Watch Bill Cunningham New York. Pass on the fad diet. It doesn’t have to cost $200.

I have always been hyper-aware of beauty. In myself, in others. That sensation of awkward self-consciousness, that longing for the poise and power of gorgeous women has never left me. I still occasionally find myself staring at a striking woman, trying to soak up the secrets of her easy loveliness, because beauty, as the holy grail of happiness, remains maddeningly just beyond my grasp. I obsess, and I’ve watched women and men of all degrees of attractiveness obsess. We diet, pluck, weigh, shape, scrutinize, buy, squeeze, pinch, and despair. Like the grass green mirage just over the fence, my loud, built-for-farming person will never be waifish, shy, delicate, or comfortably blonde (there are other varieties of beauty, of course, but there is the inevitable yearning towards my polar opposite).

Frustrated and angry, I tried very hard for a very long time, to banish the value of aesthetics altogether. For me, beauty became a dirty word designed to sell me products via a sizeable dollop of low self-esteem and unattainable physical standards. Inextricably linked, my relationship with food fluctuated wildly between overindulgence and resentment. Tired of fighting with my own diet, my own body, I dismissed all other considerations in favor of function and I railed, and continue to rail (such a charming habit, I know) against a society that knowingly pumps harmful chemicals into their foods and sells little girls this concept of beauty.

But this autumn, with a boatload of leisure time, my days took a surprising but irresistible u-turn back towards food and fashion. Vouge and veggies have begun their slow creep into my life, putting my closet and my kitchen in a joyous state of mad flux. At first it felt antithetical, silly, maybe even shameful: a confusing betrayal of my gawky inner bookworm and the part of me that really believes my culture attacks the basic goodness that dwells inside of me and people I love. Yet there I was, spending two hours in the morning getting dressed and enjoying my breakfast. I kept going because, for the first time in years I felt comfortable with my body, in front of my mirror, and inside of my fridge. It was the sort of pleasant bliss I always imagined models were experiencing in perfume ads, (the tame ones that take place in fields of flowers, as opposed to the risqué ones that take place without basic items of clothing) and so I kept up the routine.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized what I was doing. I was reclaiming beauty for myself.

I know that society and the American food industry are sending me some screwy shit, but denying the innate value of beauty and conscious nutrition will never work: as a human and an artist, it’s something I’ll always crave. Spending all my energy denying that definition provided me by McDonalds and magazines is exhausting. And, If I’m being really honest, fighting it so vehemently also means that I’ve accepted that reality. Rather than closing my eyes and stuffing my fingers in my ears (or binging on 100 calorie cookies instead of an apple or really rich dark chocolate), I’ve started filling that space with an intentionally crafted beauty that I define for myself. It’s not difficult, but it does take time. Thinking through menus, recipes, and my shopping list. Lunch under a yellow tree in Forest Park, garnishing my breakfast plate with fresh strawberries, adding lime to my water, putting Pandora on while I prepare lunch or sort through my sock drawer, accessorizing, figuring out exactly which pair of pants will make me feel beautiful and confident all day long, taking a moment to notice the sun shining across the sidewalk while I’m walking instead of driving, allowing myself the moment to be still and discover what is in front of me.

It’s become clear to me: no matter where I am, I want to put in that extra effort, allow for extra time, in my life. Beautiful smears of ketchup style! I want my life to be beautiful. I want to taste, and feel, smell and sound and look at it. The value of beauty is deeper than I wanted to give it credit for: expensive or simple, baroque or bare bones, when something is savored, it explodes with rewards. Real beauty is transformative, utilizing the most stirring human experience to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Beauty is the difference between a really big building and a Basilica. Between cards from the dollar section and Papyrus or Ked sneakers and Toms. It’s the difference between instant oatmeal and steel cut oats drizzled with peanut butter, then topped with figs. Such things require effort but

what a joy to live a life that feels worthy of my efforts to create it!

Not merely to go through the motions, but to invest, to really paint and enjoy the moments of my life. Listening to what my body and heart are asking for, then giving it to them like a carefully wrapped present.

After ten plus year of obsession, I am still certain that beauty is the key to my happiness, but I’ve realized that true beauty and societal beauty are not only different, but quite possibly diametrically opposed.  I don’t trust beauty that is marketed alongside sex. I don’t trust beauty that harkens to homogeneity. I don’t trust beauty that is difficult or costly to come by. Beauty’s a luxury, but I am convinced that it is within the grasp of every conscious being. And like good scene-work, it relies on action over appearance, and requires an investment in others. And finally I have the power: a choice about how my body experiences the world and how the world perceives me.

One thought on “Watch Bill Cunningham New York. Pass on the fad diet. It doesn’t have to cost $200.

  1. Laura MacDougall says:

    Awesome entry about beauty! I loved it and am fascinated with your definition of beauty. Very inspiring.

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