This is the Definition of Beauty (This is the Definition of Pain)

The following poem centres around the idea of body image. It also focusses on an individual’s personal definition of beauty. It explores the struggles young women often go through–though this is an issue that affects both males and females–when it comes to trying to attain the beauty standards that have been laid out before them. Whether these standards come from the influence of peers, the media, or one’s own perception of self, pain often accompanies the desire to be beautiful. That’s what this piece is about.

I’ve been wanting to write about beauty and body image for a long time, but I’d been struggling to find the right words. It wasn’t until just recently, actually, as I was skimming through one of my journals, that I found a source of inspiration. It was a one-liner that read, “Sixth grade: the year I learned to hate myself.” I’d written this a couple of months ago in my creative writing class when we were told to write from the perspective of our past selves. This line was written in response to this prompt and was inspired by my junior high, sixth-grade self –a version of me that really struggled with her body image. Thus, a poem was born. This piece is dedicated to anyone who has ever struggled with body image. This is my way of saying “You’re not alone” because I know we’ve all had moments when we have been ashamed of the way we look.

At the same time, I think I also wrote this piece out of defiance—defiance against anyone who has ever made me feel ugly. This piece also serves the purpose of warning people about the impacts they can have when they choose to berate someone’s appearance. I encourage anyone who reads this poem to always be mindful of their words. Let us all promise to use kind, positive affirmations when we speak to each other—not degrading ones.

Let us all promise to acknowledge both the inner and outer beauty of our friends, family members, and acquaintances. But let us also promise to do try and do this when it comes to our own appearances as well, no matter how hard it may seem at times.

Writing this poem was cathartic for me. I hope reading it will also be cathartic for all of you.

Without further ado, I give you “This is the Definition of Beauty (This is the Definition of Pain)”


When I was eleven,

the Popular Girls in my class told me

that if I wanted to get a boy to like me,

I had to be pretty.

So I traded my sweatpants in

for a pair of  jeans and a mini skirt,

wore my hair down

instead of up in a ponytail,

brushed my eyelids with

dark blue eyeshadow–

all in an attempt to be Beautiful.

I was in the Sixth Grade then.

I should have been playing with dolls

and jumping rope.

Because that’s what little girls

 are supposed to do.

Because little girls aren’t supposed

to play with flat irons

or read Teen Vogue 

for the latest Beauty Hacks

when they’re in the Sixth Grade.

Sixth Grade.

It’s a year I’ll never forget.

Because that was the year I started caring about appearances.

That was the year I learned to hate myself.


I spend an hour and a half on my makeup

every morning,

a tedious routine of

Moisturize, Foundation, Powder

to cover up the acne on my forehead

and the dark circles under my eyes.

But no–we’re not done yet because there’s still

Blush, Gloss, Liner

to bring colour

to this blank complexion.

And once I’ve put my face on,

well, hey, I don’t look so bad.

I look OK,

maybe even decent.

But then I get to school

and they’ve ruined it because

“You have lipstick on your teeth.”


“Your mascara is clumpy.”


But the next day I try harder.

So hard that I

burn my hand on the curling wand

when I go to do my hair.

So hard that I

subject myself to the torture of wearing

high-heels that nip at my ankles

and blister my heels.

But I remind myself that

 five-foot-three means I’m below average

 and below average isn’t Beauty.

And I guess it’s true what they say,

that Beauty is Pain.

But there seems to be a

little bit too much ouch!

and not enough pretty

I am not Beautiful.



I do not know what I am.

All I know is that I

can’t bear looking at myself.

Not in the mirror, and I

 avoid cameras at all costs–

the camera adds ten pounds,

doesn’t it?


But only when you’re


Because the other girls look just fine,

(Better than Fine),

in their Instagram selfies.

With their plump lips,

porcelain skin

and petite noses.

I’ve never liked my nose,

how it’s always seemed

too big for my face.

But maybe I’ve never really

liked anything about myself.

My parents tell me I’m delusional,

and my friends think I’m ridiculous

for believing this.

“You’re beautiful.

Stop putting yourself down.”

But I can’t help but think

that they are all lying to me

because sometimes you have to lie

to spare someone the heartache.

Because they wouldn’t be very good people

if they admitted it, if they said,

“You’re right, you’re not Beautiful.”

I am not Beautiful. 

These are the thoughts

that tear me apart,

pounding my self-esteem into

dust, into non-existence.

But did it ever exist in the first place?

I try to remember

when this all started.

I  count in my head.

Five years.  

Five years…

Five years later, and I’m

still trying to be Beautiful.

I’ve given my

blood and sweat.

I’ve given my tears,

tears that make

my mascara run.


because I hate feeling like this.

I hate feeling so…



When I was eleven,

I was determined to be Beautiful.

Because that was the only way

to get a boy to like me,

They told me.

But looking back now,

maybe it was about more than

just a boy.

Because to be Beautiful was

 (is) to matter.

I wanted to matter.

So I decided that I needed

to change.

And that’s what I did.

Changed my clothes,

and my hair.

My face…

That’s why I played

with flat irons instead of dolls,

why I read Teen Vogue 

instead of jumping rope.

 Because I thought these things

would help make me Beautiful.

But they say that Beauty always

comes with a price, doesn’t it?

And my price?

My price was my childhood.

Because I never gave myself the

chance to be a little girl,

never gave myself the chance

to be a sixth-grader.

The Sixth Grade…

It’s a year I’ll never forget.

Because that was the year I started caring about appearances.

That was the year I learned to hate myself.

A haunting exploration of body image, this is the song I often listened to while working on this piece.  All the images incorporated into this post are also related to the singer herself–Melanie Martinez.

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6 thoughts on “This is the Definition of Beauty (This is the Definition of Pain)

  1. Dear Jade,

    I don’t really know how to express myself properly after reading your piece. It hit me really hard, probably because there is just so much truth in it – and so much pain… the same pain that I know we have both felt. It’s interesting because my free choice blog was also about body image but in a very different way. While I think that mine was more about the desperation and the physical pain that comes with body image consequences, I feel that yours related more to the brutality and the mental & emotional pain that comes with trying to be beautiful. I loved that your poem offered me a new perspective on body image that differs greatly from my own experiences but still comes to the same conclusion as I do.
    This was just incredible to read because of your style – especially your diction –which really made me feel the pain of the poem. Somehow you managed to build emotion into words with such skill and palpable passion that I was wholly transported into the world of the poem. I could physically feel the sting of the curling iron and the pinch of high heeled shoes, but more importantly, I could feel the pain of what other people said to make you feel ugly. I was truly emotionally moved by the way you wrote, and this is the first time in a very long time that I have read something I could so strongly connect to.
    I love the way that you chose to do your stanzas, where you separated them across the page rather than using a simple space. I think that it really spoke to the scattered and fragmented emotional state of the piece, and helped to visually emphasise the complexity of what it means to be beautiful.
    I also really liked the visuals that you chose. They really helped to enhance your writing and made everything feel so much more real.
    Also, your choice to capitalise certain phrases and words really worked for me. It helped to illustrate the god-like status afforded to things like Popular Girls, Eyeliner, and Beauty. This made it very easy to see that the narrator was chasing after something unattainable (because no one can be perfect) but that there is a sense of undeniable importance attributed to these things.
    I’m finding it difficult to see past my amazement and find a constructive criticism, so here is something really nitpicky: I wish that your explanation of the poem (which itself was very well-written) could have been moved to the bottom of the post so that I could have gotten straight into the piece. While your introduction was significant and was necessary, I think that by putting it at the bottom, you would have made the incentive to read more tangible, because seeing large paragraphs is somehow less inviting than the accessibility of your writing style within the poem. Another option would be to maybe shorten your explanation so that it looks a little less daunting.
    Aside from this tiny constructive criticism, I am in complete awe of this piece. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for reading it and how reverent I am of you right now.
    Thank you, Jade!


    1. Oh ma god, you flatter me. Thanks friend. I appreciate you taking the time to read my piece, and I am glad that you were able to relate. I know I’ve said this a thousand times, but I’ve always thought that relatability is one of the most important part of writing–that’s how you connect with your audience. So I’m glad that this piece was relatable. I think it might be one of the most emotional pieces I’ve written this year, along with one other poem “To Be Young” which I think you’ve also read.

      I’m also glad you liked the visuals! They are all fan art relating to one of my absolute favourite singers–Melanie Martinez. I’m not sure if you would into her music, but some of her lyrics blow me away, especially her song Mrs. Potato Head, which is about body image (I’ve embedded the video into the post, if you wanted to give it a listen)

      Thanks again for reading my poem!

      Jadey Bear

  2. Wow Jade,
    This poem was phenomenal, I am left astounded by your work. Also thank you, this, and poems like it, are just so important and I felt like I could feel the words flowing through my blood, like they were a part of me, and I got progressively angrier at standards of beauty. You, along with Melanie (queen), have opened my eyes yet again to the importance of societal pressures and standards of beauty. In addition, I have become even more aware of the almost more unsettling fact that we are a part of society perpetuating these ideas. All in all wonderful poem and thanks.


    1. Ibukun–Thank you so much! I agree with you–the beauty standards that have been laid out before us (including the standards we have for ourselves) are very vexing. I think that’s why I wrote this piece; I needed to get the angst out of my system, haha.

      AND YUSSSSS, MELANIE IS A QUEEN. Her lyrics are so brutally honest, especially the ones in Mrs. Potato Head. She never fails to inspire me.

      Thanks for the comment, lovely!


  3. Ah, Jade:

    You’ve written one of those pieces that give me a feeling of powerlessness. I’m so shaken from that words I’m reading that I really honestly don’t know what to do but keep reading. You really did draw me in.

    See, it’s funny that I can relate to this poem on two levels. (By that, I am not saying that the Popular Girls told me I needed to look better so a boy would like me!), but instead, it brings me back to two memories. One of them is the highlight of my next post (Expect it in an hour or so), but the other one was last year, in Creative writing.

    I’m talking about my spoken word piece – Dear Girls. After reading this, I really do feel like there will always be people who need to hear that message, stories like this bring back powerful memories.

    Anyways, on to your actual piece.

    The first thing I adored about this piece was that it was totally not something I was expecting to come from you. You have always been one who can never really settle on what she wants to look like, and you switch between without a care of being judged. It takes a very stable person to do that every day and still be able to be the same person on the inside. This is why I was surprised to read a piece like this from you.

    The style of your poem is almost one of free fall, shooting back and forth across the page, and the only real direction to it is down. It personally was that aspect that added to that feeling of powerlessness that I (And I’m sure others as well) have gotten.

    This may just be a personal thing, but I would certainly prefer if the visuals on this piece were not so overly distracting. They are certainly good images and I would love to see them at the end of the piece, but stuck in the middle they prove to remove from the overall experience of reading the piece.
    (Also put the video at the beginning so we can listen to the music while reading!)

    Apart from that minor detail, I can wholeheartedly say that I absolutely loved this poem though – I’d love to see some more of this kind!

    Much respect –

    1. Areeb,

      I’m glad you enjoyed my piece. I look forward to reading the piece you plan to post to the AP blog as well. I just also wanted to go back to your spoken word for a moment, and just say that it might have been one of the best pieces about body image that I’ve read/heard. Especially because you were able to discuss a serious topic while also lightening the mood with humour (double D’s, haha!)

      Also about the changing up how I look thing– so true, lol. We’ve had this conversation before, I think. How some days I dress like a bohemian-hipster-girl and others I look like a full on punk rocker. Although, I’m going to be honest, I think in a way both of my styles relate to some insecurity on my part. I think they both relate to what my personal beauty standards are and what the beauty standards of other people are. But at the same time, I am also proud of them because that’s what makes me unique. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t think there is anything wrong, so to speak, by trying on and emulating different styles. But this is only true to a certain extent; we all dress or adjust our appearances in order to feel good about ourselves. But there is a difference between trying to look and feel good about ourselves opposed to being obsessed with our appearances because we feel like we aren’t good enough. I think that’s part of the reason why I wrote this piece.

      Thanks again for reading my piece, Areeb! And for your kind words as well!


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