This one is tough.
I’ve gone back and forth on wording, feelings, intent, and whether or not to even share this…..Typing. Deleting. Typing. Saving. Deleting. I’m afraid that this will either sound like a pathetic cry for commiseration, a whiny rant about my childhood, or worse yet fishing for compliments. It is NONE of these things, but it is something that as an adult I have considered on numerous occasions…..beauty.
It has occurred to me that I am completely unable to take a complement. I stare awkwardly at my feet, blush, stammer, or make some comment about the speaker being wrong. I, like many others, seem to have some sort of self inflicted (or self enforced) inability to see my own beauty for what it is…..MINE.
It has already been mentioned that this is not a cry about my childhood. This is not rooted in some weird ‘mommy-daddy issues’. I was blessed with parents who would have (and continue to) support me in all endeavors. We were rewarded for intellect. We were praised for showing intelligence and perseverance to learn. Beauty, being ‘pretty’, was not something I ever gave thought to as a kid. I wanted to be the best. The smartest. I wanted to please my parents for what they had taught me was important. We were complimented on our accomplishments, not our appearances.
As I grew a little older, starting to observe my classmates, it occurred to me that they cared a lot about hairstyles, make up, fashion….being pretty. For all that I had learned from books, I had no instruction on ‘pretty’. Somewhere along the way I just chalked that one up to ‘things like sports that I’m not good at’. I’m not good at shopping or make up, and have been known to refer to myself as ‘just plain ole me’, and became quite alright with that. My primary group of friends were guys who didn’t care if I wore make up or padded bras. I got compliments….because I could change the brake pads on my truck or catch the biggest snake at the creek.
Teenage years aren’t easy for anyone, especially when it seems like people who are essentially strangers feel the need to be critical. The Sunday school teacher says, “Your hair would look better in a perm.” The dentist tells me he knows I don’t like my crooked teeth, and should make my parents get me braces. “Don’t let yourself get fat like……” I became incapable of hearing a compliment without scoffing it off as a lie, or a jab. After all, why would they say nice things to plain ole me?
I chose to study harder. It didn’t matter if you were pretty. Smart girls get into college.
I went to college. I dated. I still always felt like the odd ball. Never comfortable in my own skin. One semester, some girls in my dorm decided to take me on as their project. It was short lived. Apparently I wasn’t redeemable by their standards either. Again I persevere, graduate, and get a job that put me in front of people every day. The uniform requirements meant I didn’t have to think much about clothing. Only minimal make up was encouraged. I was complimented on my job, knowledge, enthusiasm for learning and teaching. Again, no thought was given to ‘pretty’. It was a very comfortable time in my life. I was happy.
A few years later, during grad school, I had a terrible mountain bike accident and broke my face. Thirteen fractures. Pain meds that essentially deleted a month of my life. Looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself. I’ll never be able to explain that moment to anyone. Scars. The actual shape of my face had changed. Most people who wake up to those changes have elected to pay a surgeon for them. I didn’t even have insurance to pay one to fix me. All the while people are saying how great it looks ‘considering’….and it’s not hard to imagine how that is interpreted. It was a tough road. A few years later, I met a little girl who had been run over by a vehicle. She had the same facial fractures as me. In that moment it occurred to me how inauthentic it was for me to tell her she would all be alright when I wasn’t alright.
Years later this is the face I know. This is the body I love. It’s the only one I have so I might as well take care of it and stop being so critical. A very wise member of my Memphis family once told our group, “You are glorious perfection.” I am the only ME on the planet. As far as ME’s go, I’m perfect. To hell with dentists trying to sell orthodontic gear. Yes my teeth are crooked. My hair is straight and not some unnatural flashy color. I have scars…and have earned EVERY one of them.
So what changed? Nothing has fully changed, but I hope it’s in the process of changing. Growing up we weren’t told we were pretty. Not that we weren’t pretty, but there were simply other priorities instilled in us. Going forward, part of this endeavor is to stop thinking of others as liars. How is, “You have pretty eyes.” any less valid than, “I like your scarf.”. I’ve decided that I am beautifully ME. No one else is me, so there is no sense in comparing myself to all of them. I’m the most beautiful ME on the planet. I know it sounds like the preface to a self help book, but this is my truth. It feels pretty good to let go of feeling ugly. It feels pretty good to hear ‘him’ tell me he loves me just as I am….because today I do to.