I am absolutely honored to introduce you to Candice L. Roe today. Candice was one of my students in body image class this semester and, from day one, I was impressed with her engagement in the issues we talked about in class. Candice is the type of student who sits in the front row, correlates what we learned to lived experience, and asks challenging questions that pushed what I delivered so that she can deliver more. Add to this that she’s as good with pen and paper as she is in the classroom and you can begin to see why I am so excited to introduce you to her today.
At the end of this past semester, as I was walking across campus after class, Candice came running up behind me and asked what more she could do in the field of body image and self-acceptance. How could she learn more? How could she do more? How could she make a difference? We talked about what she loves to do, and it seemed only natural to invite her, as one of many possibilities that she is pursuing, to periodically blog here. Today, I am sharing her first powerful post with you. And while I know that you can be a little quiet with me, please welcome Candice here with a hearty round of comments. Let her know what you think, what moved you, what you’d love to see in her posts in the future, etc. in the comments section.
During the summer of 2008, I went to Central Europe with my mother and grandmother. We packed light: only a few shirts, a pair of jeans, shoes, toothbrush; the necessities. I was allowed one suitcase and would be toting it around by hand as I travelled between France and Germany. The necessities were only allowed. So, what were the necessities?
- Toiletry Bag
- Day Bag
One suitcase: two weeks. I did it and had no problems. How did I do it? I took only the necessities to be able to enjoy my trip. Brand new outfit for everyday? No, I was traveling, hiking, rowing boats, riding trains cross-country, taking photographs, eating international food, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds; I was experiencing life without worry or anxiety. Never before in my life as a young woman had I let go of my anxiety about my appearance. How does my hair look? What about my makeup? Am I dressed okay? Those thoughts had banished. I was surrounded by so much awe that I didn’t even have time to compare myself to the woman next to me at the train station. On this trip I met one of the most important revelations of my life: I don’t have to have anxiety about my appearance. I can experience my life to the fullest just the way I am. At that moment, I decided to find beauty in everything.
I took photographs, sampled all the food I could find, hiked through the Black Forest, visited museums, and wrote extensively in my journal.
From my travel journal: My heart melted through my body as I approached the entrance doors. I had never seen anything so beautiful as the glass pyramids reflecting the rain drops and the sun together. I became lost in a palace full of history & mystery, old & older. I saw the masters, the idols, the icons, and in the reflections of the paintings, I saw myself: right next to DaVinci, Cupid & Pysche, Michelangelo. I became lost in love and gold.
Musée du Louvre; Paris, France 2008
I recorded each day and night, but one particular night I didn’t record anything. That was the night my mother stepped out of the shower and said, “I found a knot. I’m not sure what it is.” We went to sleep and a week later it was time to go home. In July of that summer, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In August, she had a mastectomy. Also, in August, I moved away for college. I traveled home as much as I could to see my mother and, with every trip, I watched her change. One breast. No hair. Too thin. Sick.
I saw the pain in her eyes: the pain of sickness and the pain of losing the features that we, as women, pride ourselves in having. Her breasts and hair had gone; the body that carried her soul had lost her womanly shape. The most painful times in my life have been seeing my mother try to cope with the state in which breast cancer has left her body. That beauty I decided to find in everything, I was still finding it in her, but in a much different way.
I realized that true beauty was not external. Beauty was Strength. Kindness. Willpower. Compassion. Faith.
Four years later: 2012. My mother is recovered from the sickness, but she still finds difficulty in accepting the way her body has changed. During the past four years, I have come to the realization that beauty really is internal. While this concept is easy to say and even easy to understand, it seems to be much harder to fully practice when it comes to our personal body. I can see the internal beauty in the people I am surrounded by, and, because of my experience with my mother, I specifically see beauty in women who are strong and courageous. As for me, I strive to be a strong courageous woman, but, sometimes, I have my days, too.
Some days I don’t feel as pretty as I would like to be, but it is on these days, I have found, that I should especially strive to do good for my body and to be productive with time. By practicing this, I am not limiting myself to activities or disempowering myself based on exterior physique. More so, I am empowering my body and myself because I am not restricting my activities based around a surface appearance.
I talk with my mother each day and emphasize the example she has shown to me about beauty. Although she still struggles with finding her own beauty at times, I know, as do all who know her, that she is beautiful on the inside and outside; just as every woman is.
We all have a story that is worth hearing and we all have a body that is worthy of respect and appreciation. Regardless of the physical “wear & tear” our bodies may show, they are our bodies and they are powerful storytellers. For me, my mother and her body have silently taught me the truth of real beauty and the power of strength.
Because I witnessed my mother experience this as a young woman, I have been shaped into a person who wants to share the message that we are all beautiful, and, most importantly, we are powerful. I am only just beginning my journey into the world of body image activism, but I hope to reach my readers in a way that they may begin to realize how beautiful they truly are.
The revolution begins as soon as you decide.