With self-righteousness I’d proclaim, “I’ve never turned to drugs or alcohol or thought about killing myself.” It was how I gave myself permission for what I did do — the self-sabotage, the name-calling, the abusive words I flung at myself in front of others, the self-bullying.
Crooked nose. Long face. Small breasts. Wide thighs. Short. Mousy brown. Bad teeth. Boring eyes. Ugly.
The media already tells me I’m not considered pretty, but it was the words of another lifetime that continued to speak to me.
I’d stand in front of a mirror and hide behind a tent of my hair, my one acceptable feature. If someone said I looked pretty, I smiled (not too wide!) and called them a liar under my breath. Compliments were not to be believed. The truth floated on the wind of yesterday’s whispers: worthless. disgusting. stick-girl. freckle-face. stupid.
Beauty does not live among those carefully directed arrows of hurt.
After cutting my hair off yet again (it’s for charity, it’s for a good cause, it’s only hair, it’s not a big deal!), I hated my reflection even more. As I sat across from my counselor, I said “I don’t even like my hair short. Why do I do it?”
But I knew the answer. It was because I like my hair, and if there was one thing I wasn’t supposed to do, it’s to like myself. Because my past tells me so, and I don’t believe the lies of the present.
My counselor let me think on it, to talk it out. It was such an “ah ha!” revelation, I cried. I did a lot of crying in that small room, sitting across from a woman who spoke what she called truth into my heart. It took a while before I saw that she could really be speaking truth, because her words began as lies, as they all are.
Within months, we peeled back the layers of the abuse from the first 22 years of my life, and we revealed a swan hiding beneath the lying mask of an ugly duckling. And somewhere in the time that came after, I started showing up in pictures more often. Sometimes I would cringe – too much smile! too much profile! too much tummy poking out! – but eventually, I accepted that not only was the reflection from the mirror not so bad, but maybe I was even photogenic after all.
Nothing changed, other than my hair growing out. My weight was the same, my freckles still coming and going with the seasons, and my nose certainly hadn’t shrunk. But my heart was mending. I recognized lies for truth, and truth for lies, and upon sorting out what was genuine and what was ghosts from a past of pain, I could see a different woman.
In the last couple of years, I’ve shown up in more pictures than ever. At my son’s wedding, there are many where my tummy is poking out, which is considered unflattering in general. But I look at the photos and I see a beautiful woman, a survivor, a girl who blossomed into glory. Age is starting to creep in, but I’ve lived those lines, those few silver hairs.
I’m a woman with a body that is mine, that has seen 40 years of life, that has carried me through the best of times and the ugliest of times. My skinny arms are strong regardless and have held babies and children and family and friends, as well as the weight of more pain than many endure. And those wide hips? They were support for growing three little lives inside my body. Further, I have a profile that I used to always hate, and now I love it. I have stretch marks that are unseen to most, but they are my beautiful scars. And I could go on and on.
I have outlived pain and ugliness, and now when I see myself in pictures, I see a whole person who is loved and cared for and beautiful.
I am beautiful.
And that is truth.
*Original photo in screen shot by Kelsey Ann Photography