The first time I experienced a traumatic event in regard to my appearance, I was in the sixth grade. My parents made the decision, despite my pleas, that five inches must be cut from my hair. I cried the entire time the lady held the scissors in her hand. Once the butchering stopped, I stared at myself in the mirror – sobbing and wailing for as long as the salon attendants would allow me to. If I was going to be subjected to looking like a boy, I thought, I was going to make a Hollywood-worthy scene about it.
The lady felt so badly, she gifted me with complimentary nail polishes and tried to offer a pep talk similarly to the way I talk to my dog when I drop her off at the groomer’s – wide-eyed, trembling and pounding heart. She likely reached for a stiff drink at the end of her shift, toasting with a solemn vow to never cut a pubescent girl’s hair ever again.
It happened on a Saturday afternoon, and I recall feeling as though Sunday seemed to stretch on for an agonizing eternity – every moment spent dreading the return to school on Monday. I couldn’t bear the thought of facing all of the boys who had always told me I was pretty.
I shivered at the notion of being demoted to one of their former most desirable conquests. Sadly, such event would somewhat set the tone for years of irrational fear-based and obsessive decisions regarding my appearance.
Striving for Perfection in the Name of… ‘Beauty’?
Once upon a time, not too terribly long ago, any negative remark spoken in regard to my appearance would have loomed like a dark cloud over my entire day. Yes, entire day. Now, before you lower your opinion of me (which you are free to do regardless), tuck your judgment back inside of yourself for a moment and consider this: It is impossible for one to stand in line at the grocery store and not be met with magazine headlines which promote some aspect of physical enhancement. Try it, and you’ll see. We are force-fed the notion of physical perfection every day of our lives.
Also, I’m a writer, and I spend a great deal of time in coffee shops. Therefore, I eavesdrop on your conversations. I’ve overheard you asking your girlfriends if “so and so” is prettier than you. I’ve overheard you dissecting your competition’s appearance with the same level of analysis, precision and detail as a renowned plastic surgeon. I’ve probably heard them do it to you as well.
I’m not judging you nor her, though. I’ve done it, too.
I’ve come a long way since then, however – so much so that if feels like another lifetime ago.
The other day I stood before my vanity and observed my massive collection of bronzers and highlighters, scattered among my 50 shades of lipsticks. Truly, I own enough makeup to paint a car. I do not view it the way I once did, however. I no longer do it because I feel inadequate or “not enough.” Nope. I do it because I know I’m valuable already and, therefore, choose to make the best of that value; not because I’m trying to increase my value in any way.
I know I am worthy just as I am – whether striking or unnoticed, dressed up or dressed down, “fleeking” or frumpy. I am valuable simply because I exist. So are you.
You Are Already More Than Enough, Baby
Society often sets us up for frustration in this regard. It communicates that if a girl enjoys nurturing her appearance, she is “high-maintenance,” “superficial” or “vain.” I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve been a victim of judgment, and I’ve unfairly judged others as well. Sadly, such judgment creates many detrimental layers of shame. I recall feeling shame when I feared a certain aspect of myself didn’t measure up to that of others appearance-wise, and then also shame again when I invested too much time into trying to measure up.
It was a pointless, useless, winless battle.
Who says one cannot be nurturing to their appearance while also possessing intellect and depth? It’s as though each person is only allowed to have one or the other, or only small portions of each. Does the Universe ration beauty, intelligence, wit and other desirable attributes – distributing them in such a way that no one has too much of too many things? Are we not allowed to be abundant in a variety of ways? Who says?
We often like to arrange one another into tidy frames and shapes because it makes us feel comfortable. When we do so, we then feel that we can wrap our heads around the totality of what they are, and what we can expect from them.
She is the pretty one or She is the athletic one, we may decide.
And, when people surprise us, it floods us with feelings of discomfort. We may think, Surely there is a flaw in her structure, and I’m determined to find it and shine my flashlight upon it. Universe, please return her to the box from which I had her safely confined.
Isn’t it possible, though, that one can be educated, intelligent, talented, artistically-gifted, insightful, compassionate and spiritual while also (gasp) physically lovely? I think so. I believe you are free to be all of those things and more.
I don’t think there is a box to which you are confined.
So, stop telling people who they are, and stop allowing others to tell you who you are.
You may be a loving daughter, a nurturing wife, an avid reader, a skilled snowboarder, an inventive cook and you may have the most enviable abs and poutiest lips within a 50-mile radius, but whatever you think you are, you are even more than that.
Here is the catch, though: You must understand that your value comes from none of it.
You are more than you could ever conceive. So is that person you may currently be shoving inside of a box.
Pretty or Not; It Does Not Determine Your Value
There are far worse things in this world than a girl who enjoys feeling pretty, however I believe a danger zone is entered when one subscribes to the belief that their value as a human being lies within it.
If you believe your appearance is correlated with your worth, you will always be running on an empty tank before long. Flattery, turning heads and gawks from strangers may inject you with a momentary illusion of confidence, but unless you understand that your worth lies in something much greater – something which defies space and time – your well will always return to being a bottomless pit.
I don’t care if you have a face and body more flawless than Leonardo da Vinci could have ever painted, your sense of self will be ripped to shreds and lost by such a mindset. Truly, you will become an empty shell of who you capable of being. Period.
The body is merely a vessel for the soul, and you should make yours as lovely as you want it to be. You should contour it, highlight it, take pride in it and, most of all, be kind to it. By all means, style it with a dress that makes you feel pretty. It isn’t who you are, though. It is merely something you have.
Because, darling, who you are – whether striking or unnoticed, dressed up or dressed down – is beautiful. Irrevocably beautiful.
I’m just being honest.