Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing I was beautiful.
I think I believed it a while ago, once, in the middle of a summer haze, laughing with friends in the glow of street lights. But then something changed and I forgot again.
I lived like I wasn’t sure who I was.
Sitting in a plush chair in her tiny office, I stared at her from across her desk. We were both ENFJs on the Myers-Briggs, a fact she brought up early on that somehow made me feel closer to her emotionally. This office was where I came to process. Where I came to try to understand.
I thought counseling would be like an affirmation circle. You know, the ones they do in youth group where everyone goes around and says something they love about Susan, then Rebecca, then Ashley? Those always felt forced to me. Counseling wasn’t like that. Instead it was like a dull knife cutting me to rip away dangerous things: emotions and memories and responses. Feelings I had buried underneath my skin and hoped wouldn’t be dug out.
I remember when I told my counselor “I don’t think I’m beautiful,”
She just stared at me, like I was an idiot. That was the one time I can remember being baffled entirely, at a loss for what was going to come out of her mouth next. She was incredibly honest, cutting even, and I braced myself for what would come next.
“Really? You think you’re not beautiful…? I think you’re one of the most strikingly beautiful people I’ve ever seen.”
I just sat there for a moment, trying to process.
Me? Strikingly beautiful? You’re kidding, right?
I was SO sure. SO SURE that I wasn’t actually captivating, because if I was, maybe things would have been different. Maybe I wouldn’t be in counseling. Maybe I would be okay again.
I realized in that moment, with that life-changing, heart-racing compliment that cut to the core – maybe I was beautiful. I so desperately hoped and dreamed I was. Maybe I’m not beautiful like her. Maybe I’m not consistently perfect. Maybe he’ll fall in love with someone who takes his breath away every time he looks over, like he did for me. And that’s okay.
My beauty is another thing entirely, something that has to remain untouched by my surroundings and who I allow to speak into my life. Easier said than done.
I love aesthetics. I prize beautiful things. I mean, who doesn’t? But I’m especially terrible; constantly glorifying the visual. I’m guilty of caring too much about the things you’d write poems about. Things I’ve written poems about in the past: his eyes and that shirt and the way he orchestrated every song that played with his hands. I follow models on Instagram and I secretly hope someone who looks like Levi Stocke, my current favorite, will walk into my life. It’s ridiculous. Everyone knows aesthetics will one day fade to black because only character survives.
I uphold impossibly high standards for myself and others and hope some day to be happy.
Maybe something in me needs to shift. Now.
I can’t be an advocate for women, a champion of our own individual, personal beauty, if I can’t see my own. I need a daily humble acknowledgement that my worth and beauty have nothing to do with the symmetry of my face and how many guys compliment me. It has everything to do with how well I love.
I refuse to let my love be crippled by my aesthetic preferences.
P.S. The above photo of me was taken by the lovely Hannah Ward. What you don’t see in this photo is the crushing desire I have to be beautiful. I want it so bad it hurts. Part of me wants a photo to prove that I’m lovely and desirable. The other part of me is depressed because I know I’ll always be dissatisfied with the final product.