Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Beauty Is

Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.   

We had to fill out a values workshop for class. The goal was to circle the things that we most believed in. One of the things I circled was beauty. The word called to me, and originally I was a little ashamed of it. I didn’t want to pick it because it was shallow. I started to think more about why, exactly, I wanted to pick beauty if I really believed it was so shallow. I was reluctant to choose it because I did not want people to believe me shallow and I did not really think that an essay would go well with a one word choice. I did not want a word that was so easily used to oppress both women and men and one that limited people of different colors or sizes. And then I started thinking about what I really found beautiful, what drew me to the word and why it was important.

Beauty is a survivor healing. It is someone seeing that their life has been torn to shreds. This beautiful dream that they have been trying to live suddenly got morphed into a nightmare. There is wreckage to pick up, old habits to ditch and new ones to build up. They are haunted, but they keep going. This persistence in the face of a world that gives them no help is beautiful. There is beauty in the courage that is at the heart of every survivor. The life that they build on top of the wreckage of what used to be will be far more beautiful than anything else, simply because of the struggle that it took to turn the wreckage into something livable.

Beauty is in a parent helping their child with a craft project. There is something valuable that is being passed on, time and commitment both. The child will learn and the parent will remember. With any luck, it will be one beautiful memory in a beautiful mosaic that shows the love of a parent. There are connections and bonds formed through every day contact and some of the simplest activities and often, these are the most beautiful of all. They are ordinary, and that makes them beautiful. There is something of love, of color, and of hope left in the world. Life goes on regardless of death, children and parent together proving that.

In the same way, there is beauty in culture and tradition. There is another connection in tradition, handing down customs that have been handed down to you. There is a connection between you and the people who started the tradition, an inheritance of sorts being passed down from the people before you. It is a way to honor the people who came before you and made sacrifices to bring you to the place you are now.

Beauty is not the typical fashion model strutting down the run way. It is not a birth right or in genetics or something that can be dictated by popular culture.   There is no beauty in someone starving themselves to play a part. The cultural ideal is something very narrow. It is restrictive, and the honest truth is that beauty is open to everyone. There is no size limit, no age limit, and no color restriction. More often than not, the beauty comes from the words that people speak, the actions they take, and the expressions that shape the body and face they live in.

There is no beauty in being born with power. Power that is unearned has no merit and is undeserved more often than not. Beauty instead comes from the realization that power you are born into is cheap and that no one can take the power you have away from you. There is beauty in someone overcoming the obstacles put in front of them in order to unlock their own power. Their power comes not from society’s standards or from a birth right but from the knowledge that they can participate in the world just as well as anyone else and they deserve the same rights and respect as anyone else.

There is a quiet dignity to beauty. It is not something flashy or that is lorded over people. It comes from within a person, in respecting other people and honoring who they are. It is born out of identity, all of the little pieces that make up the person. Beauty is compassion and survival, the process of healing from oppression and finding that the most reliable strength isn’t given by society but comes from within. Beauty is life, and life is beautiful.