elialshadowpine: (Default)
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.
elialshadowpine: (Default)
This will be one of my few open posts, because I feel it's important enough to share beyond my friends list. Note that

Kameron Hurley (whose Bel Dame trilogy is amazing) wrote an essay for Locus Magazine, which is also quite excellent. The essay is worth reading in its entirety, but in it, Hurley speaks about feeling like she had to make excuses for what she wrote.

A couple excerpts:

Yet I contributed to this very narrative about my work. Instead of talking about my books as serious (or at least fun) literature, I found myself fall­ing into the same self-conscious trap I had as a kid, when I muttered about how I was writing a story about an expedition to Venus where the volcanos erupted with flowers. I said stuff like: ‘‘Oh, you probably won’t like it. It’s pretty weird,’’ or ‘‘It’s not for everyone,’’ or ‘‘You’ll only like it if you read a lot of science fiction.’’


and

Her reaction made me re-evaluate how I talked to people outside of SF/F about the books I love. In SF/F circles, we delight in complexity and sense-of-wonder. We spend millions upon millions of words debating about the slim difference between ‘‘science fiction’’ and ‘‘fantasy.’’ But folks outside of it really couldn’t care less. People outside of the SF/F bubble just want to know, quickly and simply, what it’s about.


While there is definite truth to what Hurley is talking about (and let me say that I am not criticizing Hurley for not speaking about this; I am fairly certain it is something she is aware of herself, but there are many reasons she may have chosen not to address this), there is another factor that she hasn't addressed, and that is gender. Women are specifically taught from childhood not to "show off". Instead of talking excitedly about things we are interested or things we are creating, we are expected to be demure, humble, and even self-deprecating. Heaven forfend we actually take pride in our work.

It's difficult cultural training to overcome. Moreso if you also have social anxiety. Almost all writers are taught that it's just a hobby, that it's not real work, but there is a pernicious sexism when it comes to women. I'm considering some of the panels that I have seen, where there were both men and women on the panel. The men were exuberant and raring to talk about their book; the women visibly struggled to describe their books. These are all published authors.

I do not see the issue as much in romance, where men are uncommon. I see women excited and ready to share their stories, and full of pride about them -- well, so long as they are in groups where romance writing isn't considered "trash". In SFF, even now, there are is still the old boys' club, and while people are working to dismantle that, it takes time, beacuse there are people (usually men, but not always) fighting every step of the way.

While I have talked about being raised as male (long story, but the TL;DR version is that I was homeschooled and dreadfully isolated, and my father wanted a son; after my mother had my sister, she said no more children -- therefore and ever after, my dad dubbed me the son he did not have), I did not actually start talking about my writing much until I started embracing my femininity and womanhood. It was something I noticed, and it is something that worked its way into my subconscious.

It ties in, too, with Imposter Syndrome, which affects women at a higher rate than men. The downside of encouraging self-deprecation is that women start to believe it. When you believe that your work is shit and not worth anything, it's not surprising that women back down for fear of reprimand or scolding. There is a definite subset of people who seek to knock women who are confident about their abilities "down a peg."

In light of that, how can we expect women not to make excuses for their work? It's ingrained. It's there in our very society, and it is certainly there in writers' communities and organizations. It's insidious, to the point many of us don't even know we're doing it.

The solution? Become aware. Know that it is affecting us. Fight it when and where we can (and if and only if it is safe to do so; as important as it is, ideology is not worth someone's physical or mental well-being). At the very least, be proud of ourselves, even when we can't speak up. When we can, tell our stories, and tell people what they're about. Sometimes that means memorizing your blurb until you can say it in your sleep (I can't be the only one whose thoughts fly out of her head the moment she's put on the spot). Sometimes it means having the strength and will to just say it -- and it's hard to say, make no mistake.

But each time, it gets a little easier. (At least, it does for me.) If you're not able to, don't beat yourself up; there will be other chances. This is not an all or nothing game; this is a progression. For every two steps forward, there will be one step back. This is still progress.

Write what you love. Stand up for your work. Or don't, if it's not safe. But most of all: Be proud, because you have your work, and nobody can take that away from you.

I must also add: A great big thank you to Kameron Hurley for writing about this, because it's an important topic. I urge again, for anyone who is interested in a science fantasy Muslim based future setting with plenty of POC, a foul-mouthed and tough-as-nails queer assassin protagonist (who puts all the supposed "ass-kicking, tough-as-nails" women protagonists to shame), and an awesome team of characters that includes shape shifters and bug magic with a very devout but not so very good magician, and their many adventures -- CHECK THESE BOOKS OUT, THEY ROCK. (This series is probably my favorite from the entirety of 2013.)

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Nonny Blackthorne

January 2017

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