Re-embodying Our Beauty

childhood joy

“I said to the almond tree,
‘Sister, speak to me of God.’
And the almond tree blossomed.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis

My daughter came into the world facing down in a birthing tub. She floated idly, waiting for me to turn her over and pull her to my chest. Her entrance was an ironic reflection of who she would become and the struggle I would have in loving her in the years ahead. Iona Kennedy was a baby of beautiful intensity from the beginning. When she cried, it wasn’t chronic or long standing, but guttural and fierce.

As she grew, she had a need for me that made my grown woman-heart feel like I was a child again. It wasn’t during the sweet times of nursing, singing over her, learning and playing with her. It was the moments she’d corner me with her face-forward “demands”; she was unrelenting until I held her close. I admired her tenacity and passion and yet my reaction to her was steeped in the history of how I learned to engage people’s desires of me. I would fuse with her by offering her my warm body, but it often precluded my heart and soul.

She and I established a mutual agreement. I would rarely separate during her intense “demands” and in exchange, she would remain calm. My efforts to separate only complicated our story. In my exasperation, my presence would be evasive or if my husband was around, I’d ask him to take over.

Understandably, each avenue only escalated her demand on my presence. We were stuck. Something in me knew I needed to use my creativity to offer this baby girl more, but my imagination was blanketed and I felt young and helpless. Essentially, I struggled to give her an embodiment of beauty from deep within me.

Being a mother has shown me that recognizing and offering beauty is a complicated endeavor. Stories of how beauty was misused by those closest to me breached the surface of my mind. I, like all of us, was hardwired to draw others to myself through my particular body, face and soul: in essence, my beauty. I was intended to be like the almond tree blossoming in Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel Fratricides. I was meant to display this beauty rather than wither and diminish it. But, beauty tends to be criticized or possessed, rather than enjoyed and celebrated.

As a little girl I loved bringing enjoyment to those around me. There was nothing better than watching someone laugh with me or become more relaxed because of my playful presence. I have many home videos of me simply entertaining the eye of the camera, whether to tell a story or sing a song. More than anything though, I wanted others to join with me in a mutual exchange of delight.

At a certain point though, for reasons unknown to me, I was told to stop. And it was a hard stop. I was told, “Heather, be yourself.” I was caught off guard. I would think to myself, “Weren’t you just enjoying me a lot?” I was confused and embarrassed. Was I too silly or too much? Was I too sexual? The eyes that were once enjoying me, were now critical. I recoiled, tried again, but was met with same sentiment: stop it. After many cycles of this, I found myself increasingly uncertain. This led me to speak too fast, jumble my words, make awkward movements or have an internal dialogue stripping me of any dignity. In all of this, I felt like my beauty was disfigured.

As a child, I was caught between desperately wanting to be enjoyed and hating the experience of eyes filled with criticism or disgust. This sent me into questioning whether or not I was enjoyable or if there was something in me that was really too much. I stopped offering those around me the fullness of myself and began giving away a lessened, disfigured embodiment of who I was.

It’s not a surprise then to have been told by many people that I have left them wanting more. They get a glimpse of something beautiful and then I disappear. Their desire of me asks me to rejoin my body, face and soul to which I’m deeply doubtful and ambivalent of. Beauty is difficult to stand in awe of and I knew as I grew into a woman, the same eyes that gave me looks of disgust were also the same eyes putting demands on me. In other words, to be enjoyed meant I no longer had rights to myself. And so, to avoid further demands, I offered my warm body as consolation.

It’s not difficult to make the parallel of how I learned to offer myself to others and the way I offered myself to my daughter. When she is unrelenting with her desire and I begin to feel the familiar experience of possessiveness, I forgo myself to keep the peace. It may appear asinine to equate a toddler’s power with an adult’s, but that’s just how indiscriminate the limbic (emotional) brain can be. I am agelessly embedded in my stories and they’re provoked by the slightest hint of the past.

When I fuse with Iona, I remain in denial of my beauty’s power to enchant and command a room. When I evade her, I remain loyal to those who once saw my beauty and wanted it only for themselves – whether to shame or consume it. Our beauty provokes and when it does, many of those in our lives either didn’t like the provocation or couldn’t stand in awe of us.

Nevertheless, we are intended to awaken others with our beauty. This is our power. As we know our beauty’s power and disfigurement, we are given the choice to either justify our hiding or step into integrity so our bodies, faces, and souls continue to provoke and point to a greater presence in all of our lives.

The sweet irony of my daughter’s persistent desire is how it turned my idly floating body over and pulled me to her. Her desire made me face her and then myself. This is the gift of relationships: our beauty is given thousands of invitations to be re-embodied. In so many ways, Iona has been asking me to speak of God through re-embodying my body, face, and soul. She has wanted to see the almond tree blossom and, finally, I want to see it too.