves, and speaks to me. This combination of information my body provides is one part of the equation that can make me feel beautiful. It's not limited to the physical though - I'm also sure to include my thoughts, beliefs, interactions, relationships, and abilities. Hopefully I calculate this on a day my jeans didn't shrink in the dryer and I got a good night of sleep the night before. A little salt over the left shoulder never hurts either. The sum of these parts translates into my self-perception. Like everyone else, I have bad days, but a good chunk of the time my addition is positive, making me feel various shades of beautiful.
Almost daily it seems we come across a media sound bite telling us what is, and is not, beautiful, daring us to compare ourselves. These days, questions of beauty swirl around about actresses Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lawrence, Gabby Sidibe, and Australian "plus-size" model Robyn Lawley. But why do we give the power to define beauty to anyone but ourselves, just as this poet puts it?
It's not outrageous to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I can think of multiple cultures who place emphasis on showcasing different features of the body and everyone knows how undeniably attractive a confident person is as they light up the room.
I work with elementary and middle school girls who are in constant contact with advertisements on television, in magazines and on the internet telling them what and who is beautiful. They also have moms, sisters, aunts, and other kinds of female influence in their lives, quietly or not, offering definitions of beauty. When the topic of body image surfaces, the conversation goes different ways: sometimes I hear and see the girls transform into what I'd guess to be the older females in their lives, knowledgeably talking (and worrying) about calories and clothing sizes. Others spout out about their growing confidence thanks to their place on the volleyball team, their new best friend, or the just aced math test. Inside and out, this is when I fist-pump. Somewhere along the way, these girls with their sponge-like minds are weathering the information storm. They're getting satisfaction from their accomplishments, relationships and abilities and creating their own equation.
Knowing that each girl has the power to do this math, it begs the questions from the rest of us - how do we see girls? What are we doing that tells them they are their body shape? What else are they? How can we communicate that? How can we make their definitions of beauty grow and be sustainable? Who can be involved in this dialogue? How do we make sure the valuable insight from men is included?
Fortunately I have examples of beautiful women in my life. My mom showed me. Healthy, vibrant teammates and classmates showed me. I watched the men in my family show me by valuing women for more than their size. I know I'm not the only one with examples, but I know that I'm the only one who can truly validate me. And that's how I know I'm beautiful.