I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been called “pretty”.
I’ve been called beautiful a few times, even “hot” once or twice, much to my astonishment. But pretty isn’t something I’ve much associated with myself and it’s not a word I’ve heard directed at me often.
To me, pretty things are small. Delicate. Elegant. They’re a bit fragile even, lovely to behold, nice to just linger over and look at for a while simply because they remind us of softer and gentler things in the world.
Needless to say, I’ve never felt like any of those things remotely related to me.
Being a woman in the world is complicated enough. My special blend of complexity includes being the kid of divorced parents, always struggling with my weight, being taught to be strong and independent and never to let anyone push me around, trying to embrace my intelligence while also being relatable and accessible to others, and trying to make my way in the world as a professional woman in an industry predominantly populated by men.
And as I climbed the proverbial ladder, it became less acceptable to be anything less than unflappable and articulate and strong in order to prove that I had earned the seat I was occupying at the table.
Doing that as a woman that is short and curvy and not slender and lithe adds an entire layer of crunchiness that is uncomfortable on the very best of days.
I think over the years, I’ve come to believe (or was taught…or both) that there are certain contradictions that I simply couldn’t overcome.
I couldn’t be intelligent and be fun to be around.
I couldn’t be curvy and plus-sized and be pretty.
I couldn’t be strong and independent and also want love and desire and companionship from someone.
I couldn’t have a dark side or sharp edges and be sentimental and gentle.
We learn in many ways to adapt to the overly-simplified narrative that other people write for us. I’ve spent way too many years believing that if I was one thing, I couldn’t be another.
And for all of my ability to advocate that other people should be allowed to be diverse and interesting and multi-dimensional, it turns out I’ve been pretty terrible at allowing the same latitude for myself, and accepting that what defines Me can be a set of complex, nuanced, detailed little things, all bundled up together in a tangle of contradictions, and they can all be perfectly, beautifully, authentically Amber.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with these juxtapositions in the last few months, for a few reasons. Some of which are mine alone to understand for right now.
But at the root of it all, there’s a singular truth: Too many years have gone by with me coloring inside lines that have been drawn for me.
Do you know how hard that is to admit? That someone who people have often described as “irreverent” or “intimidating” or “tough” – someone who has spent an awful lot of words telling people to eschew convention in favor of realness – has allowed herself to be painted into corners of other people’s design?
There’s a lot to unpack there. I’m still working on it. Some of it is walls I’ve built, brick by brick, over many years and in the wake of many hurts and betrayals and abuses and the ensuing insecurities that made it feel safer to stay in my lane.
Some of it is because of expectations that have been set for me, either explicitly or implicitly by the people and environments that have influenced my life and career along the way. Some were well-intended. Some were laced with malice. But regardless, they all imprinted something on me, and the sum total of that after all this time has been the feeling that I had to accept what I was told about who I was, because the alternative was far too risky.
Maybe I just wasn’t brave enough to love and embrace who I really am. Maybe I’ve been so terrified of rejection and abandonment that I couldn’t face putting it all out there, waiting for someone to laugh and point and say “silly girl, if you’re this you can’t possibly be THAT, too”.
It’s not even about being “enough”. It’s about fundamentally, legitimately even being valid, being worthy of taking up space and being present in exactly the self that I am, contradictions and all.
So I don’t want to do that anymore. Feeling unworthy and incomplete makes me sad and angry, and it feels really lonely and isolating, because I can feel the part of me that’s been locked in that box, tucked away on a shelf somewhere. And she desperately wants out.
That’s what I’m doing. With the help of some people who love me and truly see me and want me to be by best, messy, intricate, unlabel-able self. And with the help of a little life-induced wisdom, a fair handful of years, and finally running out of patience with the idea that I should settle for anything less.
I’m starting to feel the knots loosen. The freedom of touching my feet to paths I have been too afraid to walk before. The liberation of believing – truly believing – that all the things I am can not only live in harmony, but that just maybe that beautiful mess of me is the way I was supposed to exist all along.
And who knows. Perhaps she’s pretty after all.