A Soft Armor: Beauty, Boundaries & Ultimately Balance

Just a brief record of facts, topics, or thoughts, written down as an aid to my memory:

Why are we so taken by the beauty of nature? Most often, it seems to me, we find nature to be beautiful not merely because it appeals to our senses, but because it is a gentle yet powerful reminder of what is true. Whether we realize it or not, every second of our lives is spent chasing after something real, especially an authenticity within ourselves, and nature is the most reliable way to reconnect us to what is genuine.

As observers of nature we are confronted with one giant, complex process that isn’t of our own making, but this intelligence is of intrinsic value to us because it shows us how to navigate our way through the world.

As I write this, I occasionally glance at the dried roses on my windowsill. I took them two weeks ago from the dull city park in my hometown. I have always been indifferent to roses, seeing them as too sentimental thanks to the superficial glamour we project onto them, but I was so overcome with the desire to take some that I took out my snips (a tool from my old job that I never bothered to remove from my purse).

My respect for the rose grew exponentially when I attempted to maneuver around its prickles (technically they’re not thorns). It commanded respect and I literally stopped what I was doing and asked the roses—not the park maintenance workers nearby—if I could take them. I feel like they said yes.

Yes, most people throughout the ages have highly regarded the rose, but what I find more intriguing is how much the rose regards itself. If plants really are sentient, as I believe they are, roses surely know their worth and how valuable their god-given attributes are because of how fiercely they protect them. 

Roses are beautiful, however, a play between strength and fragility, purity and experience, light and darkness, is what makes them so intriguing to me. I’m finding that the same tension exists within me. I’ve got the vulnerability down, but I’m looking to unleash the ferocity. 

“Ironically, my profession requires daily exhibition of body and face and emotions. Now I feel that I am afraid of revealing myself. Afraid that what I write will leave me vulnerable and no longer able to defend myself.”

—Actress Liv Ullmann in her memoir “Changing”

Beauty is very powerful and not as flippant as this world would have us believe.

Yes, it gives us the experience of pleasure or satisfaction but that’s just the half of it. Beauty is a spectrum, not a grab bag for definitive pronouncements.

Yet it’s simple: Beauty, true beauty, not the narrow-minded constraints we put on physical beauty, should reflect some resonant truth within us back to us and ultimately inspire us to mark our individuality—the gifts, qualities and characteristics given us by nature, not those ascribed to us by humankind.

The roses I took looked nice and smelled nice and made me happy, but more importantly, their power lies in the fact that they were just being what they are, what they are designed to be. 

I believe that your beauty, you at your truest and most natural self, will inadvertently protect you. When you are clearly and authentically self-defined, and value yourself, you are free to be open, transparent and true without anyone easily abusing you.

Given this, if someone reaches out to take, they’ll either have to ask permission or run the risk of bleeding for it.

One day I saw this Alexander McQueen dress (from the SS 2020 collection) and I fell so much in love with it that I had to draw it.

From there, I fell into something of a Lee McQueen wormhole – reading articles, watching YouTube interviews, and most recently watching McQueen which was equal parts inspiring and devastating. There are many things about him that resonate with me – mainly the fact that he was a storyteller, that he subtly used his own story as a fountainhead of inspiration, and that he exorcised his demons through his work. 

Following his suicide, Sarah Burton became the successor of McQueen. Burton’s designs are beautiful but kinda gets the side-eye because her designs do not reflect the darkness, intensity, and highly conceptual vision of the late McQueen. However, I think her values are the same (the core value being to empower the feminine), just expressed in a different way.

As a result of traumatic childhood experiences – witnessing the domestic abuse of his older sister at the hands of her husband, as well as McQueen himself being sexually abused by this man – his designs are often described as a “creative armor” purposed to almost scare men, presenting women in a powerful, Amazonian – and scary – light. 

Burton, on the other hand, describes her work as “soft armor.”

I like it hard and I like it soft, to be honest. Both approaches are a beautiful portrayal of strength and assertiveness.

I’m reminded of two things: A traditional Anishinaabe story that I read in Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask and the Diné (Navajo) concept of Hózhó and “The Beauty Way” (which I first came across several years ago in Walking Thunder: Diné Medicine Woman).

Hózhó is a word and concept that is not easy to translate into English but “beautiful”, “harmonious”, “good”, “blessed”, “pleasant” and “satisfying” could be close.

It also means seeking and incorporating aesthetic qualities into life, it means inner life and harmony, and it means making the most of all that surrounds us. It refers to a positive, beautiful, harmonious, happy environment that must be constantly created by thought and deed. Hozho encourages us to go in beauty and to enjoy the gifts of life and nature and health. 

Simply put, it means to be in balance and beauty with the world. One must “walk in beauty” and live in hózhó, continually practicing and finding balance in one’s daily life.

The Navajo believe that when a person is  longer in harmony with the world, they fall ill or begin to act like the biligana (the white man or one who struggles). When hózhó has been lost, a ceremony is held to restore balance.