“Beauty” is such an abstract word. It’s definition relies upon your aesthetic while the definition for “pretty” includes words like delicate and attractive. Neither of the definitions narrow down who has the power to identify a person as such. Almost everyday somebody tells me that I am beautiful or pretty. That may sound great to most, but to me it sounds extremely weird. I was walking down the street during the recent Adams Morgan Day event and a little girl (about 12 years old) said “you’re pretty.” I said “huh?” She repeated “you’re very pretty.” I stopped and stared, puzzled, then it hit me to say “oh thank you.” Hopefully, she didn’t think my confusion had anything to do with her. I was hustling down the street to get something for the show and not thinking about being anything other than a great show host/stage manager. I had on a cut off t-shirt, jeans and chucks. There was no make-up, no manicure, and no fancy hair style. Where did this little girl come from and why was she noticing my beauty in the middle of me trying to be good at something totally unrelated to beauty?
As a woman, aesthetics can make or break your ability to enter into social circles, relationships, and possibly even jobs. I have prided myself on rebelling against all things related to supporting the idea of what makes someone else think I’m pretty. I stopped wearing heels to clubs all the time. I stopped trying to dress a certain way to go on dates. I stopped trying to impress a new love interest with lip gloss and tight clothing. I have really gotten to a point where everyone will just have to take me as I am or get the f*ck out of my face. Recently, I had to stop and ask myself “what am I rebelling against?” I started to realize that I have no clue why I am trying NOT to be something. As if not wearing something or looking a certain way was related to anything valid. I have always just wanted to be like everybody else. If everybody is not being called pretty then don’t call me pretty. If all women are not required to where heels to the club or tight clothing to get men then don’t expect that from me. If all women don’t have to have make-up then why should I.
I noticed that white women don’t always wear these platform heels to clubs and men still like them. Erykah Badu is not always wearing something fashionable or tight so why do I have to. I don’t want to be required to do anything! I just want to be me. THEN, being me started to get complicated when people started viewing that as beautiful too! This confused the hell out of me! Deciding to be myself became me being different from everybody else and as I stated earlier I have always just wanted to be like everybody else. After rebelling against all of these trendy beautiful things, people still found me beautiful. Why? I thought I needed to be skinny for that smart guy with the great job. I though I needed to wear make-up for the cool laid-back government working guy. I thought I just needed to meet some clothing, weight, hair-style, or aesthetic standard to be viewed as beautiful by men and women.
There I was, in the middle of nowhere wearing a cut off t-shirt, jeans, a few silver bangles, and a puzzled face. The conclusion I came to was that as the owner of my eyes. I can’t see myself unless a mirror is presented to me and I am not exactly seeing beautiful in the mirror. I don’t think of myself as ugly or unattractive, but I also don’t think of myself as beautiful. In reality, I don’t think of myself in any of these terms. It may sound weird to think that someone in the world just wants to be like everybody else. I have never been able to just be like everybody else so it seems like a cool life. I have always been different. I wore skirts from 7th grade till 9th grade because of my religion (at that time). I was the only kid with two parents married and living together in my family. I had my daughter when I was 17. In college I was the only Computer Science girl in my circle with a kid. When I started teaching I was the youngest person on my team. I am the only person with Narcolepsy in my family. The only poet in my family. The only artist that pursued a career in art in my family and college circle. Life is full of moments when I just can’t get comfortable in being like everybody else. As I come to accept things myself for whoever or whatever I am. I use photo shoots as a sort of art therapy that allows me to freeze and frame myself.
I don’t plan on maintaining a level of beauty that requires me to spend lots of money. I am not against those who like weave, nails, eye lashes, eye-brow touches, bunches of high heels, short clothes, tight clothes, etc. I have my share of heels and tight things. While I am not concerned with these things on a regular basis I loved the idea of dressing up in them to play around for a few hours. Inside of my art therapy I find the idea of being beautiful and still being myself is a healthy balance. I am the one that decides whether or not I am beautiful. I also find that it is OK to say out loud that I am beautiful. Beauty is not the beast that is haunting me and breathing down my neck to change. It’s me beating myself up about being different. Beauty is not the difference. Defining exactly who I am is the key to unlocking my acceptance of myself. Whether that be beautiful, ugly, nice, outspoken, rude, calm, or loving. At the conclusion of #SummerOfShelly I rediscovered that I AM SHELLY BELL. I don’t want to be like anybody else.
To view all of the pictures from the #SummeOfShelly project visit www.facebook.com/shethepoet “LIKE IT!”
All photos were taken by Keith Estep Photography
AND NOW #FallForShelly BEGINS!