True Beauty Series: #1 "Burned"
This is a love story.
More than ever, I know that my story has never been anything but a love story.
Talking about illness and past hurts is tricky territory — the human inclination is to look away or create distance, “Oh poor her, that is tragic.” Please save that kind of pity for something else. Because this story, my story, is every woman’s story to some degree.
I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t suffer at least a little bit in the present moment from upbringing, culture, ingrained patriarchy and misogyny, violence and/or trauma.
I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t secretly walk around with demons that haunt.
I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t in some way diminish her story or her incredible power in some way.
Not to say those women aren’t out there, because I’m sure they are. I understand that the women I circle with tend to be like the mythical Phoenix bird — rising from the ashes over and over again in a brilliant burst of light and transformation.
So, please remember, this is a love story. An ongoing story of repeatedly rising from the ashes of outdated, painful and downright violent ideas and behavior so I can freely do the work that I’m here to do and be the person I’m meant to be. My hope - always — is that you, too, will see your own strength in my words and rise from the ashes, blazing, for all the world to see.
I spent my childhood summers seeking an elusive state of "tan" and instead found myself burned, repeatedly and often. Recently I did the 23 and me DNA testing and literally, I'm 99% Northern European -- I was the poor kid that burnt (sometimes blistering) and then went from bright red, to an even paler shade of white with a few new freckles thrown in for effort.
Why would I be so intent on being tan? Tan women were beautiful. Beloved. (Think: Farrah Faucet) It was also widely circulated among the women of my family that to be tan was to "look thinner": which was the ultimate desire of the women in my life.
Never mind the intelligence, strength and love these women embodied -- they wanted to be thin. Never mind the incredible work they did in their communities — they wanted to be beautiful. To be cherished and loved. But when I was a kid, that definitely required thinness and a “hot bod”. And tan was part of the equation.
I know. I know. It's heartbreaking. The ridiculous cages that women were put in, and continue to live in, make me weep for the world.
We are so much more than the cages of societal expectation.
Tanning beds came to town when I was 15 and then, it was game on. I committed to my tan (often burning in the tanning beds as well) and stayed tan year-round for 3 or 4 years. I have pictures of me at 16-ish and I'm that weird orange-brown color that screams, "TANNING BED".
Even at the very tannest my skin could ever be, I did not feel thinner or more lovable or even remotely good enough. I had been date raped around this time and, added to the developmental trauma of alcoholic (recently recovering) parents, the cruelty of "friends", and the raging misogynistic air that I lived and breathed in -- being tan could not cover, fix, or mend the confusion, anger, rage and grief that was burning inside of me.
I felt ugly, broken and unlovable. I took up drinking. It was the most reasonable response. I have nothing but compassion for myself at that age and every age since.
"You have melanoma"
When I was back in the U.S. this summer, I had a suspect spot on my chest biopsied, and thank goodness I did. I wasn't expecting it to be anything but maybe a dysplastic spot - a bullet dodged. However, it ended up being mildly invasive lentigo maligna melanoma, which, not surprising at all, is most likely to be found in people who experience frequent burns.
Being burned is a thread that wove itself through much of my young life -- both literally and metaphorically. I spent a good deal of my 20's and 30's burning myself and letting myself get burned. Again, both literally and metaphorically (though no more tanning beds -- I was over that look.) hoping beyond hope to feel good enough for love, for appreciation, for worthiness.
The fact that I ended up with melanoma — wow. The scorched earth of my past concentrated in a burning spot on my chest, right over my heart. For me, it was an invitation to lean in, to take stock, to reflect on how being burned has shaped me, and my life,
Making Meaning in the Best Way
I believe in the power of making meaning in ways that empower. Making meaning in ways that call the Truth out into the open. Making meaning in ways that affirm the beauty that is in me, and you, and in the world, despite the challenges and really, maybe because of the tension between where we are and what we know is possible.
When I spent time compassionately bringing presence to my body, and the spot where the melanoma was found, I surfaced a lot of anger. Anger at a culture that constantly picks at women's flaws. I felt bubbling rage at a culture that values women (STILL) more often by looks (including thinness) instead of by strength, intellect, heart, and our capacity to make powerful contributions to create a better, more vibrant, and beautiful world for everyone. Anger at the ways that I, and other women I know, still play small and hide because at a cellular level, there is a fear that we are too much or not enough. Still.
I now carry a scar and it means many, many things to me. It means I had melanoma, yes, but at a deeper level my scar is a visible reminder of the years I spent in tanning beds, trying meet other people's standard of beauty, a reminder of how much I wanted to be loved. It is a visible reminder of the violent ways women are told or taught to go against our own true nature.
This scar, this melanoma, is the years I felt unworthy being myself in my own skin. It is the self-destructive behavior, the violence I perpetuated on my female body because it’s what I learned was expected from society and our culture. The ways I bent and molded myself to others' expectations and desires.
What is truly infuriating is that these storylines are still so pervasive and that women are still in the grip of these stories at all. It makes me want to scream. And let's face it: we are the lucky ones. We are the women who have the luxury of doing the hard inner work and mustering the courage to question the powers that be with relative safety. We have the option of walking out of our self-imposed cages and standing up to the people who would put us in our place as women.
I’m lovingly naming this scar #truebeauty because it reminds me of the beauty - the true beauty of stubborn strength, emotional intelligence, grit, unfailing truth and resilience that I dismissed as part of my problem into my early 30's (too much/not enough/definitely unlovable). At 47, I thankfully see and appreciate the truth, the beauty, the power of what I’ve lived through and chosen and learned -- all of this has shaped and molded the #truebeauty that is who I am, who I've always been.
What makes women truly beautiful, what makes us know we belong and we matter is being who we are, with all of our heart, on purpose — showing the world exactly who we are with no apology. It is breathtaking to see women be completely and utterly themselves — and I’ve found personally that to aim for anything less that full authenticity is not only exhausting but bound for failure. Knowing this, living this, is everything.
To burn on purpose
I burn with the passion of my strength and conviction that women have so much to offer the world. I burn on purpose with a vision for a world where women are focused on, and appreciated for, their powerful contribution to the greater good. And my scar will remind me to keep that fire lit, it will help me remember the Truth.
All of the trauma, all of the times I was burned by others, or I burned myself in the name of being loved -- it strengthened me, tempered me. I believe with all of my heart, as the quote says, that our challenges create us. We have the capacity to take what happens to and to let ourselves be transformed by the fire, to let it teach us who we are and what we are made of. To rise from the ashes more ourselves — that alone changes the landscape of the world we inhabit.
We don't always have a choice in the circumstances of our lives. Many times we don't. It's true. But we always have a choice to respond with strength, with dignity and to meet the fire with the best of what we've got in the moment. To let ourselves heal and feel the pain all the way through and then... we rise. This experience with melanoma has reminded me that women hold a power that we don't wield far often enough -- women carry tremendous strength, wisdom and truth in our experiences, in our very cells.
My deepest wish is that you read this and recognize a small (or big) way that you might be holding yourself in check. Perhaps you are quieting your voice to be more soft, more acceptable. Hiding your light.
Never has the world needed women to stand up, to speak the truth, to show their strength, to burn with purpose and passion for the good of all. I know amazing women -- look, I know you, don't I? Today is not my day to die (thank goodness) nor is it yours. Burn on purpose. Burn with your passion.
This is a love story — it was never anything but a love story. A story of seeking and finding the unfailing love that burns in our hearts for our own liberation, for the healing of humanity, for the freedom of women who don't have a voice, and for the earth and the children. This is a love story fueled by fire — not through compliance and silence and demure femininity, but by letting ourself burn with the Truth and the beauty and the power that is at the very center of our being.
Blessings to you, my sister.
Now go, burn bright.
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