The Power of Storytelling: Strong is the New Sexy

Are our standards too high? Some would argue so. | Source: Health for the Whole Self
Are our standards too high? Some would argue so. | Source: Health for the Whole Self

I subscribed to The Listserve a few years ago. It’s an email lottery and each day, a winner is chosen. The winner then has the opportunity to share a message of their own design and send it to the rest of the 24,000+ readers.

Earlier this week, I was surprised to find that I was selected to write to my fellow subscribers. I wanted to share something real. Something honest. Something that was a reflection of my current self. But, I didn’t want to preach. I decided to speak about a topic that I’ve been grappling with since I was young, but have finally come to terms with.

Below, you’ll find my “Strong is the New Sexy” message. It’s for those who question their appearance. It’s for those who believe in their beauty. It’s for anyone who has ever felt subjected to another person’s expectations. It’s for those who are strong, even if they don’t realize it.

How do you define beauty? | Source: Fashion Industry Archive
How do you define beauty? | Source: Fashion Industry Archive
Embrace your strength. | Source: Isaiah Stephens

Subject: [The Listserve] Strong is the New Sexy

It’s interesting to see how obsessed our culture has become with body image. From perfect celebrities on magazine covers to slender runway models, we hunger for beauty – or what we perceive as beauty.

My mother fights hard to stop me from wanting to change or alter my appearance. As a young teenager, I was not allowed to experiment with eye shadows or hair dye. I remember putting up (what was then) a convincing argument to be permitted to start shaving. I didn’t want my track and field teammates to make fun of my hairy legs anymore. I finally got my ears pierced right before freshman year of high school.

A little over a year ago, while living and working overseas in Southeast Asia, I was about 90% certain I wanted to get a tattoo. Though I was a recent college grad at the time (and feeling both independent and somewhat of a rebel), I still had the urge to consult my mom for her guidance. She told me it was my body, and I could do what I wanted with it. Needless to say, I left Indonesia tattoo-less. However, my aunt in the Philippines did convince me to get my hair chemically straightened (something I’m not proud of, as it has lasted for over fourteen months), as well as teach me the art of proper nail care.

Half a year ago, someone I was interested in dating told me I had to “apply maintenance” to my facial hair before he introduced me to his friends. I no longer to speak to him; no one should ever dictate my appearance. However, what he said triggered something else in me: a need to remind myself that I am beautiful in my own way. I started eating healthy and exercising five or six times a week. I became passionate about fitness, health and wellness. Strength – emotional, mental and physical – is important in order to truly be comfortable with who I am. Strong is the new sexy.

Perfection is an impossible feat to achieve. Today, I can count the number of times I’ve worn more than just eyeliner in the single digits. The only beauty products I’ve ever purchased are nail polish and lip balm. My idea of beauty may change as the years pass. But I know that through it all, if I am happy with who I am, the rest of the world better be as well.

I’m a writer and mental health advocate. If you would like to engage in further discussion on the perception of beauty, the importance of strength, or self-confidence, feel free to email me. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter @mamatanap.

Stay beautiful!

One of the best things about the concept behind The Listserve is that it connects you with people from all different backgrounds. My message went out yesterday afternoon, thus starting off an influx of messages in my E-mail inbox and Twitter account from readers around the world. Many have shared their thoughts, reflections and concerns. It’s humbling and inspiring to see so many people reaching out. As corny as it sounds, I’d like to believe that opening up to the universe and sending my story to strangers essentially helped these individuals engage in storytelling as well. The power of the written word (and storytelling in general) certainly goes beyond what we can imagine.


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