Yes, I am a Strong, Beautiful Woman. Anywhere.

Here's what I've been thinking about today: how women often apologize for thinking that they are strong and/or beautiful, and how we don't often intertwine the two characteristics in an empowering way. Strength as Beauty. Beauty as Strength. I know many women who don't think they are beautiful at all, because they don't "match" the standards of beauty within their own culture. I know other women who spend a great time trying to meet those same standards, using unhealthy means, like eating disorders, over exercise, and cosmetic surgery. I've had my share of years trying to meet those standards.

Travel--exploring far away places, and often ending up in the middle of nowhere--changed that for me. There is a delightful dissociative feeling that comes with the freedom of not looking like anyone else where you happen to be. The trappings become less important , and suddenly it no longer matters that all the clothes that you so carefully packed and achingly deliberated over before leaving for weeks in the wilderness, the jungle, or the desert were lost en route and you only have what is on your back. At first, these sorts of things are painful but then the thought occurs: none of it really matters. You take secret joy in your new liberation, despite the inconveniences.

Somewhere between realizing your difference and taking on the challenges required to be in a fresh landscape, you stop thinking about beauty in the way it has always been presented to you. Beautiful is not a fat-free body. Beautiful is not a face without wrinkles. Beautiful instead becomes something new: the markers change. It is now defined by scars, by lines, by experience. Such experience spreads like a map unfolding over your body, boldly remolding it without asking.

There's something about owning your body, owning your face that is powerful. It takes guts. It takes moving against the prevailing tide of a society that thinks you shouldn't.

Such thoughts require strength. Not the sort of strength that is brutish. No. I mean the sort of strength that is caused only by ruling your mind, and giving yourself permission to see beauty as the stories only you can tell, the stories that are reflected in your physical perfections and imperfections.

My list of stories is long, but I will share a few. My hysterectomy scar. My skin that aged quickly, broken into spider web lines from spending a year in the oppressive pollution in Calcutta.  My broken ankles from skydiving. Someday I hope to have a body covered in stories from one end to the other, for with each story comes confidence, ability, and self discovery.

Those stories are what makes me beautiful. Those stories are my strength. Anywhere in the world I happen to be.

Amy Gigi Alexander