Why is it so few of us are able to see the true beauty staring back at us? Is it simply because we don’t believe it? Is it because we see the beauty in everyone else, but can never see it reflected back at us? There are a number of reasons why we all struggle, in some way, to fully embrace that which is us.
But as Eric shows us in his vulnerable journey of trying to see what others see, perhaps it was never really about beauty in the first place but simply not wanting to be chained down and labeled as one thing. Perhaps we want to be free of labels to begin with, free to be whoever and however the hell we want.
When it came to beauty, I was very oblivious of how I was perceived in the world. I’ve always struggled with the idea of beauty and people associating me with the term. I just wasn’t comfortable with it for some reason. It is strange because most of my formative years of being developed as a human being, I was around beautiful women. They were all strong, powerful, and beautiful as hell.
So, I didn’t view beauty as me. I wasn’t them. To this day, when people give me a compliment, saying I’m gorgeous, pretty, beautiful, etc. I’m still surprised. Partly because I think I’ve always expected I would get the masculine term for beauty like handsome. But in the past 3-4 years, I’ve finally gotten comfortable with someone saying, “Hey, you’re a pretty guy.”
It was absolutely weird to be called attractive or beautiful by both men and women. Even just the word “pretty.” I would complain about it all the time and they didn’t understand what the problem was.
Another thing that shaped the way I saw myself and beauty was when I went to Morehouse, an all-male college. Coming from Milwaukee, I wasn’t sheltered. I learned everything I wanted to. But when I went to Morehouse, I had no idea how it would affect me.
It changed my life because I got to see blackness, and what I dreamt of masculinity to be every day. I saw black men in every walk of life, from the custodial workers, administration, professors, to the deans. Those were things I never saw in Milwaukee. These shades of black masculinity were also mirrored in the student body.
There were the jocks, the greeks, and even the sexually fluid guys who wore dresses and makeup. That was at the time where there was a big uproar on campus where some students wore dresses and makeup on campus. There were people who hated that and some who supported it. I watched all of that.
The way that I view masculinity now is based on what I saw there–I saw so many differences. It was powerful for me. But when it comes to beauty, it was also very scary and uncomfortable for me. I was closed off to many things. I was sexually abused multiple times as a child. It created such chaos in me. I hated how other people perceived me because it was a trigger. It was absolutely weird to be called attractive or beautiful by both men and women. I didn’t know how to handle it or say thank you without feeling like an object.
A lot of the times, when I look back on that, people just saw an exterior. From an early age, I knew what it felt like to be desired or lusted after and I always wanted the way I looked to be the last thing anyone noticed about me. People assumed so much about me based on my appearance. That was what was most disturbing and what I fought with.
I just had to get to the point where I didn’t care. Even at that same time, especially in my college years, I was grasping at straws to figure out who I was and what I was doing. Those were all things I felt like were being put onto me instead of me finding out by myself.
I didn’t want to be what everyone else said I was. Because my shell was all they could see or comment on.I’ve always known acting is what I am suppose to do, but even my art was challenged because of how people perceived me. I would get all of this unwanted attention and people never realized that I was so insecure about how I looked. I couldn’t see what everyone else did.
But when it came to my art, I felt ignored because people would say, “Oh, well you’ll be fine because you’re pretty.” No one helped me hone my craft or helped me reach my goals. There would be times I would get up in class and do work, and I would get no feedback. In those moments, there was no getting to know me, or seeing past my exterior.
From an early age, I knew what it felt like to be desired or lusted after and I always wanted the way I looked to be the last thing anyone noticed about me.
On a basic level, I’ve always tried to see beauty in everything. And I’m also a photographer, so that’s how I see the world. I always capture the beauty in everything around me–the skyline, people, etc. It’s around you every day. You can’t help but not see it at any given point of time. It’s not specific to human beings.
When it comes to the beauty of human beings, I’m very fluid there. Probably also because I’m an artist, but I don’t have a problem saying a man or a woman is attractive. If you’re beautiful you’re beautiful. But I’ve had a hard time attaching that to me. But now I accept it. I move differently through space and I’m a different energy now. For the longest time I refused to see that in me. I had to really work on the way I thought of myself and deal with my insecurities.
The biggest lesson I learned about beauty is that it isn’t limited to what people see physically, it’s what exudes from me. There is an energy that I’m aware of that affects people. For example, I was with one of my bestfriends and we were in Harlem. She’s a gorgeous girl. If you’re going to call somebody pretty, she is it.
We were walking together and I’m seeing people stop and look at her. She turns to me and says, “Eric, they’re not looking at me. They’re looking at you.” When we finally get to the restaurant somebody buys her a drink, then somebody comes over and starts a conversation with me. All strangers. It happened the whole night.
Instead of getting uncomfortable she said, “maybe people see your energy.” In that moment I realized I had to get comfortable with it, and that maybe it wasn’t just an external thing. There was something more to it. I understand sometimes it may be just physically or sexually. But I also accept that it can be and mean more. Some people can see the light I carry and I welcome that.
Before graduate school, I hadn’t been able to embrace that. But being an actor and exploring myself in my craft, I realize I can be whoever the hell I want to be. All I have to do and be is honest with myself. However people perceive that is completely fine. There are times where I may feel like my invisible scars are showing or I feel disgusting, but even in those moments I have to be open to allowing myself to experience the world and vice versa.
The biggest lesson I learned about beauty is that it isn’t limited to what people see physically, it’s what exudes from me.