Learning About My Heritage Helped Me Feel At Home In My Body

September 29, 2022

Em smiling

I grew up in the age where Megan Fox was the beauty standard. She’s tall and tan, with pouty lips and long dark hair. That has never been what I look like. Because of this, I used to wish that I looked differently. I had days when I loved myself, and days when I didn’t, but the love rarely included love for my body or appearance. I didn’t see that as a negative thing, or let it eat me up with a desire for cosmetic surgeries or anything. I took pride in my strength, and my athletic abilities, and I’ve always liked the color of my oceanic eyes. Short of that, I figured it was okay to not care too much for my appearance.

When people would tell me I’m beautiful, for some reason it never changed my own opinion of my body. A lot of people had crushes on me in school, and even that never altered my low-esteem of my physical self. I still don’t know exactly why, but I think it had something to do with having a lot of confidence in other areas. I was proud of my brain, my talents, and my personality. Looking back, I think I thought that since I positively about other aspects of myself, it was okay to have this large gap in that confidence.

I’ve always felt a deep connection to my ancestors, but it’s definitely intensified as I’ve gotten older. Growing up, my siblings and I were told stories of our Viking heritage and the wild people who ran around Ireland. We made their old recipes, and celebrated the holidays with their traditions. My roots have always been woven into my daily life. As an adult though, I have been more mindful about it. I am not passively participating anymore. I’m the one initiating these practices, because I don’t live with my family. If I want to honor my ancestors, I have to do it myself. So with this proactive attitude adopted came an effort to learn more about the individuals that I come from, and the lands they called home.

The more I get to know my ancestors- their culture, the times they lived in, and their deeds, the more I have learned to love my own body. I feel at home in this physical body of mine, because I now see it as a link to them. I’m not saying that we need to be materialistic and physically-focused, but loving my whole self includes those visual parts of me. It’s healthy and important to feel grounded in your own skin, and I’m at a place in my life where I finally feel that way.

Em with an oyster shell

When I look at my freckled arms, I see my Irish ancestors who watched the stars. I see their rebellion and land-based trades written across my skin, because I know I inherited this sun-kissed complexion from them.

When I see my auburn hair and muscular body structure, I see my Danish ancestors who braved the arctic seas and went exploring. In high school I used to wish for a softer frame, rather than my defined leg muscles and sturdy arms. I wanted more curves and to be leaner. I used to not like my autumn-colored hair, because it was neither red nor brown, and as a child I could never find a crayon that matched it. Now I see the Danish children who immigrated to the American west. I see the Nordic people that came before them, who wandered fjords and were masters of the oceans.

When my hair crinkles into beach waves and frizz, I no longer see a mess. I see the Kings of the Isle of Skye, from whom I originate. I see their wild hair, and the long locks of their queens who were known for pagan celebrations. I no longer dream of straightening my hair everyday. I no longer think it’s something that needs to be tamed.

When I see my little nose and lips, I now see my Norwegian ancestors who were known for their small features. I no longer see my lack of large lips as something to fix with injections, but as something that ties me to their northern lights and the first kings of Norway who make up the beginnings of my family line.

I am made of the pieces of those who came before me. I am not lacking of anything, because I don’t have an Instagram filter face. I am not lesser because I’m five feet tall. I’m not lacking femininity because I have freckles and a muscular build. I am not unpolished because I have curls and a short frame. I am whole, and my “flaws” are a road map to my roots. Every single molecule in my body came from somewhere, and as I get to understand my origins, and I’m starting to love every single one of those cells.

I’m almost 26 now, and I feel so at home in this body of mine. My scars, bruises, quirks, and freckles- all of it is perfect, because it’s all mine. It anchors me to my past, and it will anchor my descendants to me. To live in a body that you’re told is “wrong” or “unwomanly” or “not in style” makes feeling grounded difficult. But, I’d rather feel connected to my brave and free-spirited and adventurous ancestors than marketing campaigns any day.

I have always been whole, but learning about my ancestors has been a reminder of that. No matter the current beauty trends, I am beautiful, but more importantly, I am my own home. I love these sunburned walls, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

emily in the mountains

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Photo: Emily Iris Degn

Emily Iris Degn
Emily Iris Degn is an environmental travel writer, editor, passionate eco-journalist, professional artist, and published eco-poet. She is from the San Juan Islands, but currently lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her incredible partner and beloved sea shell collection. You can find her in many spaces on Instagram: @emilyirisdegn @happyvegansfeed @emfallstoearth @emilydegnart OR at emilyirisdegn.com.


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