I will not lie and say that I am strong.
I am not able to stand with my shoulders always high and my head always turned towards the stars. Instead, my confidence and self-love get hit and tackled down. What knocks me down, knocks me down hard. And even though I rise, I do not always rise stronger. For if I did, I would not get knocked down again and again.
My first tackle happened before birth. As my gentle mother looked onto the screen and saw that she was having a girl, my fall was born. In this unfair world, my descent was given life before my first breath awoke me in tears and screams.
During those precious nine moths, my beauty was imagined before my strength. A cloud of questions would fill small living rooms as friends and family sipped hot coffee. They would cast a warm gaze upon my mother and her swelling belly and wonder if I would ever be as beautiful as her. Would my malleable form grow into the aristocratic poise of Cevan's? Or would my eyes be as glistening blue as my grandmother's? Whose beauty would I capture in my own?
Images of what I would look like swirled in the minds of many, but the images always captured me in silence. I was not imagined to be loud or to fight. It was not conceived that I could rebel or unleash a storm. I was etched as feminine and docile, as gentle and forgiving. It was hoped that I would turn heads, but not overturn minds.
Within the imagination of others, my existence was predefined. My beauty was placed at the center. And so my fall began.
There are no images of me close to birth. When I was born, my frail body sent ripples of concern. I was not the cute baby I was supposed to be. With the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, I was constricted from filling in the beautiful spaces I was meant to inhabit. The next couple of months were warped with the need to not only increase my size, but to bring me closer to the definition that was established for me. A small photo album now sits in our living room that is filled with images of me at a few months old -- an age when my cuteness would stop strangers in the street.
As I grew, my prescribed definition held true. But it was not only those close to me that gave it power. When I started to watch TV, I started to watch the equation of thin is worthiness. When I made friends, I made friends with the reenactment of the beauty pursuit. When I learned how to read, I learned how to read the translation of sexiness in magazines. When I started to love boys, I started to love the small mold I had to fit for them. From every corner, the need to be beautiful was validated and engrained within me. Everything I came into contact with reaffirmed my essence of a sunflower.
The more I wrapped myself up in my concern for beauty, the more I grew into a sunflower. My sun was the unattainable and searing beauty ideal, and I, its sunflower, turned mercilessly towards the shining source for life. I longed to become a beautiful sunflower that captured bright sunlight and reflected it back for all to see. But I was rooted within lies and could not see that sunflowers never reach the sun. Instead, they fall each night when the sun dips down beyond the faraway horizon. Without conquering beauty, I was hollow, limp, and unable to support myself. And so, I too fell each night.
As I grew older, I continued to yearn for sunflowers. I came to believe that I had selected beauty on my own and had stuffed it into my core. I did not see that were many hands that picked it off the shelf for me. Soon, the very thing I wanted to become was what pushed my fall even deeper.
And then, I got up. I cannot capture a single moment that made me stand up above the noise. It was a string of interactions and a collection of painful moments. There were many attempts, and many falls along the way. It took me a long time to see that I have the power to reimagine the influence that the beauty ideal casts upon me. I finally took agency over my self-definition. However, do not be fooled in thinking that I expelled the many hands that force fed me the beauty ideal. They're still there every time I open a magazine or look in a mirror. The craftsmen of those influences are too strong to fight out of my existence. But I've realized it is not important to defeat them.
It is not important to defeat the influence, because it would take all my energy to do so. I would either be consumed with listening to the pressures or with defeating them. Either way, they would be at the center of attention.
Instead, I have settled on a symbiotic relationship. As much as the beauty ideal depends on me for survival, I too cling onto it for my survival. Without the pursuit of unattainable beauty, I would not know how to define myself. I depend upon it to know what I am not. To know that I am more than the need to be beautiful. To know that society has a strong hand that will be shoved down every throat. To know that it was not me that selected unattainable beauty, but a greater force that moved me like a puppet.
I will not lie and say that I am strong. I have fallen and I have risen. And I anticipate to do so again many times. But I will not lie and say that I am defeated.