Poem: I’ll Tell You What Beauty Is

Written by Rania Rizvi.


So what is beauty?

I have spent all my life trying to find the answer,

But I just can’t seem to figure it out.

I racked my brain for an idea.

I read poems and listened to ballads;

I asked my mother and the stars;

I consorted with angels and begged the clouds

To give me an answer, or some kind of lead,

but all I am is the beggar who just pleads.


My mother tells me that I’m beautiful,

but I accept her compliment with some doubt.

Because with this bombardment of social media

And Hollywood and magazines

with all these women who just look

nothing like me

What should I believe?

They are beautiful without a doubt,

But what it is all about?

What is it that makes them so beautiful?

I just can’t seem to spit it out.


Since I was 12 years old

“Am I beautiful?” was a recurring thought

And like many young girls, I went on the internet,

Wanting to be validated in some way,

But that was the day it all changed.

I never looked at the mirror the same.

I was struck with awe

With all these things that I saw:


I saw bone and white flesh;

I saw godly skin and almond eyes;

I saw body after body that looked nothing like mine.

I saw long, pretty Kardashian hair.

I saw flawless faces and pores filled with makeup and immaculate nails

and plastic skin

and plastic lips and plastic hair

and plastic smiles and a plastic life.

All hashtagged: perfect, hashtagged: beautiful

Hashtag: why can’t this all be mine?


My 12-year-old self was in despair

I had felt like I had failed

Like I wasn’t good enough

For this is what “beauty” is,

And this I am not.


And then I discovered all the ways that I could be beautiful,

how I could be just like these people I admired so much.

I saw diet pills and pretty teas and “beauty” detoxes

And thigh gaps and calendars and Xs through cake.


I saw meals and portions that can fit in the palms of your hands

And juices and cleanses and fasting plans.

I saw air and emptiness and fruit floating in water;

I saw calories and counters and numbers so small.

I saw all those girls who were my age on this noble path to the pursuit of “beauty”

And I wondered, should I follow along?


But then I saw the most beautiful part: all the victims who slowly fell apart

I saw those young girls with heavenly bodies look dead in their eyes

I saw razors dripping in blood and lacerated thighs

I saw tortured skin and stained bathroom sinks

I saw suicide notes and lost hope and broken bottles and cigarettes

and a madness and mayhem and the edge of death.


I saw tears falling and friends begging, hoping,

Praying, that their friend hadn’t killed themselves,

and empty faces and guilty mothers and screams for help

and heartbreak and insecurity and I can’t help but wonder: “For what?”


Is this what beauty really is?

Suffocating myself into a hot pink waist trainer

Dwindling my calories down to nothing

Counting and recounting my flaws

Sticking needles into my skin

Conforming my waistline

and compressing myself

until I please a man

Or disappear inside double zero skinny jeans?

Or till my bones creep to the surface?

Or till my pills and reasons to live run out?


Is this what I tell my friend when she’s crying on the phone,

wishing she was worthy, wishing she was pretty,

wishing that she was something more than just a victim to this disease

to be deemed societally “beautiful”

Is this it?


I refuse to believe that I and you and us,

my mother, my sister, your brother,

my grandmother, my best friend, your lover,

who look nothing like the dolls of a man made patriarchal world

are simply unworthy from holding the title of beautiful—

I know that there is something more.


But the question remains: what is beauty?

And I felt like giving up

I started to believe it was pointless,

Until one day I looked at my sister’s face.


She was looking out the window and her eyes reflected the golden sunlight outside,

And her whole face lit up like it had been touched by god himself.

She was smiling with her whole existence, with every muscle on her face

and I thought “my god, is she beautiful”

and that’s when I realized what true beauty is.


It is beyond just vanity and lipstick and fair skin;

I don’t even know how to begin to describe,

Such a visceral force that comes from inside.

It is so deeply encoded into our precious HUMAN existence;

My god, beauty is simply everything.


Beauty is a force, contagious like gravity

It is when the sun collides with the sky to create the day;

It is the first few flowers of spring and seeing the sunset on the beach;

It is the crinkles around your eyes when you smile and that gap in your front teeth;

It is those acne scars you cover up and those split ends you chop off;

It is being human and embracing the ugliness that comes with it all.


It is the tears falling down your mother’s face on graduation day;

It is your father finally giving you hug after years of just a pat on the back;

It is laughing with friends you thought you had lost.

It is that feeling you get when everything seems ok.

It is closing your eyes and letting the warmth of the sun consume your woe.

It is finally letting all that pain and insecurity go.


We don’t need more beauty, for we have too much.

What we need, is a new lens that accepts this beauty with an open heart.

Because it is all the crazy, ugly, human flaws

That make us who we are.

Chasing perfection is like chasing the clouds

And the truth is, you’ll never win—

Because there was never anything to lose.


Our beauty is complex and delicate and yet, such an immense force;

It is god-given, it is embedded in our souls.

What we need to realize that after all this time,

That all this beauty we are so obsessed with,

Is already on the inside.


So what is beauty?

Beauty is “I”