I’ve been looking at my body all wrong. At least for the place I’m in, the people I’m meeting. Thinness and the style of clothes are secondary. What’s first is inhabiting your animal form, speaking and transforming through it.
I’m learning that beauty is more a projection and a feeling than an entity bestowed or withheld at birth. This, after a lifetime of Cinderella stories, which teach that a women’s beauty is intrinsic, an entity to be discovered and declared by others, usually men, but also fashion-arbiters and the media.
According to these myths, any woman who claims beauty for herself is presumptuous, because somewhere along the way, both the despots and the Cleopatras of this world realised that owning one’s beauty was a form of power. If women owned their personal beauty, then they might not have such need for the approval of men, their circle and wider society – they would have fewer doubts and use their strengths, both physical and intellectual, to get what they wanted. And that might just change the world.
Having swallowed the patriarchal juju, I used to think that women who owned their beauty were intimidating and even grotesque, like the evil queens in fairytales or beauty pageants. Wanting to avoid what I considered to be the most complete form of ugliness, I decided that I would only be beautiful when someone told me I was; whatever advantages I had in my body, I would put into the hands of others. I played the Cinderella act well, but with the cost of disassociating from my body and any kind of power I might gain by taking ownership of it.
Here in San Sebastián, a half-sunny, half-wet Basque city with a prominent Latin American population, I’m seeing both beauty and bodies differently. The Latinos who have come here to work and study, have infected both native Donostiarras and those of us from elsewhere with their music, their dance and that untranslatable word, sabrosura, whose meaning hovers somewhere between deliciousness and love. In high heels and low, wetsuits and party frocks, Latinos and those they’ve Latinised, own their beauty. Not in a pretentious way, but in one that means they are comfortable in their own skin, enjoy food, music, movement, contact, display and attention. They have an enviable sense of the body as an earthly home, one that can nourish and keep them safe, but can also express their personality, feelings and desires. Their beauty comes in numerous shapes, sizes and colours and is generous, sunlike in illuminating the attractiveness of those around them.
Of course I shouldn’t idealise Latin culture, where both machismo – the cult of the chauvinistic male and plastic surgery are rife. Like their European counterparts, Latin/ised women bewail the 6 kilos that have snuck up on their thighs since moving to San Sebastián and even men feel under pressure to have that instagrammable tableta de chocolate. But while static bodily ideals exist, the beauty and the hunk are just a starting point. If you’re beautiful, so are others. What are you going to do with your beauty? What are you going to show and share with us?
From my outsider’s perspective, showing and sharing are vital in Latin culture, where people communicate more through the body and its five senses. I used to think of music, food, dance and sports as diversions from the important matter of discussing thoughts and feelings, but now I’m learning that these bodily, being things can themselves be the point of connection. Sensitive and restless, by both nature and nurture, for me, living through the body, is full of altibajos. Sometimes it feels grounding and sensual and other times, I find it limiting or even scary, when I can’t express myself through it, or my personal boundaries are being tested. But little by little, I’m learning what’s right for me, given who I’ve been and who I’m becoming.
This is one of a series of posts on moving to San Sebastián. I’d love to know what you thought of this post and how a change of culture also affects how you feel in your body.
hablador/a/es/as: chatty (adjective)
sabrosura: untranslatable word that hovers between tastiness and love. Somatic intelligence coach Chen Lizra translates it as physical self-love, meaning pride and love of one’s body.
tableta de chocolate: literally translates as a bar of chocolate, although the meaning is more six-pack, abs
altibajos: ups and downs