Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “language”

How to Avoid Splashing Muck

Hello people! Nice to be back to blogging after a hiatus. I was nudged back in the saddle by a recent event that touches on the power of words even though, ironically, it’s about pictures..

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The rhetoric around the theft of celebrity nude photos has me thinking. As most of you know by now, private photos of many celebrity women, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Duntz, were hijacked from their private accounts and made public on the web. To say that there is public outrage is to put it mildly. A major violation took place, and people are horrified.

In the frenzy of commentary about this, I saw some interesting discussions. One writer, Scott Mendelson at Forbes.com, urges the media to describe this incident as a sexual assault, not a celebrity scandal. He argues that the connotations associated with the word “scandal” puts blame on the women, when in actuality, they did nothing wrong. One or more hackers ransacked their privacy, scoured through their intimate photos, and then broadcast them to the entire world without permission. Hackers were the ones who committed a crime, not the women.

Writing for Time Magazine, Charlotte Alter disagrees about calling it sexual assault. She argues that using sexual assault as an umbrella term for violations against women dilutes the meaning of the phrase. (Sexual assault encompasses a range of violent crimes whose definitions vary state by state). About the photo hacking incident, she writes:

It is not the same as being raped, or forced to perform oral sex, or molested as a child, or beaten. It’s not a question of “more or less awful,” because both scenarios are horrific examples of how women are treated in our society. But they’re different, and it’s especially important to be precise when we’re talking about violence.

Alter suggests that we call this revenge porn, a newer legal term referring to crimes where angry lovers publicize erotic photos from broken relationships.

I applaud both writers for their great contributions. And I concur that this issue needs to be carefully named. But I am not comfortable referring to this as revenge porn, and this is why. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines porn as:

Movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.

The word “porn” suggests that these photos were taken to cause sexual excitement. But that’s irrelevant. They were private photos. It is nobody’s business what their purpose was. The hacker(s) committed a pornographic act by placing those pictures in the public eye. But just as “scandal” can suggest that the celebrities did something wrong, the word “porn,” with its deeply negative connotations, could leak from the hackers (where it belongs) onto the women (where it doesn’t), shadowing them for a very long time.

Whatever we ultimately call wicked acts of this nature, we must take care to avoid splashing any more muck upon the victims. How can we do this?

1. Stop and think before we write and speak. Everyone, including the media, has the responsibility to carefully consider the meaning and connotations behind words.

2. Use alternate phrasing. Perhaps the broader term sex crime carries the story of what happened. It doesn’t dilute the term sexual assault or put the onus on the women.Sexual exploitation crime might be considered, as the word “exploitation” clearly places the responsibility on the wrongdoers, not those who were victimized. The same could be said of sexual harassment.

3. View the situation from a different angle. Indeed this crime has a sexual side, but maybe a broader view can be instructive. The hacker(s) committed an egregious violation of privacy. So I offer up another phrase for consideration in describing this kind of offense: privacy assault.

We can all agree that a serious crime was committed. Let’s ensure that our rhetoric doesn’t inadvertently victimize the victims more.

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I’d love to hear what you think! Make some comments below and let the conversation begin.

For more thoughts on this, you might be interested by this Upworthy post!

Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

Why We Need to Spin it Ourselves

Think about warm, fresh-out-of-the oven muffins. Tasty for sure, they can be desirable, happy, delights for carbo-gluten-dairy tolerant people. But that’s not all. Muffins have muffin tops. Torn from the muffin bottoms, their crunchy shells and feathery interiors are savored first or saved for last by hard-core muffin top lovers.

But muffin tops on human waists are not as popular. The only thing they have in common with the desirability of the cake is the desire to rip them off.

The Urban Dictionary provides yet another of its memorable hip definitions and usage examples for muffin top:

When a woman wears a pair of tight jeans that makes her flab spill out over the waistband, just like the top of a muffin sits over the edge of the paper case.

Jeez, check out the Muffin Top on that chick! *shudder

If the Urban Dictionary can be said to provide definitions of culture,” *shudder tells you about how muffin tops are perceived. And because of this, people try to exercise them away. People try to hide them under sweaters. People try not to grow them because culture frowns on pounds. Culture shudders.

But really, who exactly decides what things are desirable or shudder-worthy?

I woke to a wonderful link that reminded me how anyone can take back that power and decide these things for themselves. Anyone can choose the spin. It’s in the words we choose and the attitude we use. That’s what makes all the difference.

The link was a Youtube video by Erin Keaney, a mama who raps with pride about her muffin top. It is her badge of parenting. And her video is awesome. Writers and storytellers and anyone can learn from her example.

In her rap, Erin tells how her muffin tops came about. She raps about her fighting efforts to vanquish her opponent with Rocky style commitment. Ultimately, she gives up muffin top fighting. But not in despair! Erin turns the whole thing around and embraces her muffin top. Erin takes joy in her muffin top and her winsome, winning video gives me joy in her muffin tops too.

We don’t have to accept all the images put forth in the media. We can take control of the images in context, attitude, and in how we use our words. We can change the connotations associated with words and phrases. It’s all in how we spin it.

Sure, muffin tops can remain hidden in the cupboard of our bulky knits. Or we can shout from the rooftops and proudly shake ’em, like Erin does. As storytellers and writers, teachers and parents, we can shake anything up in the words we use and in the mood we create in the telling of our stories.

Muffin tops are a fact of life for so many people, especially for those of us in the Mama Club. Next time I look with disdain in the mirror, I think I’ll go watch Erin’s video instead.

If we carry our muffin tops with joy, we won’t create dreaded fear of muffin tops for future generations. If we teach children to shudder, they will shudder. If we reinforce the shudder, anyone, not just children, can have distaste for self and others.

Instead, choose your words carefully. Choose the way you utter them. Choose the way characters respond to them. Choose to shatter the shudder with the words you utter.

Jeri

What other issues do you think you can put your own spin on? Have you already done this? Please share in the comments! I’d love to hear and will comment/visit back.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – Z is for Zest

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – Z is for Zest

I struggled with what to choose for my Z word – zeal, zealous, and zest were the contenders. According to Thesaurus.com, zest is a synonym for zeal. That is good, because zeal rhymes with veal and zealous rhymes with jealous and in Autocorrect style, my ear and eye replace the Z’s with the other letters every time. Since I don’t care to associate beauty with jealousy or baby animals on plates, I am going with zest.

Besides, ZEST makes a great acrostic.

Zing
Excitement
Strength
Truth

I know an educational leader who overflows with zing – she is also strong and truthful about what excites her. Her heart beats with the heritage of her nation. A female Atlas, she carries her country’s culture on her shoulders and broadcasts it joyfully to everyone. Her pride is strong, her manner is electrified with purpose and panache. Anyone near feels her passion and is inspired to explore her culture and/or their own. A grand dame of beauty, she is zest incarnate.

We all know people like this. Their zesty fire is invigorating. We also know story characters with passion coursing through them. Zest and passion beautifies people and story characters. It changes their skin and eyes and the way they carry themselves. They glow. They shine. They electrify.

Young people launching into their lives often carry such a zesty beauty – they are full of hope and optimism and have the verve and nerve to make it so. But that kind of beauty is not reserved for the young and able-bodied. Anyone of any age or bearing can be beautiful for their zest! The woman I spoke of earlier is a grandmother who is close to retirement. And she is gloriously beautiful.

As we think about what it means to be beautiful and what attracts others, let’s remember this quality. Zesty souls breathe color and piquancy into the landscape of the world. You can describe the zesty as the beauties in your stories, adding zest to the hearts and minds of readers and listeners. Remember the educational leader who carries her culture on her shoulders like Atlas? Be zesty like her and shake up the world – you will make a world of difference for those who hear or read your stories.

I hope you will use the power of your words to Reimagine Beauty.

The A to Z Challenge has been a delight and privilege to participate in. I have one more post though, as I am ever just outside the box and a bit beyond the rules. Not a 27th letter though! See, as a writer/storyteller, I like literary balance. Since the first A to Z post came prior to the letter A with the Great Theme Reveal – I want to bookend this by sharing one more post, after the letter Z, a mini-epilogue of sorts. Look out for that soon. Thanks for reading and stay in touch.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – Y is for YES!

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – Y is for YES!

My friend Meg suffers from cancer. Thankfully, she will be fine, but to get to that state she must make a dramatic journey through the trials of chemo, invasive surgery, and recuperation.

In spite of her suffering, her outlook is positive, happy, bright, and optimistic. She makes sunshine dim.

You see, each and every step of her journey has been punctuated with a resounding “YES!”

YES! We caught it in time.

YES! My friends and family love me.

YES! I have complaints and fears (who wouldn’t?) but I talk about them so I can clear the decks and bring my YES! on.

YES! I can withstand this.

YES! I have confidence in my doctors.

YES! I will survive.

With all her hardships, she remembers her blessings. She blogs about gratitude on CaringBridge. Though her course of treatment makes daily blogging impossible, she remembers the good and shouts it out in cyberspace.

YES and yowza, she is beautiful.

YES people, as Barbara Fredrickson’s research is now confirming, are more likely to be healthier than their pessimistic counterparts. In their recent reviews of research, both James Clear of the Huffington Post and Emily Esfahani Smith of the Atlantic Monthly agree that optimism yields actual benefits to brain and body. In my view, this suggests that the power of positive thinking is a good and beautiful thing.

There are many ways that people sparkle with the beauty of optimism. When they challenge themselves, try new things, start, take risks, and look for the promise of roses instead of shadows around the next corner, they are doing the YES thing. Maybe they meditate, maybe they write, but whenever they are optimistic and effervescent, they nourish themselves and are inspiring to others.

Say YES! to a more inclusive definition of beauty. Say YES! to people who might not feel beautiful because popular culture defines and proliferates a limited range of images of beauty. Give everyone models of gorgeous optimism in stories, writings, and in what you say.

Say YES! to beautiful, positive thinking so that negative thoughts about beauty can fly away just like Meg’s illness will.

What do you think? Is optimism a beautiful thing?
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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – X is for eXpressive

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – X is for eXpressive

Okay, I cheated a little with this letter and the notation of the word. I imagine that other A to Z bloggers did too…:)

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Thanks to Mrs. Friefeld, my 6th grade teacher, I endured a lot of spelling tests. The word “expressive” was on none of them.

She did, however, teach me how to spell “wheelbarrow.” She also spoke avidly about writing vividly. With over 56 million hits on my browser for the search term “vivid writing,” the web seems to concur with her.

Vivid language is expressive. Writers use it to evoke images and to beautify writing. Storytellers compose vivid text which they bring to life with expressive performance techniques. So, vivid text and vivid expression combine to make the art of storytelling beautiful.

And what does this have to do with the beauty of people?

Everything.

If expressiveness in written and spoken stories is beautiful, then expressiveness in people is too.

Wonderfully kaleidoscopic, expressive faces can evince every tint, form, and nuance of the human experience. Recognizing love, happiness, joy, warmth, mischief, laughter, sadness – we read expressions as easily as we read books, blogs, movies, and memes. Talk about images in action!

One of my friends is a visual artist with a very quiet personality. Typically pensive and serious, her everyday face is a motionless pond on a hot, summer day. But when she experiences joy or moments of inspiration, her face flickers, then morphs completely into an open flower. Her eyes and mouth widen, the edges of her lips curl upward in a secret-holding smile. It is not only how she looks after she sheds the pond for the flower, but the entire process of the transformation that defines her eye-grabbing beauty.

We are naturally drawn to expressive people. Actors attract us for a reason. Not because they look a certain way, but because they can make us look at them or issues in a certain way. Human transformers, they can be any character in any mood. If they are good at their art, we believe them. That is the kind of beauty I wish our culture more actively promoted about celebrities and actors.

But as writers and storytellers and conversationalists, we can promote that kind of beauty in the words we use to create images. We can include anyone in such depictions of beauty! It is not the precise features on a face that fit a formula. It is not skin color or complexion. That kind of reductionism strip mines beauty. A beautiful face is expressive because all of its parts belong together.

I challenge you to be beautifully expressive about the beauty in the expressive. Describe it vividly so that others can see it. And don’t forget how to spell “wheelbarrow.”

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Copyright 2014. The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – W is for Wisdom

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – W is for Wisdom

When people think of The Good Witch of the North, they immediately think of a glamorous witch called Glinda. But there is no such character in the book from whence she came – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

There is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South. Dorothy visits her at the end of the book. The woman who Dorothy encounters early on in the story, in Munchkinland, is called The Witch of the North. Her name is not Glinda, and she is not a bubble-riding glam girl. The Witch of the North is described as an ancient and wrinkled old woman.

Does this surprise you? It surprised me, growing up as I did on the movie version of the story.

Since I love to parody and fracture familiar stories, I wrote an offbeat rap of the book (puns always intended). My Witch of the North is old and wrinkly, as Baum wrote her. But I carry his idea few steps further. I describe her as an old and wise crone – and Dorothy finds her beautiful.

In my version, Dorothy recognizes the true beauty of the wonderful helper who can light her way on the path back home. That is because older eyes are beacons of understanding. Wrinkles are a road map of someone’s experience. It is a beautiful ‘ah’ moment when we encounter someone who can help us navigate a crisis. Showered with answers, we feel immense comfort and relief. Dorothy landed in the strange land of Oz and met a wisdom-bearer. Like an oracle, she was Dorothy’s salvation because she had an answer.

Wisdom is a great boon. Those who have it are fountains of sagacity. Even trickles of their wisdom can help individuals, society, and posterity. When we acknowledge the beauty in wisdom, especially in our youth-focused culture, we recognize beautiful people who are typically excluded from membership in the beauty club.

Elderhood is not the only qualification to be a wisdom-bearer. People of any age who study and practice skills can be wise about their specialties. People of any age who live with disabilities, suffer discrimination, experience hardships or wonders have knowledge that others can learn from. People of any age can have the experience and knowledge that adds up to wisdom.

Let’s be wise and remember to acknowledge beauty that is wrought from wisdom. Our mentors, our friends, our parents, our elders, our children, our teachers, and everyone carrying this beautiful and world-changing quality deserve to be recognized for their beauty.

Somewhat related – Perhaps you have seen this viral video. It shows an 80 year old woman dancing like someone one quarter her age. She does it beautifully, partly because it just is and partly because of her age. Who are the beautiful wisdom bearers you have come across in life and literature?

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – V is for Voice

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – V is for Voice

At a farmer’s market last summer, I was talking to the seller about the eggplants when a little girl beside me sucked in her breath. Flashing me a “Santa’s Here!” smile, she was shook excitedly as she told me about her day. The thing was, I never saw her before in all my life. Noticing all the flies congregating in my wide open mouth, the girl’s mother told me that her daughter listens to my storytelling CD’s. The little girl recognized the sound of my voice, and through my familiar voice, I was an old friend.

The voice cultivates powerful connections.

Recent research confirms that babies listen, in utero, to their mother’s voice. Other research suggests that newborns prefer their mother’s voice over others. Not only do babies learn language from their mothers, listening to a mother’s voice may help a baby develop a loving bond with her.

Familiar voices are beautiful in their familiarity. Even unfamiliar ones can be aural sources of beauty. Whether spoken or sung, a voice can be comforting, sensual, pretty, and so much more.

The voice isn’t only an instrument of speech. Everyone has a voice in the way they write words or formulate their spoken lexicon. That kind of voice can also be beautiful.

There is also inherent beauty in the way people give voice to their own personalities. Whether it is physical, political, the way we decorate our homes, or the causes we stand up for, when we give voice to ourselves, it can be beautiful.

Be a voice for broadening the way we portray beauty. Depict characters in stories with beautiful voices in the many ways that voices can be beautiful. Allow your characters to fall in love at first sound. Write about them, tell about them, give your audiences an earful of the myriad possibilities in the beauty of the voice.

What voices in your life are beautiful? Can you think of any voices in literature that are beautiful? Have you ever connected to someone because of something in the sound or tone of voice? Are there voices that call up memories or inspire feelings of a coming home? I’d love to hear from you.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – U is for Uniqueness

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – U is for Uniqueness

Those who have been following my blog know that the Reimagining Beauty series was inspired by a little girl. She was born with a rare, genetic syndrome that has given her many medical challenges. In addition to needing a wheelchair, her appearance is unique because her body is asymmetrical.

But that doesn’t matter one whit. When that child smiles, when she gazes at something with interest, one doesn’t see how she is different. One simply sees a beautiful little girl.

It’s not just my opinion. Thanks to social media, I regularly see how people react to photos or videos of her. Everyone is floored by the child’s beauty, and they say so.

To some it might seem a sweet conundrum – what makes her look different adds to her great beauty. But truly, her uniqueness doesn’t rob her of beauty, her uniqueness bestows it. The sweetness deep inside that child connects, accentuates, and beautifies all of her features, sculpting a sweet and lovely darling.

Why can’t beauty be viewed in terms of the uniqueness of people? Instead trying to make people all look alike, let’s value beautiful individuality.

People say that they want this. The web buzzes about how we can and should shed culturally defined, marginalizing, unattainable beauty standards. Any of us can step up to the plate and reimagine beauty in all the ways I’ve described in this series and in all the other ways that beauty manifests itself.

Put the force of your words behind your wants. Write about the beauty of uniqueness. Tell stories about people who are different and beautiful. Retrain your mind to appreciate the gorgeousness of diversity. We can do this with the power of language: for that little girl, for each other, and for everyone.

We can change the way the world defines beauty, one word at a time.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – T is for Talent

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – T is for Talent

It seems like everywhere you look, all around the world, there is another “Got Talent” show. But it’s not just television that fancies the franchise. Competitions crop up in countywide events and local fairs. People everywhere like to display their talents and receive accolades. An unlikely marriage of hype and truth.

The hype is obvious. But the truth?

The people who compete on these shows don’t all wear size 4, they’re not all ripped. Their beauty lies elsewhere.

When you hear a singer who is blessed with a vocal gift, you know it; whether you mean to or not, your mouth can drop open in awe. When you watch someone’s hand fluidly and brilliantly replicate, on paper, tablet or canvas, the scene in which you are sitting, you can understand why the phrase “be still my heart” is spoken. The profound beauty of talent can still a room and suspend time.

Although it is nice to receive accolades, we don’t have to win competitions and the compliments of celebrity judges for these gifts to be beautiful. They just are.

Talents come in a variety of flavors. One young man I know can look at a computer and bend it to his will. A photographer friend can take a picture of a fence and sell it as art. I’ve watched a college student leap so high and fluidly that he makes ballet seem an easy breezy, DIY dance form. Mechanics who can make engines hum, those who listen and intuitively understand, math whizzes who hear music in numbers – all have beautiful gifts.

Why can’t a princess seek a prince who can write a fantastic story or who can teach physics? Why can’t boy meets boy stories focus on the beauty of their abilities?

Beauty has many aspects. Talent is just one of them. Not everybody has the same talent, but everybody can be beautiful for the talents that they have. By writing and speaking about the beauty of talent, we can encourage people to notice the beautiful talents in themselves and others.

What talents do you see in life and literature that are beautiful? What talents have you been exposed to on the web that took your breath away, making you feel like you were witnessing great beauty? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Copyright 2014. The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – S is for Style

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – S is for Style

My cousin can suss out the sweetest clothes in thrift shops. Out of the mounds of cast off togs piled high on shelves or squished together on racks, she zeroes in on the perfect item to snazz up her wardrobe. That girl has style.

She dresses impeccably to match her personality and figure. Her outfits change from day to day to match the varied sides of her personality and her whimsical moods. Not only does she have personal style, she can extend her gift to others (including style-challenged people…. namely moi). Matching clothes to personality while accentuating and flattering someone’s body shape is a skill that could be adopted by computer scientists to improve dating website algorithms.

A costume designer I know also has style. He can look at a person’s coloring and shape, evaluate the needs of the script, and fashion costume and hair that not only speaks volumes about a time and place and character, but makes the actor look great too. From his hands comes ravishing art.

I’m not speaking of style as in clothing style or genre. We can all dress punk or preppie. I’m talking about style that comes from the discriminating eye, knowing instinctively whether punk or preppie works on someone. People like this can mix and match items and colors, accessories, and clothing genres. They fashion fashion, as it were. They also can curate outfits that not only flatter, but reflect the wearer. That’s the kind of style I’m talking about. It’s beautiful.

And then, when people wear their style with style? Well that’s beauty with a cherry on top.

If our appearance or body type doesn’t match a “standard,” it is not relevant to achieving beauty. What we do with those raw materials is what counts. Our carriage and our comfort with how we present ourselves is stylized beauty to be reckoned with.

Beauty is not any one characteristic. Beauty can be many things. Use language and imagery to highlight the beauty of those with style, who aren’t afraid to display their inner selves through their outer wear. People with and without disabilities can do this, people of all shapes and sizes and colors can be fashioned in style, in life and story.

Be stylish and write and tell about the head-turning beauties that any of us can be. It’s in style 😉

What are your thoughts about this?

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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