What is beauty? If you’re talking to Xian Horn, she will tell you that it’s a reflection of the best in each of us, and it’s something that we all have. In fact, the more you become who you really are, the more beautiful you become.
Our society and culture tries to put beauty in a box. Literally. It tries to define beauty within certain limited parameters and then tries to sell us whatever products are required to attain that definition.
Xian Horn says there’s beauty in each one of us, and God-given purpose and destiny.
You’re beautiful, even if you’re not size 0. Even if you’re covered head to toe with freckles.
Even if you were born with cerebral palsy, like Xian Horn.
What the media portrays as beautiful is, as we all know, often unrealistic, even unattainable, and Photoshopped. Naples Noteworthy would go so far as to say the beauty industry is a demon-run industry designed to make women feel miserable about themselves while making cosmetic companies, plastic surgeons, and similar business lots of money preying on their insecurities.
If more women were comfortable with themselves just as they are and could celebrate their natural beauty, we wouldn’t see this body modification craze going on where so many people resort to surgery to change their bodies to fit some culturally-defined ideal of beauty–one that could easily change in years to come.
Xian Horn Weighs In
Xian Horn made her debut in the public arena on issues relating to beauty and self-esteem with her Letter to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, a video that encouraged the company to include people with disabilities in their campaigns:
Thanks to that video, Horn was asked to become blogger for Positively Positive, a community of over 2.25 million people.
The Letter to the Dove Campaign was followed by a similar pitch to Cover Girl, and to the Beauty Industry in general, for the inclusion of unrepresented beauties in media and beauty campaigns, such as women of larger (more typical) sizes or those with disabilities.
But this was just the beginning of her journey into exploring the issues of beauty and self-esteem.
As Horn explains, “My pitch to the Dove campaign & Cover Girl was early on in my career and I figured someone had to do it, it might as well be me. It was never my intention to be a model. It was just to re-imagine and redefine disability in the framework of beauty.”
Give Beauty Wings
Horn’s journey to Give Beauty Wings began when she performed a personal monologue in Visible Theatre’s True Story Project: Faith. Thanks to the phenomenal response of audiences to her story, she saw the pervasive need for positive role models and the positive effect she could have on girls with and without disabilities.
Horn was asked by NYU’s Initiative for Women with Disabilities Young Women’s Program to teach a course on beauty and self-esteem, and from this emerged the Give Beauty Wings curriculum, which she now teaches there and also at M.S. 131 in Chinatown when she’s not in Naples. The Give Beauty Wings programs have also been presented at the Jewish Community Center, UJA Federation, the Standing Tall school (a school for non-verbal children), NYC Lab School, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, UCP, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.
“Self esteem and beauty–our sense of beauty–is a daily process,” says Horn. “And it’s something you have to fight for. We are all beautiful though we may not feel beautiful every day. And so this is what I take them through, the tools and ways to really claim and reclaim their beauty every day. So that’s what those classes are about. And at the core of it, even though I don’t always talk about it because I’m in a lot of secular environments–is the Truth. My true intention is really for us to all know that we have God-given beauty and God-given purpose. And it’s independent of how we feel. But if we can align our feelings with the Truth, then we can take up our calling with much more energy, confidence–we can take it up with much more passion, with more determination, with more conviction.”
For Horn, beauty is more than just how we look, and it starts on the inside at a deep emotional level–coming to terms with the things that have hurt us, coming to accept ourselves and love ourselves as we really are, and from there learning how to embrace and express that unique identity in a way that empowers us, gives us bold confidence, and frees us to live joyfully in that outward expression of our inward self.
“It’s more than just feeling good or looking good,” Horn explains. “It’s an all-inclusive thing. It’s letting the inside be healed, and then shining the inside out. So then we do talk about honoring the temple, about making sure that we’re eating right or exercising and that what we wear expresses who we are but that’s the end stuff–what’s most important is the inner work. So a lot of times when I say I teach classes on beauty and self-esteem, people assume it’s about hair and makeup, and that can be a part of that journey if that’s right for a person. I’m not going to tell them exactly what’s right for a person. I don’t personally wear a lot of makeup, on a daily basis I very rarely do, so it’s not about that. So I’ve actually stopped saying the “beauty” part as much. I really focus on the self-esteem part.”
Beauty, then, begins with knowing that you are beautiful. And you can’t believe that sometimes until you’ve done some healing. You have to unlearn the lies you’ve been told by people who don’t have a clue–who, in the end, only have an opinion. There are 7 billion people on the planet, and each of them has their own opinion as to what beauty is.
Beauty: in the Eye of the Beholder
There was an an experiment recently published by journalist Esther Honig, Horn relates, in which different Photoshoppers from around the world were given her image and told, “Make me beautiful.” As the returned photos in the video show, there was wide variation among the different countries as to what the definition of beauty was.
You can read more about Esther Honig’s remarkable work at her website.
So you can’t listen to what other people say beauty is. That’s a kind of bondage, and you’ll never be beautiful according to everyone’s standards. You have to simply decide you are beautiful as you are and go with it.
If truth were to be told, when it comes to real encounters with people, it’s often those people who are most confident that seem the most attractive to us. It’s confidence you need, not a straighter nose. The way you carry yourself is what’s so beguiling. When you’re comfortable in your own skin, everyone knows it. Be yourself. There’s only one of you.
Be Beautiful. Be You.
“It’s a very vulnerable thing to be yourself, and it’s also very freeing, because who can we be but who we are? But I do think that the way the world is shaped, it’s trying to get us to do anything else but that. This is the product you need, this is the body you need, this is the height you should be…and everybody else says something different.”
This is where it takes strength to ignore what you see in the media day in and day out and just keep moving forward. This is what we mean when we say, everyone is beautiful, but sometimes you have to fight for it. Sometimes you have to say out loud, “I reject that. You want my money. I don’t need your product. I am beautiful just as I am.”
About Xian Horn
A member of an international network of extraordinary women, 85 Broads, Xian Horn was heralded by founder Janet Hanson as an “amazing role model for all women.” With her personal stories and ongoing mentoring work, Horn is invested in contributing positively to self-esteem and the collective self-image, especially for women. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
Horn has spoken at a Dove Self-Esteem Fund event in NYC, ReelAbilities Film Festival, New York Life’s Enable Program, and the Tadasana Festival in L.A. with Positively Positive.
Xian Horn serves as mentor with IMentor in NYC, UCP’s Young Professionals Committe, and New York Women’s Foundation on the Committee for the Future.
She lives in Naples about half of the year, commuting frequently between here and New York City.
Follow Xian Horn on Facebook at her public profile page, Support Xian Horn, Unite Disability and True Beauty and at her website, Xian Horn.