I have been reflecting on what it means to be beautiful a lot recently. For most of my life, I have wanted to be beautiful. I have often stood in front of the mirror and started at my body and wished away every part of it and prayed over it and begged God to give me something beautiful. I remember when I was young, I would imagine the woman-version of me: tall, petite, graceful, and quiet, I would have a long and pretty face, my voice would be softer, higher, more feminine. I remember waiting for her to show up and arrive, waiting for my thighs to shrink and for there to be a woman standing before me, long thick hair cascading down my back and a hijab that did not slide around my face and clothes that made me look like a queen. And I waited and I waited. And here I am, two years into college and 6 years from my last growth spurt and she has not arrived yet. She also isn’t coming. She doesn’t exist and I made her up and I didn’t understand that growing up had a lot more to do with heartache and heart growth and making room in my mouth for words like “I’m sorry” and “You’re right” and “I don’t know” than it did about a new body and a new voice and becoming beautiful.
But perhaps beauty, although not arriving or waiting or hiding, is still a worthy trait to seek out. I think about the women I know in my life who I find beautiful: my mother, my grandmother, my sisters, my friends, my teachers, the aunties at the masjid, the youth girls in the youth group, my paternal grandmother, the Sudanese women at the Iftars and all of the bright-eyed children that funnel into storytime at the masjid. Some of them perhaps, look like the dreamed-up version of myself I saw with my eyes shut tight, maybe they have the right gait or the right smile or the right skin to match her image. But I know now that there is something else that is meant when someone is seen as beautiful, something that’s radiant something that beams and glimmers and glows that has nothing to do with the size of their nose or hips or stride. And that, that is what I have been wishing for all along. I have wanted to be a beautiful woman and the women that were beautiful that I knew happened to look and walk and talk in a way that I confused with beauty and mixed up with womanhood.
That beauty, the kind that can’t be drawn in a picture or photo-shopped onto a face or gained at the gym, is divine in its origin and so utterly human in its manifestation. It stays and lingers, something of purity, a sheen of resilience, of moral gentleness. Beauty is observed, it is the way that one interacts with the world full of love and passion and reverence for deeply and firmly held beliefs about balance and gratitude and celebration. Beauty is about making room in one’s heart to care for others, it is about strengthening a courageous mind and it is about knowing your roots. Beauty is about knowing your worth. Beauty is about knowing all of that and now believing with conviction that you and the world are not coincidence or mistake or chance or luck or anything other than Intentional. Beauty is faith, it comes from a glorious effort to know God and a sincere journey to know one’s self and so beauty is found in the faces of those who have been hurt, who are hurting, who seek healing and heal others and all at the same time. It is not what I mistook it to be and it is not impossible and it will not be delivered rush shipping. It is a mission and a movement and a promise of my own: Operation Beauty.
And I have always been up for a challenge.
So, I have decided to stop waiting and to stop wanting and I am going to try and start praying more and reading more and doing side planks with the free-time I have now that I have cleared my mind of wanting to be someone else’s beautiful. I think I can make more room in my mouth for more important words to say like “are you okay?” and “Thank you” and “what can I do to help?”. I don’t need to be pretty or desirable or someone else’s fairytale. I can be all of the other things that I am without apology instead. I can be smart, I can be brave, I can be kind, I can be thoughtful, I can be vulnerable. And in-between all the things that I am and all the things I am not I can make room to work on me, to become a better, more beautiful version of myself, someone who I am proud of, someone I can grow and nurture and watch change and become all the wiser awakening after awakening. InshaAllah, someday, I will stand in front of the mirror with my eyes closed and say, “Yes, she has arrived” and I am so grateful that she is here and that she is me.