Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: The Power of Natural

boaw-2013Last year, the fabulous August McLaughlin organized the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem of the same name. As Levinson writes,

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.

BOAW 2012 was an outpouring of love unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Each story celebrated beauty in all forms, from funny and light-hearted to dark and thought-provoking.

Judging from the entries that I’ve had the chance to read, BOAW 2013 is shaping up to be even better. Participants and commenters will be entered into a contest to win an Amazon Kindle Fire (or a gift card for the equivalent price), so be sure to visit as many as you can starting Friday, February 22nd.

-oOo-

I have spent a lifetime taming myself into conformity, striving for perfection.

As I write these words, I know I am not alone. Women have been poking and prodding, shaving and waxing and grooming for ages. Throw in capitalism, consumerism, and advertising, and we are faced with a vast juggernaut that tells us that beauty is external. It comes out of a tube, or from a surgeon’s skill with a knife. It can — and should! — be purchased.

And so here we are, tethered to cosmetic bags and beauty tools, to makeovers and plastic surgery and countless other means of “enhancing” our looks, all in the name of attaining the unattainable. After all, standards of beauty are ephemeral. They shift like the desert sands, and we chase after it, pretzeling ourselves into endless contortions along the way.

What do we lose in this quest for perfection? And what happens when we discard “natural” for predefined notions of beauty? These are a couple of questions that prompted me to give up the one beauty tool I thought I’d wield forever: the flat iron.

sc0005dc7dI started out life as a curly-haired girl, but those curls were wide and shiny and perfect. They behaved, coiled just right at the ends of my hair. Eventually they fell out and I was left with hair that was thick and straight, so long I could sit on it. My mom used to call it my “crowning glory,” and I believed her. In my childhood daydreams my hair transformed me into a raven-haired Rapunzel, or Princess Jasmine, made me the sort of girl worthy of marrying a prince.

Then sixth grade rolled around, and my hair transformed into a coarse, frizzy, crinkling mess. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just kept brushing it out, which made it even bigger. I might not have cared so much if it wasn’t for my classmates. To them, my hair was a source of endless entertainment. When teachers weren’t looking, they sat behind me and tossed balled up bits of paper, staples, and the occasional pen into it, just for shits and giggles. The on-going joke was that everything stuck to my frizzy mane, turning me into a human felt board.

I never told on them, and I think I even laughed along after a while. After all, it was easier than crying. But it left me hating my hair even more, cursing what had happened to it and wishing for the old days when it was still pretty. When I discovered that there was a way to rid myself of those hated curls, I took it and I didn’t look back.

flatiron

Photo Source: Dee West

I remember my first flat iron well. It was by Hot Tools, the cheap kind–black plastic with bronze plates, nothing fancy. Mastering the proper technique took me a few weeks, but once I got the hang of it, it was straightforward. Simple. So darn easy to iron out my hair, to transform the bird’s nest on my head into some semblance of order.

That flat-iron became a third appendage. I thought of it as a life-saver, but in reality, it ruled my life. I got up an extra hour early each day, and refused to step foot outside the house unless I thought I looked completely perfect. So what if my hair turned brittle? If I had to avoid all forms of water? Who cared about the split ends, or the breakage, or the occasional burns? My hair was straight. It was flat. It was manageable. The discomfort was a small price to pay.

And on it went for ten years. I invested in fancier flat irons, the ones with “ionic technology” that could be cranked up to 400 degrees and beyond. All the while, taming my hair into submission started to take a toll on my psyche. Flattening my curls began to feel like destruction, destruction of who I was and where I came from. It was partly because I started to think of my hair as part of my heritage–something I inherited from my mother’s family, a remnant of my blackness. And it was partly because I wondered exactly why I was so afraid of showing my true self.

It was October of last year when I decided to try going natural. It was scary at first–walking around with big curly hair means that I stand out from a crowd. My hair doesn’t behave. It’s barely manageable. It’s a little crazy, but the strange thing is that I’ve started to like it. Maybe that says something about who I am inside–a soul that is a bit chaotic, and a lot wild.

wild

And, really, who wants to be manageable? Well-ordered? Well-behaved? When we iron over who we are, destroy our natural selves in favor of conforming with the beauty standards of the moment, we de ourselves a disservice. As Clarissa Pinkola-Estes writes in WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES,

To take much pleasure in a world filled with many kinds of beauty is a joy in life to which all women are entitled. To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature. There cannot be only one kind of songbird, only one kind of pine tree, only one kind of wolf. There cannot be one kind of baby, one kind of man, or one kind of woman. There cannot be one kind of breast, one kind of waist, one kind of skin.

There is power in claiming what is natural in each and every one of us, in rejecting the one-size-fits-all notion of beauty. We can release our need to be completely perfect. Better yet, we can give way to the wild within.

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40 Comments

  1. LOVE! Great post Lena and I really like your curly hair!
    Nicole Basaraba recently posted..Make it chocolate covered for Valentine’s DayMy Profile

  2. Beautiful post for a beautiful blogfest, Lena. I agree. There is a lot of power in claiming what comes natural. And I think we tend to feel the most at ease, and thereby the most beautiful when we allow ourselves to be our natural selves. So…very nicely put together. Thank you for sharing that piece of you with us today. BTW, love that little Lena picture. You were so cute!
    Debra Kristi recently posted..Soap Isn’t Just for Bath Time: VlogoffMy Profile

    • Debra, I agree–we are at our best when we are comfortable in our skin and in sync with our natural selves.

      And thank you! That photo is from my 5th birthday. 😛

  3. Your hair is awesome! I had the opposite problem: my hair was stick-straight and stringy, so I permed the heck out of it for years, plus used curling irons, blow dryers, you name it. Then I got pregnant and stopped getting perms – and my hair was still wavy! I haven’t had a perm in 18 years, my hair is practically wash-and-wear, and I love it. I’ve had enough of Hollywood’s ideals of beauty!
    Jennette Marie Powell recently posted..Beauty of a Woman: Don’t judge us by our covers!My Profile

    • I think “wash-and-wear” might be one of my favorite phrases in the English language! But really, it strikes me how we are encouraged to want the opposite of what we have, and to spend tons of money and time trying to achieve it. I’m so happy to hear that you’re able to enjoy your hair just the way it is. 😀

  4. Every time I see a picture of you, I can’t get over how gorgeous you look. And it’s not just that I think you are “aesthetically pleasing” (which for the record, you are) but there is something in your eyes and smile that just has inner beauty pushing its way out!

    Love the curls. Love the post. 🙂
    Amber West recently posted..A Beautiful Stream of Consciousness – Beauty of a Woman BlogFestMy Profile

  5. For years I envied Shan (who has a similar hair story to your own) for her rich, thick curls… even when I knew about the spitballs and the pencils and the grief she bore for it. Why? Because I had that “crowning glory” hair you had, Lena… I still do. It’s baby-fine and needs the constant attention of perms or curling irons and a brush (often hourly) to keep it from staying pinned to my head….

    And you know what? I’m still gorgeous. Shan is incredible. YOU are incredible. Because we’ve found the beauty within ourselves is so, so much more than the image that has been cast for us. Just as August found, and shared with us, in her pivotal post during last year’s BOAW blogfest “Does Dirt Have Calories?”–beauty isn’t something that walks on a runway. Yes, there is beauty there, but not because of the runway or the clothes or the makeup or even the diet or the lifestyle…

    The beauty was there before any of those things came about, and someone pointed it out, and society agreed, and we latch on to the trappings that stand out in our minds as “this is how I was that day”, not believing it could ever possibly be that the beauty was just “ourselves”….

    Women (and men) take too long to recover from the indoctrination of (false-)humility and outward approval that comes as a result of too many children’s upbringings. We need to regain ourselves. All of us…

    You know–I’d love to see an Beauty of a Man Blogfest too.
    Eden Mabee recently posted..Interrupting the ROW and Re-immersionMy Profile

    • Ahhhhh, there is so much awesome in this comment, Eden. And I agree — a Beauty of a Man blogfest would be amazing. I have heard stats on the rise of male anorexia and body disorders (especially when it comes to achieving the “ideal” male beefcake body)… There’s a lot to be unpacked when it comes to idealized masculinity and the full, wide range of masculine expression that exists.

  6. I love your curls. We can’t iron over things and fix them. We have to learn to live with ourselves and our own true beauty.
    Kathryn recently posted..Beauty of a Woman Blogfest II – continuedMy Profile

    • I totally agree, Kathryn. It’s only in accepting ourselves that we become truly free.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, reading, and commenting!

  7. Lena, what a wonderful post! When I was little, I had beautiful, well-behaved ringlets. As I got older, it evolved into what my father’s family called “Irish bog hair”: thick, and so friendly to water that if one fell in the bog, one’s hair would expand to keep one afloat. I ironed it, I smothered it in products to flatten it, and fretted over it for far too many years. Now I just let it be, and figure I’m safe if I fall in a bog. 🙂

    I agree with Amber, your inner beauty shines. It’s wonderful that you have come to accept your hair, and yourself–you’re decades ahead of me!
    Elizabeth Anne Mitchell recently posted..Chasing SuccessMy Profile

  8. Good for you, Lena! Those curls are gorgeous, just like you. Wild, untamed, and independent, just the way God intended. 🙂
    Tameri Etherton recently posted..Shakespeare Totally Knew The Beauty of a WomanMy Profile

  9. I went natural about eight years ago. It’s still a learning process, but I love, love, love my hair with all its natural kinks and curls. Most importantly it’s been a big part of accepting myself, as I am, and appreciating the beauty in me and others.
    Reese Ryan recently posted..Video of the Week: Hot Soldiers Sing Call Me MaybeMy Profile

    • Oh, that is fantastic, Reese! I agree about the learning process — I’m still figuring out the best way to style my hair — but you are right: self-acceptance is the #1 element that is involved in the process of going natural.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. “To support only one kind of beauty is to be somehow unobservant of nature.” I love this line, so smart and loving at the same time. Thanks for sharing that Lena!
    Coleen Patrick recently posted..Surface Chic vs. Soul Deep: The Beauty of a Woman BlogfestMy Profile

    • Clarissa Pinkola-Estes is one of the most amazing writers and scholars ever, I’d say. WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES is an amazing book, all about ways that women can recapture the “wild” within them that may have been stomped out by society — definitely a book I’d recommend.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Coleen!

  11. I love your hair!! But them again, I’m the fine limp straight as an arrow kind of hair girl and we always want what we don’t have right? I finally cut off my really long limp locks a couple of years ago and now I’m super short, but I’m with you on how much easier it is and I don’t give a rip who doesn’t like it. I love it!

    Besides, you can always put that lampshade back on. I saw that picture and it was super cute.

    And today, of all people to post in the blogfest, I expected you to post poetry and you did not. You see how mix things up like that and provide the unexpected? That’s beautiful!

    Awesome post. And cute pictures.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt
    Patricia recently posted..What Haven’t I? Valentine’s EditionMy Profile

    • The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it? But I LOVE that you’ve figured out what works for you when it comes to your hair. There’s something so empowering about knowing what works and what makes you feel good about yourself, even if it transgresses convention.

      And I almost wrote a poem! I had been debating back and forth for a couple weeks, started the draft of one, then jumped ship at the last minute, lol.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  12. I have a quote on my wall “To be controlled is to be ruined”. I think that applies to your hair. Even as I type this, I think I might be a little hypocrite since I just got a relaxer in my hair yesterday, but I am okay with that. My hair needs a little chemical manipulation because it can be very stubborn sometimes. But if I had the energy, I would go natural too. Keep your crown of beauty!
    Amaryllis Turman recently posted..Beauty Blogfest 2013- What is REAL BEAUTYMy Profile

    • Oh, I absolutely adore that quote, and it is so true! And I think that we all need to figure out what works best for us — what fits into our lifestyles, our personalities, and our preferences — in terms of hair and beauty. My sister LOVES her Brazilian blow-out, and while I wish she’d rock her natural curls more often, she’s happiest getting it straightened every few months.

      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment, Amaryllis!

  13. Natural is beautiful, because its yours. Wonderful post.

  14. What a beautiful picture, your hair is gorgeous!
    Catherine Johnson recently posted..Swim the Silver Sea Joshie OtterMy Profile

  15. Your hair is beautiful, Lena! I’m a bit older than you, so in the 1960s I used to roll my curly/frizzy hair around an orange juice can on top of my head and sleep that way. The silly things we do. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says it perfectly.

  16. I love this post, Lena.
    There are a few “beauty regimes” I started when I was younger because it was “expected.” Now I wish I hadn’t, because some of those things, once you start, you can’t really go back on. I’ve also seen young women so emotionally dependent on make up, that the thought of going without it for a day (college challenge) moved them to tears.
    Angela Wallace recently posted..Friendship Is Magic: Much Ado About NothingMy Profile

    • Angela, I totally know what you mean. When I was struggling with my “ugly duckling” phase I devoured beauty tips in magazines and such, and those habits are incredibly hard to break. I’ve only recently started leaving the house without makeup, and it is hard, especially when you’re convinced that a makeup-free face is “ugly.”

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Angela!

  17. First off Lena, I LOVE your hair! You are so. frickin. gorgeous. But I understand how you feel. And it’s always what we don’t have that we think will make us beautiful. I’m a very pasty white individual. Friends poked fun, even my family would laugh and say I looked like a ghost or that I was glowing in pictures because my skin is really pale. I wanted to be able to tan like my friends who got beautiful olive skin and freckles in the summer. Instead I got sunburned and went from pale to lobster in a snap. To this day, I’m not a fan of swimsuits because I am probably the whitest person on the beach. But hey, I’m a redhead. We just don’t tan. And while I may get irritated with my skin, I love my red hair and it’s part of my identity. I’m now working on making my pale skin more a part of me too.
    Jess Witkins recently posted..What Makes a Woman REDHOT?My Profile

  18. Love it. I use to iron out my hair every day and a rain storm became my worst nightmare. I’ve strange curls right on my temples that stick straight out if I pull my hair into a pony tail. Any more, I try to see those curls as a gift from my grandmother, who also had them before she lost her hair. After this post, I’ll smile when I see them. Thanks for sharing. You have beautiful hair=)
    Jennifer M Zeiger recently posted..The EyeMy Profile

  19. Hi Lena!

    As one wild-haired child to another, this is spectacular. The only difference between us is that I never learned to play with a flat iron. I once tried to play with a curling iron, and I burned my forehead. That was it for me. Done. I have crazy curls, but they fit my personality. I, too, am a bit about chaos. But I’m cool with it. And that bottom picture of you is HOT STUFF! Embrace those curls, baby.
    Renee A. Schus-Jacobson recently posted..The Beauty of a GrandmotherMy Profile

  20. Also, I know how to spell my name. 😉 LOL.
    Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson recently posted..The Beauty of a GrandmotherMy Profile

  21. Kim Jorgensen Gane

    February 23, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Beautifully written by a beautiful soul, inside & out. Your hair is gorgeous, too, and it looks to suit you perfectly. Nicely done.

  22. Lena! Great post! You have given me something to think about because though I never mastered the flat iron, I have started using a keratin treatment to make my frizzy hair more manageable. The treatments have worked great and have made my hair more ‘civilized’ but I wonder now if such a style hasn’t tamed me a bit too. Not to mention the expense and possible chemical side effects. Love your natural look.
    Kecia Adams recently posted..Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: Beautiful MomentsMy Profile

  23. You’re beautiful, and your hair is fabulous! I’m so glad you have embraced your hair as it is, naturally. 🙂

    I’ve found myself caught up in ironing over myself to fit in, more than once. It’s pervasive to a point that it’s almost easier. At least, that’s what I told myself.

    Excellent post. I love the quote from WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES. Thank you for sharing.
    Ellen M. Gregg recently posted..Vegan Chocolate Coconut Snowballs RecipeMy Profile

  24. I’m just now getting to read this lovely post, Lena! Good for you for loving your hair again!
    Diana Beebe recently posted..Dishwasher DeathmatchMy Profile

  25. It’s taking me a while to get through all the fabulous BOAW posts … they are all SO good and powerful and SO worth sharing. I love your hair, Lena! Most women put out big bucks to achieve that knock-out look of yours. I’m so happy for you that you embrace your beautiful natural look!

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