Small Breasts and Crooked Teeth

We all have something that we feel vehemently about or, if you’re anything like me, a multitude of things. But, there is one thing that I have felt the same way about for as long as I can remember:

Love and accept the body you were given - unconditionally. 

Kids don't usually know that there is something "wrong" about their body until someone points it out to them. They happily go about their day not worried about the shape of their body, the contours of their face, or the size of their appendages. 

The real shitty thing is that there is nothing wrong with their body (or their face), it's completely perfect just the way that it is. You know the saying, "humans are perfectly imperfect." It isn't until some arbitrary fucked up societal and cultural standards are called out to them do they then start to feel like something is wrong with them... something different... something inadequate. And if they feel that way, then they better make their counterparts feel just as shitty. And so, the cycle begins. At a very, very young age. 

Biased comparison isn't innate. Babies and toddlers simply take note of differences and process them as neutral differences. "I'm this color, they are that color;" "my nose is shaped this way, their's is shaped that way;" "my hair is this color, their's is that color." They have a genuine curiosity but typically don't associate their observation with something negative until someone else like a parent, sibling, or playmate teaches it to them. They make simple and objective observations without viewing one as desirable and one as less desirable or undesirable. 

When I was about 12-years-old I was at a routine dentist appointment. The dentist started talking to me and my late step-mom about orthodontics and straightening my teeth. We were both a little confused as to why this was brought up and asked why he was giving us information on "fixing my teeth." His answer beat around the bush a bit. I was taken back. And, well, offended. We asked if this was medically necessary or if this was strictly cosmetic. He confirmed it would simply be to straighten my teeth for aesthetics. 

F-that. I was a tough little horse-riding BB Gun shooting cookie infused with The Doors, Metallica, and Alice N' Chains.

I laughed and told him I didn't need or want to have my teeth straight. My step-mom laughed with me and reflecting back, I think she was pretty damn proud. 

Before that visit to the dentist office, I didn't think much of my teeth. I smiled in pictures and laughed without concern of someone looking at my crooked teeth. But after that visit, there was little voice inside me that whispered..."Your teeth don't look like they should. You don't have a pretty smile." I increasingly become self-conscious of my teeth and smile. I compared my teeth to my peers, my siblings, and girls in magazines and on TV. In family photos, you can see me going from a teeth-showing smile to a subtle smirk, or pursed lips (before it was a raving trend), or even no smile at all. Thank God this was before the likes of Facebook and Instagram or even wide-spread internet adoption.

I even rocked my unibrow

I even rocked my unibrow

My siblings and I, me, far right

My siblings and I, me, far right

Of course, I negatively compared myself to others before then (like when I hit puberty and broke out with acne before other kids my age in elementary school resulting in relentless teasing by older boys), but this was certainly a time in my life when I became even more concerned with my looks. And, started to consider whether or not I was pretty enough just the way that I was. 

Thankfully during this time of my life, I didn't only listen to classic rock and metal. While I was questioning my beauty and uniqueness, Jewel was breaking records with her album, Pieces of You and my sister and I had her hits on repeat. 

Jewel's face was all over magazines and VH1, and although most images and clips of her were with her lips closed or slightly parted, there was the rare few that showed her now famed crooked teeth. 

I was affirmed. I wasn't alone in letting my teeth be au naturel. 

Jewel's teeth have been the topic of conversation on more than one occasion in the entertainment industry. In writing this post, I came across this interview were she intimately discusses her stance on her teeth. 

When I first got signed to a recording contract, I saw other girls in my industry getting nose jobs and boob jobs and chin jobs, because they wanted to gain an acceptance they were unwilling to give themselves. Of course I considered having my teeth fixed. But I knew that if I started down that path, it would be a slippery slope—having come from a broken and dysfunctional home life, I was not the picture of high self-esteem. I was, however, the daughter of pioneers. In Alaska, I was raised on a homestead. We lived off the land, which taught me that hard work pays off. It also taught me one of the most important things I have ever learned, something I still try to live by to this day: Hard wood grows slowly. I know, that isn’t a very flashy life motto, but make no mistake, it is profound. If you want something to last, it has to develop over time. An oak may take a long time to grow, but it lives for hundreds of years. Country living taught me that there are no shortcuts or quick fixes for a meaningful life. I had to figure out real solutions to my problems if I wanted them to be permanent. If I wanted to build a healthy new life, it meant learning to love and accept myself, and to be a friend to myself. It meant forgiving my short comings, accepting my flaws, and finding the courage to not make decisions out of insecurity. It meant letting people call me “snaggle tooth” or anything else they wanted, without losing my pride. Happiness and self- acceptance wouldn’t come overnight. They were a process, and if I wanted lasting results, I had to commit to that process—even if it was a public one. I had to define beauty for myself.
— Jewel

Jewel beautifully and profoundly states what I have come to fervently believe for myself.

You cannot fix the way you feel on the inside by changing something on the outside. Learning to love and accept yourself unconditionally is a feat most people will never conquer. 

Looking in the mirror and saying "I am beautiful," is fucking hard. Looking in the mirror and saying, "I am beautiful, I love and accept myself," is really fucking hard. Embracing it is really, really fucking hard and takes massive work. Work that is internal and that no one else can do for you or validate. This isn't to say that you are alone in the process, I've received massive support and guidance. I've asked for help in my times of darkness and visceral feelings that I was the ugliest human being on the planet and I was met with empathy; though I was alone the work to pull myself out of despair.

It's hard work that needs to be done over and over throughout our entire life. Through aging, illness, weight changes, injuries, depression, stress, and heartache. It's a practice that takes humility and it's work that I don't believe is ever finished or fixed. Certainly not through cosmetic surgeries, anti-aging bullshit, airbrushing, or “beauty” products. Time and time again, I've thought I fully accepted my body and then wham-bam I have some jiggly skin out of nowhere and my thighs have a couple more spots with cellulite that can be seen from my neighbors house. Some days, I am more accepting and graceful of myself than others.

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The next big kick to my self-esteem was when I was 19. My college boyfriend and I were laying in his bed one morning and I asked him (oooooh the naivety!), "what would you change about me if you could change something?" Fully expecting him to say "absolutely nothing baby," or something sweet and ironically complimentary like "the way you're so hard on yourself." Yeah, there is no Relationships 101 in college. 

No, what he said ( I still remember nearly 15 years later) was, "I'd have your teeth fixed and get you some bigger boobs." 

My dropped-jaw and complete silence must have signaled to him to backtrack. He then said "you know... if you want to keep modeling." At the time I was doing some modeling but little did he comprehend that the type of fashion modeling that I was doing gave a shit about my small breasts and actually preferred them small and rarely wanted a smile. Thin? Yes (which is one of the reasons I did not pursue a career), but big boobs and tattoos? No. Smile? Not really. Stone cold or seductive smirk, please.

I quickly left his bed and called my sister balling while I drove to go ride my horse to blow off steam and center myself. Riding always reminded me of who I was and what truly mattered in life - similar to how yoga does for me now. 

The paradox was that before that moment, I hadn't really ever thought about my breasts in a negative light before. I have small frame and for the most part, have always been slender. Having small breasts just kind of made sense. In fact, I found them to be sexy. I could go braless and wear plunging neckline shirts and chic dresses that some of my friends couldn't "pull off" without being judged for looking slutty (you can't win). Up until that moment, I felt quite confident with my breasts. They were perky and just... fit. I was never teased for being "flat" so maybe they are a cup bigger than the "pancake"? So, this was a big WTF moment for me. 

You can imagine what that did to my confidence. Despite how much I wanted to not care what other people thought about me, I did. Especially, my then boyfriend. And, despite his comment and pornography addiction, I stayed with him for four more years. 

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Along with my horse and sister, music came to the rescue once again and this time it was India Arie. Her Grammy winning songs helped to lift me higher and continuously  gave me the message that I needed to accept myself, even if others didn't. 

Her lyrics from  'Video' ran through my head day-in and day-out.

Don't need your silicone I prefer my own
What God gave me is just fine

Yet, I still had that tiny voice inside my head. This time it said, "no one will ever love and accept your body just the way that it is." The abstruse thing being that I really did prefer my own. Not once did I look in the mirror and long for bigger breasts - or straight teeth for that matter. 

Each time after that when a man told me, "I love your body," the thought inside my head was "yeah sure, you love parts of it, but what would you change to make me perfect?" And each time he said "I will love you forever," I told myself "yeah, he'll love me while I still have the elasticity in my skin or until he finds someone 'like me' with bigger boobs...or straighter teeth... or straight hair... or who is taller... or skinnier...or younger." I never believed that anyone could love and embrace all of me and continue to through the changes of time be it aging, illness, injury, pregnancy, and all of the other things that life may throw my way.

I have experienced the heaviness of infidelity, verbal abuse, manipulation, anger, rape, and yet something came up recently that caused me to discover that I had never forgiven that young man all those years ago. An incident that is seemingly very insignificant in comparison and nevertheless, has impacted my life, self-esteem, and relationships for years. Since that discovery, I have forgiven him and feel completely unattached to that moment and his immature sentiments. I had no idea I had been tied to that moment for so long. It has me pondering the notion of forgiveness and do we sometimes tell ourselves that we have forgiven when in actuality, we have only attempted to forget?

It took me many years of internal work to get to a place where I could welcome love into my heart and it's an endless practice of opening. Years of self-help practices, energy work, yoga, solo travel, mediation, living alone, and mindfulness (I'm starting to not like that trendy word but it is valid).

I’ve learned walls are actually the least protective. When you let your walls fall down and stand naked and vulnerable, raw intimacy blankets you. 

BIG crooked smile with the man that loves it

BIG crooked smile with the man that loves it

Now in my thirties, I have a loving and gracious man in my life who embraces me fully and it's still difficult for me to be vulnerable and trust that he will continue to love me unconditionally as the years pass. Trusting your partner is a recipe I'm still learning but what I've found is that it's a concoction of a leap of faith, benefit of the doubt, conscious forgiveness, respect, reminding myself of who he is (rather than grouping him in with men from my past), reminding myself of who we are together, communicating my concerns and insecurities, and giving him the trust that I wish to receive. 

While that's a nice ingredient list, it's the relationship with myself that allows me to open myself up to my partner, to love him unconditionally, and welcome imperfections with myself, him, and us. I thank my 12 and 19-year-old self for staying true to myself and not giving into cultural and societal ideals and pressures. 

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I do not believe myself to be better than those who have made permanent changes to their bodies, I too have made changes to my body albeit temporary, such as dying my hair and wearing hot pink lipstick. There is a fine line and I try to understand my motives of any change I make to my body. Who is it for? Why will this make me happier? Is there something going on inside that I am trying to fix on the outside? What example will this set to those who look up to me? And, I do not think less of anyone who chooses to permanently change their body - men or women (because poor body-image does not just effect women), that's their prerogative. Though, I do wish for them the same thing that I wish for myself and that is the ability and willingness to love and accept their body unconditionally and the strength to do the ever-lasting internal work that makes that more attainable. 

With love, 

-AEB

You Did Sign Up for This

No, you did not sign up for emotional or physical abuse so let's just get that out of the way. And to be clear, infidelity, lying, secrecy, illegal activity, and otherwise malicious and/or immoral behavior would fall under emotional abuse.

I've heard people in committed, romantic, and monogamous relationships say: "I didn't sign up for this." Or worse, after the relationship falls apart, I've heard: "I didn't sign up for that."

Actually, you did. By saying yes, you signed up.

You signed up for depression. 
You signed up for tears.
You signed up for demotions. 
You signed up for less pay. 
You signed up for shitty jobs. 
You signed up for failure.
You signed up for unanticipated expectations. 
You signed up for disappointment. 
You signed up for weight gain. 
You signed up for weight loss. 
You singed up for confusion. 
You signed up for anxiety. 
You signed up for miscommunications. 
You signed up for uncomfortableness. 
You signed up for awkwardness. 
You signed up for illness. 
You signed up for struggle. 
You signed up for a low sex drive. 
You signed up for wrinkles. 
You signed up for stretch marks. 
You signed up for thinning hair. 
You signed up for sagging body parts.
You signed up for unknowns. 

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You signed up for all of it.

You also signed up for happiness. 
You signed up for laughter.
You signed up for promotions. 
You signed up for celebrations. 
You signed up for amazing opportunities.
You signed up for success. 
You signed up for reliability. 
You signed up for self-improvement. 
You signed up for surprises. 
You singed up for change.
You signed up for clarity. 
You signed up for communication.
You signed up for trust.
You signed up for connection.
You signed up for comfort.
You signed up for playfulness.
You signed up for vitality.
You signed up for break-throughs. 
You signed up for being sexually desired. 
You signed up growing older together.
You signed up for a companion.
You signed up for an adventure. 

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With love, 

-AEB

Title Unknown - That is the Title

It has been a long while since my last post. At least to me, nearly four months is a loooong time to not be writing - or rather  publishing something that is not work related (but isn't it all? More on that later...)

My life is radically different than it was six months ago.

In less than a year, I have fallen madly in love with the a humble, sexy, and strong man. And I do not mean strong merely in the physical sense. The man I have fallen in love one with is strong intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I have moved across the country (again, making this my 6th cross-country move in three years). Not only have I moved across the country, but I have moved in with this man that I have the honor of calling my boyfriend.

This is him.  

This is him.  

For the first time in over 6 years, I am sharing my life with someone. But perhaps more beautiful, more significant, more juicy than that - for the first time in my life, I am openly and peacefully sharing my life with another person - something that I was not sure I would be able to do (or would want to for that matter). I quite liked being single. Though something I have come to learn is that while there are inevitably sacrifices in a relationship, I still live my life the way that I choose to live my life. I still do all of things that I enjoy doing - the things that make me ... me. Things like yoga, jogging, walking, hiking, farmers markets, cooking, writing, and meditation.

I have come to learn that in a relationship - perhaps one of the most paramount things that we need to remember is that what attracted the other person to us is who we are. As soon as we lose sight of the things that make us - us - OUR passions, OUR dreams, OUR goals, we begin to morph into something that neither person can recognize or genuinely and whole heartily love.

Something that I have come to learn in my thirty years here on Earth, is that in a healthy relationship, we add to one another's happiness. We do not solely create it. We are not responsible for the other person's happiness - and they are not responsible for ours. In a healthy relationship, we build more passions, more dreams, more goals - we don't let go of our own. This isn't to say that when something is not serving us well anymore - say an adolescent passion or an unreasonably lofty goal, that we shouldn't let that go. Goals that we have outgrown or evolved beyond most certainly need to be adjusted or completely eliminated. But that is an individual decision. Happiness is an individual choice. One of the things that attracted me to the man that I am with - is that, like me, he had made a distinct decision to choose happiness in his life.

As if falling in love, cohabiting, and moving across the country wasn't enough of a change, I have also started work with a new company. A SaaS technology company that is doing some seriously awesome things in the Digital Asset Management space. 

Most of us wish we could be "retired." We want to tromp around in the woods, frolic in open fields, lounge alongside open seas, and travel to our hearts to content - we talk about these idyllic circumstances with our significant others and friends. We dream of days with no plans, no schedules, no commitments, no deadlines. We celebrate "hump day," carry smiles on "it's almost Friday Thursday's," and act like kindergarteners headed out for recess on Friday's. We fantasize about afternoon siestas and exploring foreign lands and not.... working.

Yet paradoxically, most of us actually enjoy working. Not rudimentary or mundane work - actual work. Work that helps to create balance in our lives and fulfill an element of our health that nothing else can fulfill. Work that is challenging - mentally and often times also physically. Work that allows us to use our brains and our bodies. Work that at the end of the day, we feel we made a difference. Work that makes us feel that what we did all day mattered - that we are valued and provide value. 

Whether you are drilling for oil or you are taking the redeye flight after a week of international meetings, both are taxing on your body. Both require mental and physical exertion. To be meaningfully rewarded financially, emotionally, progressively - time, energy, and dedication need to be put it - with a sense of purpose and pride. Time away from families. Time away from our other passions. Time away from days with no plans.

Whether an owner of a coffee shop or an architect - a logger or a software engineer - a fishing guide or a CEO - a ski instructor or a chef, there is real opportunity to love the shit out of what they do. Each profession so wildly different yet each one has the potential to bring great satisfaction. Similar to a relationship, work that you are passionate about adds to your happiness. It does not define it.

Can you develop passion for something? I believe that passion can be developed over time through a process of self-discovery, finding your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and confusions -  and continuing to build upon knowledge and skills. I believe some things that we are passionate about come to us innately and others we have the ability to create, build, and excel in. 

I heard a quote once, that I'll end with: 

"Discover what it is that you desire to do. Listen to your body and mind as you stress it in different ways. Distill that to its essence." 
-Author Unknown

Here's to the next six months. 

With love,

AEBailey