This is long, but I am not cutting it for a reason. I am not cutting it because it is something that needs to be heard.
I had a conversation with somebody close to me the other day about the definition of beauty. I was in a bad way, and my rare self-consciousness about my body was coming to the forefront. I was looking for reassurance from my friend, and I realized quickly we were using completely different definitions of the word "beauty."
He was using it in the more traditional, conventional sense, as in celebrity beauty. I pointed out that definition of beauty has its issues; it's often racist, sexist, sizeist, and ableist. How often do you see someone in a wheelchair, or with some sort of congenital deformity, referred to as beautiful? How often do you see a significantly plus sized woman described as beautiful? People with disabilities are hardly known in the Hollywood scene; the only actress that comes to mind is Teal Sherer, best known for playing Venom on The Guild, and she has an entire webseries about her experiences in acting as a woman with a disability. Tess Munster is made fun of all the time for her weight. Lupita Nyong'o, who is in my opinion utterly gorgeous, is often called ugly or worse because she's "too black". Natalie Dormer is often criticized and called snobbish or stuck-up or ugly because of her cute little smirk-smile; she's interviewed and said that it's just the way she smiles naturally, and that she has a great deal of trouble smiling any other way. And people call her ugly for this. Jennifer Lawrence has been called fat and ugly because she has somewhat broad shoulders, upper arms that are obviously muscular, and a slightly "non-standard" (by Hollywood standards) torso.
These women have one thing in common: They are all beautiful. But by conventional beauty standards, and the commonly used definition of the word, they are not. This is a problem.
I then described my definition of the word "beauty" to my friend. It goes something like this:
For me, beauty is... the way you catch yourself glimpsing at someone, because there's something about them that you're attracted to, and you find yourself looking at them, not even consciously, just to look, to see these things, to appreciate them, and the person within the body. One of my ex-girlfriends had Bell's Palsy and never fully recovered; she can only smile with half her mouth. It's adorable and beautiful. That's where my habit of smiling with one half of my mouth comes from; I found it so delightful that I unconsciously mimicked it. I think of the Pacific Islander trans woman I met in college, who was very out but self-conscious of her body because she wasn't on hormones yet. I remember the shade of her skin, especially when the sunlight shone on it, the curve of her hips, and the way she walked so confidently despite her self-consciousness. It's the way her smile would reach her brown eyes and they'd just sparkle with life and laughter and love. It's the way she tilted her head thoughtfully, and the way she'd shake her hair back and forth, and the tinkling of the bells she wove into them. I swear I spent half that class surreptitiously catching glances, and I wish now I had told her how beautiful she was, because I'm not sure she ever realized it.
My fiance -- the way I'll glance over at his long strawberry blonde hair, especially when it's loose, and want to play with it and run my fingers through, or how I'll watch when his back is turned and appreciate the sleek lines and strong muscles of his back, especially if he's reaching for something and flexing. It's the aqua-turquoise color of his eyes that I can't look away from, even though I'm autistic and have always had issues with eye contact. It's my ex-girlfriend's surgical scar, reaching from belly to breast, where she nearly died and survived even though everyone told her she wasn't going to live; it's beautiful because it's a representation of her strength and survival. My fiancee has acne marks that she is deeply self-conscious of, and I run my fingers 'cross her face and feel the texture like tiny cobblestones, which is ambrosia to my fingertips. It's when I look into her captivating, intelligent eyes and bask in her laugh that spreads through the room and all the places in my heart and makes me want to laugh too even if I didn't get the joke. My fiancee's husband, who is what the medical establishment would call "morbidly obese", is beautiful in the way he holds himself with confidence, and I love to hug and snuggle him, feeling him squish against me and loving all of him, and his quick wit and intelligence, his long brown hair and the way it falls into his face if it's not pulled back, and the way his smile lights up and spreads through his cheeks, like he's hiding a secret but he'll tell you if you only ask.
These are the things that make someone "beautiful" to me. It's not about weight, body type, skin color, gender, ability or disability; it's not about any of these things. It's about the unique nature of every individual, and all the tiny things you notice and can't take your eyes away from, that make you want to luxuriate in their presence and never stop, that make you wish you could tell them how very beautiful they are, even if they're someone you don't even know. This is beauty.
And you there. Yes, you, reading this. You're beautiful too. You might not be able to see it in yourself; gods alone know how much I have struggled with this myself, being a larger woman and disabled. I have fought my own doubts and demons for years, and it was only when I discussed this with my friend that I realized I was talking about these men and women I have loved either close or from afar, and considered them beautiful, yet I did not apply my own definition to myself. That is a battle I won just yesterday. I'm sure it won't be the last. But I cannot in good conscience hold others to a definition that I am not willing to claim myself. So I say this: I am beautiful. And you: You are beautiful, too, even if you scoff and think you're too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too dark, too pale, too "weird", too "much", too anything, even if you read this and wonder, How could anyone ever think me beautiful? I know you're probably thinking that, because I've thought things like that all my life.
Well, I'll tell you this. I think you're beautiful, because there is beauty in all of us, and it deserves to be recognized. If no one in your life has recognized it, you have my sadness and my anger at those who have refused to see the truth: You are beautiful. And while it may be hard, I hope you'll believe me, or at least give my words a bit of consideration. And I hope you'll pass this on, because this is a message I believe everyone deserves to hear.