I am Beautiful

What is this unattainable idea of beauty were all seeking? Why is it so difficult to just be comfortable with how we are?  Brunettes want to blonde,  Dark girls want lighter pigment, light girls want darker pigment, skinny girls want curves, and thick girls want a gap between their legs...it feels like we all want what we don't have and forget the beauty that is already there. What would the world be like if we were simply happy with how we are? I mean seriously consider it. How many of us have this whole elaborate process we must go through before we can go to the pool in our bathing suit? Why can’t we just put on our suit and go? I rarely even put my head under water at the beach because I don’t want to mess up my hair…okay so it’s more because I am lazy and don’t want to wash my hair, but I digress.

Tonight is my first time being back in the states from a LIFO Mission trip. I haven't had a 1st world shower in 11 days, hadn't shaved, tweezed, exfoliated, cleaned out my finger and toe nails since I've been gone. As I lie here in the tub soaking off the last week and a half, I look at the bruises, scratches and marks that cover my legs and arms.... initially I cringed, looking at the dark tarnishes that envelop my porcelain limbs. Then I really started to gaze at them.  This swollen bruise under my knee reminds me of the first work day during LIFO when I fell walking across a creek while I was carrying PVC pipes with my fellow LIFO teammate Alex. While attempting to balance the pipes with my shoulders and climb the steep shoreline with the other, I fell and busted my shin. Or this dark bruise at the bottom of my shin where I hit it on a trailer hitch getting off the bed of a truck of a friendly La Malena community member who offered our team a ride.  Or the deep barbwires scratch on my forearm tells the story of when I was gluing pipes in the trenches; pipes that carried clean water to a village of over 300 families. Or the bruise on my left knee from falling while hiking up one of the beautiful hills after I lost my balance. I don’t even know what these bruises on the inside of my arm are from, but their constellation like pattern reminds me of the night sky in the Dominican Republic where my new friends Isabel, Carlos, Teshome and I star gazed under the night’s sky on our final night together and witnessed more shooting stars than I can count.

Observing all these new marks along my body forced me to look at the scars and stretch marks I’ve had for years. The scar on my right wrist where I fell out of a tree as a kid at my granny’s house; where afterwards she took me in her arms and lovingly bandaged me up. The stretch marks on my hips remind me of how my body has changed and developed with my new healthy eating patterns. The birthmark that for years I was picked on and nearly had it removed to avoid the taunts; but decided I loved it more than I cared what others thought about my unique little chocolate chip. And many scars covering my body from my volleyball days and adventurous college years. This observation experience made me realize that these marks aren’t something to cover up and be ashamed of. These are my stories; these are the visual evidence and reminders of my growth. They are my battle scars to reminisce and remind myself of the miracles I have experienced and the challenges I have overcame.  These symbols of life should be celebrated. I should honor and show love to all my perceived imperfections.

So in the series of photos I present to you is the raw uncut version of me. These bruises and marks will heal, and soon they’ll be just a memory. So in order to preserve these magical moments, I share them with you.

What do you hide or cover up from the world? Please share in the comments below! We must remember to celebrate this amazing vessel that carries our essence, our soul. If even only for today, just let it go.

Love & Light,

Jennifer Ashley