Still Beautiful

I can recall a time, long ago, when I was young, free, and fully present in my body. I was around 13 years old, with my whole life ahead of me. I felt completely connected to myself. I was confident. And I saw myself as beautiful. I felt most beautiful and alive when I was dancing and using my body as a form of expression. It felt good to be able to use my body as a way of connecting with the world. 

But, as I became a woman making my way through this world, I began to experience trauma, as many women do. Whether it was a brief episode—such as being grabbed while walking down the street—or something much deeper and prolonged—such as an emotionally abusive relationship—I learned to bear down and hold the pain within my body. With every abuse, every assault, every letdown, every broken promise, every heartbreak, every loss, every abandonment—a layer of trauma was added to my body. These layers began to cover and protect me from further pain. They closed me off from the world. They closed me off from myself.

At first, the pain was just internal. No one could see it. I tucked it away behind a smile. Eventually, I could no longer even force a smile. A tough exterior took its place. People saw me as strong. They could not see the pain. Only I saw it. I felt it. It was my secret. But over time, it couldn’t be ignored anymore. It could no longer be hidden. The weight of all the pain was adding up on my body and taking over my life. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I no longer recognized the person looking back at me. I saw someone who was hurt and scared. I felt broken and imprisoned in my body, and disconnected from the world. 

I no longer saw myself as beautiful or desirable. That had been emotionally beaten out of me. One traumatic relationship after another told me I was nothing. I was flawed. I was not valuable. I was not worthy of love. I believed all of it. I took it all in until I could no longer even look at myself. 

At first, I was actually relieved to no longer be beautiful or desirable. I didn’t want whatever part of me had attracted that pain into my life. Now, because of who I had become, no one would look at me. I would not be a target, subjected to that kind of pain, anymore. Life might be lonely this way, but I would be safe. And after everything I had been through, safe was more important to me than happiness or pleasure. 

In order to survive this new version of my life—one where I rejected joy and pleasure in exchange for safety—I shut myself down. I no longer allowed myself to want, desire, or seek pleasure in any way. After all, anything that was joyful felt dangerous. So I turned myself off. I lost myself, as well as that 13-year-old version of me who was free and full of life, not to mention hope and excitement about the future. I lost the ability to see myself as beautiful.

I was lost for a long time.

After many years of progressively shutting myself down, I finally felt the old me trying to emerge once again. I’m not sure exactly what sparked the urge. It could be that I have spent the last ten years focused on being with myself and exploring who I am. It could be that in that process, I learned I can trust myself and keep myself safe. Whatever the reason, little by little, I felt myself wanting to reconnect. I felt myself wanting to explore pleasure again. I felt myself wanting to take another try at living life more fully. So I started finding small and safe ways to connect with life again: reconnecting with people, re-exploring the concept of beauty, and allowing myself to experiment with pleasure and intimacy.

I can feel myself coming alive. I am slowly allowing that old, joyful part of myself to make her way back out into the world. It is exciting and terrifying all at once. But as I begin to move through the discomfort and the fear of being hurt again, I can also feel myself healing. As I heal, I know that I no longer need these protective layers or this extra weight. They no longer belong to me. They feel suffocating. And with each step I take in my healing process, I can feel the layers falling away and freeing me to live a new life.

I am reconnecting with my body and learning to love it again. I am reconnecting with myself and seeing my value again. I am reconnecting with the world around me and learning to feel pleasure again.

Let me be clear: This is a process. It will take time. It has been and will be a struggle. Reconnecting in this way means revisiting the pain so that I can truly release it once and for all. But I know that going through this process is necessary in order for me to be free and to fully show up in the world. I’m all in. I’m determined to release everything I have taken and held inside of me that is not mine—until all that remains is the purest, highest, most sacred version of me. 

I know many women who own the space they take up. I think they are beautiful. I am not someone who believes you have to be thin to be beautiful. That is not the issue. My issue is that what I see is not me. When I look at myself, I know that the person looking back at me is the result of trauma, so all I see is the pain. And I know that buried under all that pain is the girl I used to know, who now wants to make her way back out into the world and reclaim her right to joy and beauty. 

I know that no matter how much trauma I release, my body will never be the same. I’m older now, and there will always be some evidence of the pain and trauma left behind. But whatever version of my body I’m left with, I know I have to love it unconditionally. I know I need to stand proud with all I have endured and overcome. And no matter what, I must be grateful to this body for keeping me safe for so long and never abandoning me.

As I reconnect with the world, I sometimes wonder if anyone else will be able to love me like this. Will anyone be able to understand and appreciate the journey my body has been through? Will they only be able to see the scars left behind, or can they bear witness to the healing? Will anyone be strong enough to support me on this journey while I continue to heal? Will anyone be able to see me as beautiful?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. What I do know is that I need to be that person for myself. I need to love me like this. I need to understand and appreciate my journey and to stand in awe of the transformation I am going through. And I need to be strong enough to hold myself while I continue to heal.

As I stand here today, looking at my body and seeing that every flaw has a story behind it, I am finally starting to see the truth: I am still beautiful.

Vanessa Benavides

About the Author | Vanessa Benavides

Vanessa Benavides is a nonprofit professional who has focused her 20+ year career on addressing issues related to poverty. In her personal life, she is a seeker of justice and an ecstasy hunter, not just for herself but for everyone around her. Above all else, she values truth, love, and freedom. She is also the mother of a beautiful daughter who has a passion for dancing, acting, and singing.

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14 comments to "Still Beautiful"

  • Avatar
    Jeanny Figueroa

    Amazing article! Wow!!! I need to process all of it! I identified with so much in it! Thanks for sharing your story.

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    Lynne cameron

    This is fabulous! I plan to share.👏👏👏

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    Tracey W

    Thank you for opening up so intimately and profoundly. Thank you for bravely allowing access to this deep vulnerability, for yourself and for all of us.
    Your story will be a blessing to many. May it prove to be a blessing to your beautiful self.  🙏

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    Janet Crespo

    Awesome article! You’re transparency in in writing this article is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging others to live truth and authenticity. Definitely worth sharing. Always wishing you well❤️

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    Laura W

    Thanks for sharing your story. Something else that shows your beauty is the courage to be vulnerable; to name the experiences that shaped your self view – and using that lens to prioritize self-love and acceptance.

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    Amelia Hernandez

    May you shine bright and be a beacon to others around you.

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    Nadine Mass

    You are absolutely beautiful! And all those “layers” of pain have MADE YOU MORE BEAUTIFUL, insightful, empathetic, brilliant and kind. Your beautiful body will absolutely come to represent everything your journey has brought you through and your ultimate success. A stretch mark or a lose area of skin where weight once lived in trauma will now represent your courage and presence in this world!!!!!! Wonderfully put and will help every woman who has ever experienced trauma know that they CAN see the version of themselves they want to see in the mirror and access the joy for which they were meant!

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      Carolyn Gonzalez

      Wow!! What an amazing article!! So proud of you and thank you for sharing!! You are absolutely beautiful and strong! Love you my friend for always being true to yourself and everyone around you!

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      JMG

      Live in the light. You deserve it. You are worth it.

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    Diane Vekteris

    Thank you Vanessa for sharing your story. I can relate to some of what you shared and it really hit home.
    You’re an amazing woman and I’m proud to call you my friend. 💕

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    Nadine Johnson

    I loved this, Vanessa. You are beautiful! I know your journey will take you wherever you need to go. I am always here, cheering you on and wanting you to be your best self.

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    Maria Santiago

    You are beautiful, and thank you for writing and sharing this article. It resonated with me in so many ways. I’ll be sharing this.

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    Diana C.

    Always beautiful. That’s you! I am sure this article will be empowering for others. It was beautiful of you to share your vulnerability. And what a role model for your beautiful daughter you are!