We can learn some powerful lessons from the people who truly love us.
When you love someone unreservedly, and you trust them completely – you can allow them to show you how they see you.
What have you learnt from those who love you?
This is how I learned that I am beautiful. It took me a while.
I had issues with the word Beautiful from the onset of puberty.
I was a dag – no fashion sense; hair that was thin and flat on top, fuzzy and messy from my ears down; I started getting boobs – they were small and flat and slightly crooked.
I knew I didn’t fit the word Beautiful, but I did have many other positive qualities. I’d also been warned about low self-esteem and body-image issues by teachers and magazines. I didn’t quite understand it, but at about 12 years old I decided to safeguard my self-esteem –
I decided that Beautiful didn’t matter to me.
I didn’t have it, but I wasn’t going to let that get me down.
(I actually cut my hair short ‘like a boy’, because I didn’t want to worry about looking pretty.
In high school I discovered I was short-sighted and had to wear glasses – this did upset me because one aspect of my appearance that I actually liked was the way my eyes looked. I felt like the frames hid my eyes, or detracted from them somehow.
Combining with my short, scrawny stature, bad hair, a face covered in pimples, and now glasses, I looked like the stereotypical nerd: I got bullied – by the beautiful, good-looking girls.
Their words did hurt – but more for the intent, rather than the content. It also reinforced my idea that Beautiful did not mean anything special; that I didn’t have it and I didn’t need it.
I never bothered much with makeup. I chose clothes I liked the looks of rather than ones that looked good on me. I did try to make my hair at least look neat, but not to look good. I played around with my hair colour because when my hair hung in front of my face, I wanted to enjoy looking at it – it was to please myself, not to be beautiful for others. I wore it just out and straightened, or up in a ponytail.
I did compromise, or forget my decision sometimes – I would occasionally worry about my looks, and try to find some way to be more beautiful, but I never felt I had much success.
I just got on with my life.
I do think I dodged a lot of the self-loathing, the low esteem, the compromising-of-self to try to fit perceived ideals, in this way. Because I didn’t care about being beautiful, I think I also dodged a lot of the gendered pressure and influence of what it meant to be a female, so I did get the space to decide for myself what it mean to be a woman, and how much of a part the term ‘woman’ played in my self-definition.
Instead I invested a lot of time and energy into being an interesting person – and being a person that interested me. Science, history, art, books, music, martial arts, motorbikes, languages.
And then I met this funny guy, with typical teen-boy self-depreciating humour. He made me laugh, he wasn’t stuck-up, and he thought I was very interesting. We had a lot of fun together and got closer and closer…
…But he also kept telling me I was Beautiful.
He would call me beautiful, tell me I was pretty. I thought that was silly – I knew I wasn’t. Besides, all the Beautiful girls I knew were shallow and vain; judgemental bullies.
(Though I never objected to him saying I was sexy, I knew that was about much more than just looks…)
Then I realised that this was the person I spent as much time as possible with; shared all my fears and hopes; joys and despair with. Shared a house, shared simple rituals like cooking and eating a meal together, lying down to sleep together (arms wrapped round each other). We were planning adventures; or just relaxed in each other’s company, playing games in our ‘spare’ time; laughing and crying, philosophising, debating…
Possibly this was the person I would marry, would choose to be with for the rest of our lives.
I would trust him with my secrets, with my body, with my life…
Yet I could not trust him – could not believe him, when he told me I was beautiful?!?
How silly was I being?
That’s when I realised he must be right – he was not lying to me. I was Beautiful.
I am Beautiful.
Not just when I’m dressed up for a special occasion; the rare events when I bother with make-up; when the sun hits my hair just right… or when we’re having sex.
All. the. time. Even naked, with my pot belly, wonky boobs, and hairy legs…
I’d never placed any value on my beauty, but he clearly did – not in a judgemental, qualifying or failing kind of way, but in an admiring, sharing, revelling kind of way. I took this lesson from him. It took us about 4 years to reconcile me with my beauty, to undo the mistake I made in my early teens when I defined Beautiful as merely something to look like.
I slowly took ownership of my beauty, and let it become part of my self-definition. I realised that although I’d avoided hating myself, I hadn’t quite mastered loving myself. Now I had the chance to learn from an expert – he loved me unreservedly and I learnt to do the same. He reminds me every day that I am beautiful, and I am loved. Most days I don’t need reminding, but when I do, I know he’ll be there and I am unendingly grateful for that.
I’ve since changed my idea of the definition of beautiful. It’s something you can be, not just something to look like.
It’s not about looking perfect, it’s not an ideal image, or a strict set of standards. It’s not a collection of perfect features, but a Whole greater than the sum of the parts; it’s about How as much as What.
It’s about what you can’t see as well as what you can see.
It’s something captivating that makes you want to keep looking (and learning).
As Roald Dahl put it – “…if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”