I remember the first time a boy told me I was beautiful.
I was seventeen, young and quite possibly in love, and those words changed everything. It was as though someone had inflated a balloon inside my chest.
I knew the other girls were beautiful— my friends. I wasn’t so sure about me. Sure, I had gone through the checklist several times over and come out— decently.
*I’m slender— check. Or am I skinny?
*I have nice eyes— check. But those damn circles.
*My boobs are too small. Too bad.
*My nose is fine. That’s good.
*Hair? Almost blonde, almost red, not really either. Too bad. Dirty dishwater blonde, as my sister so lovingly called it.
*I have freckles, which is a big plus. Freckles are unique, right? But sometimes they’re less like angel kisses and more like an attention deficit saint had taken a perfunctory swipe at my face and then wandered off to go bowling with his saint buddies.
It didn’t matter that my mom told me I was beautiful (now I realize that it very much did).
It didn’t matter that I had been raised to be strong, brave, and confident (now I realize that it very much did), it mattered what some dreamy 18 year old boy told me in a fit of hormonal teenage passion.
When he spoke those magic words, there on the dock of the Silverdale Waterfront Park, holding me in his arms, I knew it was true. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was accepted, had been welcomed in to this club, this secret society of beautiful people. Now, perhaps I’d see what all the fuss what about. I won’t have to struggle in life. People will like me. I count as a real human.
When I was quite a bit younger, I remember proudly presenting my mom with a handwritten sheet of paper. It said something along the lines of “I like my face. I like my hair. I like my freckles. I am beautiful.” Boom. I felt it. I knew it, there in that moment.
Not long after, probably mere weeks later, in a fit of self-loathing, I raced in to her room, snatched up the note, and tore it into pieces. This cannot be true. Look at me. Good Lord, Gollum has a better chance at being loved.
I had a tight knit group in high school, including myself and three other girls. During our sleepovers we took to divvying each other up, deciding on each girl’s best features, and announcing that if we combined all those features (your boobs, your eyes, your legs), we’d be one perfect woman. Looking back now, I’m not sure if that’s horrifying or hilarious. There was absolutely nothing wrong with any of us, but we saw fit to assemble the perfect woman, piecemeal, because that’s what men want. Right? Right?
Then the moment. The dock. I found out the truth. From a boy who just wanted to make out with me.
As I examine the years following, I’m saddened to recall how much of my value, my self-worth was based upon how attractive people found me. Sure, if was a bonus if they thought I was funny, or a good person, but damnit, if you think I’m beautiful, you’ll like me. If you like me, I’ll feel accepted. Please, oh god, accept me.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying things. Certainly I am oversimplifying things. All the same, the weight lay too heavily upon such a surface attribute.
I never really thought much of these moments as a young adult. I got over myself, realized that there are much more exciting things in life than being thought beautiful (though it’s nice to be told so once in awhile), like building a life with someone you love, making a difference in the world, and working hard on your dreams.
Then I had a daughter. In last few years, in the beginning stages of raising this beautiful, brave, and confident girl of my own, everything I know (or think I know) about being a woman has been thrown into sharp relief.
I clearly recall the moment it began: she was old enough to walk, not quite talking fluently yet. Probably over a year ago now. She toddled over, half naked, to the full length mirror in our bedroom. Her magnificent belly, in all its round glory was pressed against the glass, the drool dribbled down her chin, and she leaned in very, very close, taking in what she saw.
The radiant smile on her face said it all.
That is me. I am awesome. I am beautiful. Full approval. 5 stars.
Oh, my mama heart. Is it at all possible for us to hold on to that beautiful, innocent self-approval? Maybe not in the same way an 18 month old would. But I would argue that it is possible.
Hey man, this is me. I’m beautiful, but not because I’m slender, or because I have nice eyes. I’m beautiful because I believe in being kind to people. I am beautiful because I try hard, because I fight for what’s right, because I am f’ing hilarious. If you happen to find my face nice looking as well, then bully for you, my friend.
Me? I’m still working on getting there.
May you, may we all strive for more belly-pressing, drool dribbling mirror gazing sessions with ourselves.
5 star, full self-approval required.