"She wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her."

Why is it that, when any word in English is deployed in an effort to express self-love, there are women at the ready to critique such usage as conceited, narcissistic, vain, arrogant, or haughty? Seriously. This seems like such an unnecessary question to ask, but our treatment of one another demands it. What is wrong with acknowledging, hell CELEBRATING your self worth? Why are we so eager to check self-affirming behavior?

This isn’t to say moments of encouragement are rare, but even these moments seem embedded with conflicting accounts of how to be: Be sexy (but not sexual); she’s not being meek enough (she wants attention); she’s being too meek (she’s boring and basic).

The imagery buffets us from every direction and tells us there is only one way to be considered beautiful and being considered beautiful is not only important, but is seemingly aligned with being right and natural (whereas those who aren’t beautiful yet are somehow not right and unnatural).

This is reminiscent of what Naomi Wolf calls the ‘beauty myth’: a fluid, capitalistic ploy designed to keep women obedient and distracted. What is beauty? Whatever it is, you’re not it. It the context of objective standards, beauty is a phantom, a dogma. So long as we feel ugly and desperate to look like the images we’re told are natural, we’ll keep buying products and ideas and systems that will make us “better” and “more desirable.” We can always be prettier, thinner, have fuller hips, or longer, thicker hair. What we are is never enough, the billboards say.

But all of this is not the case. It doesn’t matter, truly, what we look like in reference to marketing cues. Our worth never has anything to do with our body, and “beauty” is a poisonous concept so long as it is dispensed like currency.

Let’s step outside of this notion of beauty and instead embrace it as a feeling. There is no doubt that we derive purpose, in part, from our self-esteem, sure, but we need to do some self-conscious work to strip away the societal pressure to be and look a certain way (even if that certainty is apparently reducible to “just not how we look right now”). We need to present ourselves as we are and marvel at the beauty, the real, indescribable beauty of our naked, imperfect, and wonderfully human bodies. There are sublime consequences to such self-love, though, so proceed with caution. The recognition of such beauty risks that a woman might grow confident in her self worth. She might demand more respect and expect her voice to be listened to, her needs met, or, god forbid, her autonomy affirmed. That is, if we can come to appreciate our own selves, categorical variations be damned, we will find ourselves less jealous and spiteful of women trying to move closer to the vicinity of that ever-desired “standard” of beauty. And we will instead encourage with our whole hearts any effort made by women to see the value in themselves.

I want our boudoir session to remind you to revel in your self-love—remind you that it is never vapid or inappropriate or vain to feel good about yourself. I see you. You are beautiful. Let’s celebrate that.

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