Somehow, though, I internalized the idea that the other kind is "real" beauty and my beauty is something lesser, in the same way I internalized that being female is the "lesser" luck-of-the-body draw. What's odd is this: I never doubted my beauty or my equality, I just learned that I couldn't expect anyone else to see it how I see it. I came to expect to be treated as second tier. Even so, second tier gets its share of wanted and unwanted attention.
I love my beauty; I make myself shy. At the same time, I find it hard to think anyone else can see it. I feel vulnerable, that I have no choice but to show myself to people every day. I expect them to see what they expect to see, not me, not really me. I both long to be seen, and also, to be completely hidden. Because humans suck. Their judgments are so manufactured and ingrained that a big swath of the population might as well be robots. I don't expect to be seen, so I'd rather be unseen by those who can't see me, anyway. Fly under the radar, don't draw attention to my beauty.
But I can't just settle in, because my beauty has a Quality. I don't know how to name that quality, but it's particular. It only appeals to some people and those people often respond strongly. In this way, it's thrown me off kilter. I get used to not being seen, and then someone sees me, and I drop into shy like I'm looking in a mirror. If I can feel someone notice my beauty, it makes me immediately defensive. I've been surprised too often by a strong sexual advance from someone I didn't realize thought my friendly was flirty, so I pay attention to that flash of notice. I don't want to give a wrong impression. I've learned to be very careful, and to stay stealthy. My beauty is like a landmine that might go off and wreck what I think is an interesting relationship, or it might attract unwanted attention from strangers. It might get me stalked. I've always treated it as something dangerous because sometimes it has been.
I increasingly push my beauty to stand on its own, be in the world, and only shine for people who can see it. No make-up, just my skin, standing the test of time as best it can. Wash-and-go hair, wild in a way I never could have allowed in my 30's. I let the weight sit on my middle, not happy it's there, annoyed by the inconvenience, but not willing to engage the level of discipline it requires to keep it somewhat lighter. Am I still beautiful, now? How many people drop off from noticing me when I wear baggy clothes and let my roots grow out? As I age, and don't hide my skin? Who still sees me? Who didn't see me before but now can see me, with myself showing more? I've never been less like my internalized idea of beauty, and yet I love how I look, when I catch it, which isn't too often. I like to see me.
Once a lover said, "I wish you could see yourself how I see you" and so I looked into her mind and I saw myself through her eyes. So different from how I saw myself, a distorted lens but lovely. Now I feel that, all of that, when I look at myself. A gift. One of many. When I let myself feel how others love me, distorted as it may be, I expand my own lens, refocus what beauty means, expand the meaning and embrace what I am, trying not to mourn what I'm not; trying not to tarnish my enjoyment with wishful shaming. Eventually, over time. I get beyond accepting myself reluctantly while working to be better. Through deliberate imagination and determined discomfort, I love who I am now. I continue to spin that in the direction that pulls me. Hardly anyone can see me at all, but those who do, they've got my attention. Like a secret handshake.
The beauty of me is more than what I look like, and I don't separate those things anymore. It takes real work to get this far, and I don't like to look too closely at how much further I could go. It's not a light switch that comes on once you understand the concept. It's not a linear progression.
I love my beauty. I am working to not be so shy about it.