When I was 10 years old my father sat for hours sketching my portrait. We were at the dining room table, light flooding in the big window behind him and illuminating my face. He had such a gentle feathering stroke, smudging the pencil lines for shading, it was memorizing. The attention, focus all on me, made me feel beautiful.
It was a time when I remember him at his most gentle. His hands often working on the engine of a car, painting, welding or chopping wood, were strong and often exposing a scar. I loved to trail the veins of the back of his hand with my tiny fingers and regale in the stories of each injury. I idolised him and wanted to be strong like him, scars and all.
I was a freckly kid. Big cow eyes that looked at the world with adventurous longing.
Our family spent holidays on the farm or camping in the bush, we were always outdoors and exploring. I love the freedom and the beauty, the expansiveness and wildish ways that nature displayed its beauty.
I was in my ELEMENT.
Growing up with two older brothers and the neighbourhood boys we would explore in the Nature reserve behind our property or play in the paddock across the road. A tomboy, I had no idea about make up or how to look nice, nor did I care when I was crawling through the trenches with my gun I’d created with kindling from the woodpile. This wasn’t the place you looked ‘pretty’ nor did it register to me that it should matter. I was blissful.
I was active, happy go lucky kind of kid so when I looked at the finished sketch my dad had lovingly drawn, why did I sink? I didn’t ‘look beautiful’. To me, he had painfully detailed the numerous freckles that ran across my broad nose and around my round cheeks. It brought an unpleasant awareness that I looked different from all the actresses on the movies and TV shows.
Something SHIFTED in me.
I felt different. I had too many freckles. My cheeks were too round. I was so mean to myself. The attacks were relentless.
I didn’t look like the other girls. Nor did I act like them. I started to notice a change in the way the girls acted at school with the boys, the way they would change their appearance. It made me uncomfortable. A sinking feeling that I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t cut the same way. I tried to assimilate but it never felt right. I never felt natural. I knew that I’d never be the ‘pretty girl’. I still hadn’t worked out this make-up and hair thing that transformed the girls into models.
I longed to be outside, climbing the branches of the tall gums on the farm to see how far I could see. I loved the perspective and how things looked different from above. I loved the way the branches of the willow swayed in the wind and they hung over the dam, dipping their branches to the water as if to drink.
It was beautiful. Each tree I loved as a child, as I still do, is so different.
Each had its purpose and place, each was so different in appearance yet so beautiful in the same way they made me feel. I thought early on that this is how we should think of each other person, unique and beautiful in their own way.
The seasons showed me that falling leaves were beautiful as too the spring where new buds would develop and bloom into stunning flowers. Winter often baring all and summer would dry the leaves that I crunched in my hands. I loved how the textures and colours of the leaves changed.
Throughout the years, ‘that desire to be considered beautiful’ sat deep in my psyche but I was stubborn and had developed a hardened exterior, deciding that I’ll embrace my differences. My ‘Nothing bothered me’ armour was strong. I was capable of many things and had a strong-willed attitude to forge my way forward; make my mark. I built my character and confidence within my abilities, my accomplishments and tried to muscle out the feeling of longing to be beautiful.
Hiking through the Himalayas taught me the beauty of personal power. The physical capacity required to traverse the tough terrain. Crossing tiny ladders over waterfalls and navigating across avalanche zones, all became catalysts of what resonated as beauty to me. The wonderful, empowering feeling of accomplishment, to me this was beauty. My capabilities and determination to achieve the boldest of hikes, to push my limits in adventure, this is when I feel most beautiful.
My active outdoor lifestyle became part of who I was.
Inspirational women, including my own mother, taught me to embrace those parts of me that were different, revealed that beauty comes in different shapes and forms. Each woman I admired differed in characteristics and physical appearance from the next. My journey to find MY beauty taught me that there is no uniform and the societal expectation to look a certain way was wrong. I was rewriting my own beliefs. How liberating!
“Beauty begins the moment when you decide to be yourself’ – Coco Chanel
Introspectively exploring this experience with my father sketching me and the cumulative pivotal events that followed throughout the years, I can honestly say that I feel more beautiful than ever. I have a real sense of who I am, what I stand for and know that I am loved EXACTLY for who I am, not what I look like.
It is because I am 100% myself.
The empowered woman within knows what she wants has the voice and ability to action her wildest dreams, she radiates from within me.
The strength of character that shines from within when you live authentically, others see it; feel it and there is something encapsulating about it.
This superficial societal concept of beauty is fleeting. WHY do we attach our worth to something that can be washed off our face? Or that diminishes with age? Challenging the expectations of our archaic society and what it is to be a woman, to live your passion and live authentically; that’s beautiful.
My dad and I xxx
A powerful, articulate and intelligent woman, that’s beautiful.
A woman who knows what she wants and drives her life in that direction, that’s beautiful.
A woman comfortable in her own skin, that’s beautiful.
I’ve been gifted the important role of raising 3 daughters. Each of them physically very different in appearance and character, so it would be remiss of me to assume this dated ethos of beauty. My daughters are taught to embrace their own uniqueness, love who they are and what their external façade looks like for now. It will change. Accept and grow into each new phase, live authentically for this is where the true beauty in each of us sits.
My parents gave me the best foundation of authenticity. They allowed me to express myself in the way I wanted, never pushing to conform to a standard. My dad still smirks how much I am like him when I challenge him, voice my opinion or overcome physical feats. A girl is always beautiful to their father regardless of their physical appearance, but beautiful in strength and character. I guess at 10 years old, I struggled to understand that dad could see the fire in my eyes, beyond my facial appearance and into the strength of character that I would create from experience in the years to come.
As a 10-year-old girl, I wished to be like my father; Strong, scars and all.
I know now that my beauty is in the strength of my scars.
I've redefined what beauty is to me. What does it mean to you?