A Thank You to the Strong Women Before Me
Empowered women everywhere are refusing to be slowed down, thanks to those who came before them.
At 5:25AM my brand new alarm clock shatters the silence with its incessant shrill: BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I begrudgingly roll out of my warm blankets, turn on my hair straightener and coffee machine, and settle into my chair to begin applying a fresh face of makeup. Today, though, I move a little slower than usual. Today, I find myself staring at my features in the mirror.
I remember being a little girl, and asking my mom what it means to be beautiful. “Beautiful people have pleasant features,” she responded plainly.
“How do I pick pleasant features?” I asked in response.
“You don’t,” she replied. “Your features come from your family line. They’re picked for you.”
“Then what makes some features more pleasant than others?” I had asked.
She shrugged, and changed the subject back to the movie. Looking back, I don’t think she knew the answer. Does anyone?
I don’t remember how the rest of that day went, but I do remember being fascinated by the idea that I was made from parts of the people who came before me.
Snapping back from this fuzzy memory, I lock eyes with my reflection. As I pick up my hair brush and comb through my thick, bleached strands, I imagine my ancestors doing the same. My great-great grandmother had hair like mine: long and heavy. My grandmother used to tell me how much my locks resembled her grandmother’s. I used to hate when she said this-- why would I want my hair to look like someone’s from last century? Now, though, I wonder if it felt the same in her hands as it does in mine. She probably had to tie it back, tight and out of the way, while immigrating to America. The journey from Germany to the United States sure makes my 25-minute commute look like a breeze. Suddenly my grown-out roots bother me less than usual.
I move on to the next morning essential: mascara. I coat the lashes on the eyes that are no longer mine, but rather are my grandmother’s. The striking icy-blue shade was her gift to me. I think of how our shared eyes have seen such different things; my grandmother was a hospital nurse who constantly found herself fighting the diagnoses of apathetic male doctors. She was once fired for “lack of respect”-- or rather, refusing to be quiet and complacent when she knew she was right. Years later, when she was working at a top-tier hospital, she learned that the doctor who gave her the boot got one himself. I wonder if the bold resilience in her eyes can be seen in mine, too.
As I begin to powder my nose, it’s my mom I now see in the mirror. When I was little, she would rub her short, upturned nose against mine to let me know that I was loved, and that I was safe. I don’t think anyone in the world loves stronger than my mom does. My mom practically gave up everything to raise my siblings and I. A first-generation college-educated woman, she was made to feel as though she must be a stay-at-home mom in order to be a real mom. Now that we’re all grown and on our own, I often think about how hard it must have been to give up her dream of owning her own business. I think about how hard it must be to be “retired” from being a stay-at-home mom, after decades of caring for four other people. Being a mother is an absolutely beautiful thing-- but I wish she was allowed to be whatever type of mother she wanted to be.
Luckily for me, working mothers and splitting parental roles are far more normalized now than they were for her. And before then, it had only been worse. It’s a shame it’s taking the world so long to realize that men and women are equally capable of providing and loving.
I hope I have a daughter, and I hope that she gets my nose. I hope that she can be who she wants to be, and live how she wants to live. I hope she knows that she is beautiful and capable. I hope she knows that her features are enough.
Out of the drawer next to my mirror, I grab the menstrual cup that I’ll probably need this afternoon. Funnily enough, even that looks different to me today. As crazy it might initially sound, I love getting my period. Getting my period means that I have a healthy body that is able to create life. It means that I can carry on my family’s legacy of strong women.
The small, silicone cup in my hand is something my German ancestors never would have dreamed of. It’s progress. It’s a symbol of all that women endure, and how nothing can slow us down. We refuse to be slowed down.
I think it’s time that I begin to see my morning routine not as a means to cover up my flaws, but rather as a way to highlight my family features. I wish I could tell my younger self that mom was right-- there is no answer to why some features are more beautiful than others. The reason why there is no clear answer, though, is because all features are beautiful. They belong to a legacy of empowered women--what’s more beautiful than that?
My face is mine, but it is also theirs. The women before me paved the way for me to have the opportunities that I do, but it’s my job to continue moving forward for the next generation. I’m proud to carry their features with me everywhere I go; I want them to be seen at every glass ceiling I break. My features are not luck or happenstance-- they are a thank you to the women before me.
In honor of International Women's Day, INTIMINA wants you to thank the women who came before you by nominating one female that inspires you. You’ll need to include the name of your nominee and why you’re nominating them. On March 31st 2020, INTIMINA will choose the winner to be awarded with the INTIMINA package (both the nominator and the nominee!!) and the winner will be featured on INTIMINA’s website along with some other amazing women. Let’s all celebrate women this month by speaking up about those who inspired us through our lives.