Does anybody else have a book they automatically reach for when things get a bit shit and you’re feeling a tad insecure, low and generally down? Mine’s North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. I picked this up, ooh, about 8/9 years ago when I was around 15/16 I think. I remember cruising Amazon not looking for anything in particular (like I do most nights🤣) and I happened upon it. The first line of the blurb grabbed my attention, “how far would you go to find true beauty?” I mean what a question. When you’re a teenager that’s one of the most prevalent questions really isn’t it? ‘What can I do to be prettier/liked/popular/cool…?’ take your pick, there’s a dozen more interchangeable words you can use.
The story follows a young girl, Tessa, who goes through a journey of self discovery and self acceptance. A port wine stain covers her cheek and dictates how she portrays herself to the world. It’s the age old tale of a young girl who doesn’t quite fit in, trying to navigate her way through society and the world she finds herself in through her passion of cartography and art. As the story progresses she’s forced to realise that the way she’s been living her life, through her own choices and the circumstances around her, isn’t the path she has to continue on. With a controlling and emotionally manipulative father who cages her into a box, it’s takes a boy called Jacob (obv) and a trip to China for her to break down the walls she’s built around her self worth and recognise that her flaws are what make her beautiful, and not her quest to change herself to be the epitome of societal perfection and beauty, “flawed, we’re truly interesting, truly memorable, and yes, truly beautiful.”
The first time I read the novel I remember feeling peace, a stillness within me after I turned the last page. As a 15/16 year old, Tessa’s journey of self acceptance and self love spoke volumes to me. I don’t know why this particular book and the story spoke to me, but it did. Right book at the right time I guess. Every time I read it I felt so much better within myself. Happy. Content. Proud of who I was. I always turned to it whenever I was feeling low, upset, unhappy with who I was, inadequate, or a mixture of all them, and once I’d finished I’d make a mental note of my self worth and why I was important.But unfortunately this feeling didn’t last long and as it faded I needed more reminders. It reached the point where I was reading it at least 2-3 times a week, finishing it and literally picking it up again the following day. And then without realising it, as time went by, I was reading it less and less. Once a week. A couple times a month. Once every 6 months. Now I can’t remember the last time I read it. It’s definitely been at least 2/3 years, but the time frame is slightly hazy.
My university years are when I grew the most as a person, learning to love myself for who I was and North of Beautiful, along with a few other books and supportive and loving friends helped me come to terms with who I was as a person and to not feel like I had to hide myself away because I wasn’t ‘pretty enough’ like I’d been told during my teen years. I hate that. No one should be told they’re not pretty enough, or fit enough, or man enough, or if they did X they’d become more appealing. I still get this, but my skin has grown thicker and I’m able to brush it of much easier than I used to. This is the society we live it, but it shouldn’t be the norm, especially in the social media age we live in. It’s so easy to fabricate a life well led for others to be envious about and to edit images, that’s it’s no surprise depression rates are high and most people feel like they will never be ‘enough.’
This week however, I’ve felt the urge to pick up North of Beautiful for the first time in a long while but it’s okay. Everyone’s insecurities and inadequacies spring up from time to time and this week’s been my turn. Reading the book after such a long time away has been like an old friend welcoming me back. Warm and comforting, enveloping me into a world of safety. Below is one of my favourite passages from the book. It’s the turning point really where Tessa begins to re-evaluate her life and the impact she can have on others if she only learns to love herself and the talents she possesses:
“This is beautiful,” I said, ignoring the shop window to trace the gleaming stone walls fronting another boutique.
“You know what’s funny?” Jacob asked. He didn’t wait for my answer. “You can see beauty in everything, except for yourself.”
I swallowed hard. Erik thought my body was beautiful, Karin that it was enviable. At random times, people had noted that my hands were beautiful, or my hair. The Twisted Sisters had called my art beautiful. Mom had the best intentions and always told me before and after my laser surgeries that I would be beautiful. But no one had ever said that I was beautiful, all my parts taken together, not just the bits and pieces.”
Self love and self worth is so important, but it takes time. No one is perfect, and we should all take the time to recognise our flaws and accept them. Easier said than done I know. I’m definitely still learning to accept all my flaws and I probably will be for the rest of my life. But hopefully as time goes on, they’ll fade further and further away from my consciousness until I don’t fixate on them.
“That’s when it struck me: how gorgeous we all were, even with cellulite and stretch marks, scars and tattoos.” ❤ ❤ ❤