The strangest thing happens to me on the subway, in stores, jazz clubs, bookstores, people stare. Now, I'm no epic beauty. I'm little hippie content with my own free-spirited style. I dress to make me feel comfortable and happy. That's it. Long hair, one day. Bald head the next. Morroccan mumus one day and then a slinky little dress with enough cleavage to do my Cuban heritage proud. But the point is, I dress for me. When I'm with a mate, I dress sometimes for him. But mostly I dress for me. I don't decided what to wear based on what I saw on TV or in a magazine, but what occurs to me in the moment. That's just my thing.
So, the staring, I assumed, was because I dress like a free spirit or am constantly changing my look. But then things started to get out of hand. I couldn't get on the train without some man staring in a way that made me profoundly uncomfortable. It got to the point where I would stare back until he looked away or if he didn't, "I'd scream, "What the fuck are you looking at, STOP LOOKING AT ME!". Obviously, I can't walk through life that way, but I also can't walk through life with the discomfort. So, I can't change what other people do, but I can certainly change or re-frame what I do and how I feel about it.
I asked myself, "why did this bother me so much?" I asked friends, male and female, and the consensus was, "You're hot" or "You're cute, you know that, don't you?" And the realization I shared with my closest friends was that I've never thought I was cute. I was never told I was pretty until I was an adult and then by people who I perceived wanted something from me. I actually had no idea I was pretty. Now I grew up learning what was wrong with me. I was told by family, "Stop walking this way or that. Look like a lady. " I was constantly getting updates on my weight, my hair in an effort to make me a better more attractive person. I remember the old adage, "Don't tell her she's pretty or smart, it will go to her head." But here's the thing: if you're always fixing me out of love, you've never taken the time to pause and acknowledge what's good about me. I always felt that that kind of praise had to be earned. I couldn't just be pretty; I had to win an award, get into a good school, and get all A's.
As a kid and a teenager, I don't recall one person ever saying to me, "you're beautiful...you're pretty." or if they did, it was couched in a backhanded compliment. "You'd be so pretty if you just went to the gym or straightened that hair." I realize now that this obsession with making me better with the criticism came from a place of love. But here's the thing: kids don't know they are lovable. That's up to the village of people raising them to reinforce that. I've heard the argument, "But I'm hard on you because the world is hard." That's bullshit. There's one basic fact: no matter what the world thinks, I'm lovable, pretty just as I am every day because if I don't know that then the world will truly fuck me up with it's warped sense of value.
So now as I walk through the world, I am ever on the lookout for beauty, especially in little girls, but also in other women. I relish walking up to a sister and saying, 'You are stunning."..."You look great...werk it! Do you! " And when I do, I see the look of astonishment on their faces because they've not been told that either. So, I'm leaving a little light in their path so they can see themselves better.
It helps me see my own beauty which I struggle with daily. I look in the mirror and think, "What a cutie, the world won't think it, but at least I can." It's a start. I'll know I will have arrived when I'm walking down the street and someone says, "Hey, beautiful." I'll be able to blush, say thank you and believe it.