Mirror, Mirror (Beauty, Body Image, and My Story)
“You’re a fat girl”
I can still hear the words ringing in my ears. Reverberating in my chest. Slamming into my heart with wrecking-ball force.
The inflection, tone, facial expression. It’s all still there. As fresh as if it just happened.
But it was twenty years ago.
I was five. And some punk kid on the playground told me I was fat.
And that same punk kid stands on the other side of my mirror and tells me I’m fat still…
on days when I eat one too many cookies…
at certain times of the month…
when I haven’t made it to the gym in a while…
I still hear him. Inside. His voice has become part of my own.
“She looks so weird! Her eyebrows are, like, taking over her face!”
Puberty, as is the case for most people, was not overwhelmingly kind to me.
A friend told me that my crush at the time had given this assessment of my appearance.
I don’t even really know if he really said it, or said it this way.
She said, he said.
Shortly after, I stayed up late one night with a pair of tweezers and a pair of those tiny manicure scissors and hacked away at my brows till well past midnight.
I barely had brows a follicle wide by the end of it.
And the next assessment of my brows from my peers?
“She looks so weird! Like an alien! Where are her eyebrows?”
I hated the way I looked.
My skin was too pale.
Eyebrows too bushy.
My boobs were too small.
My hips were too broad.
My ribs protruded like daggers out over my flat stomach.
(they still do)
“It’s like she has two sets of boobs!”
A girl remarked at a slumber party, when I was assumed asleep. She was older than I by about 2 years and was definitely part of the “in” crowd.
I continued to pretend to be asleep, and tried not to cry.
I woke up with all kinds of interesting doodles scrawled in sharpie across my face and body.
I remember going home and searching online about whether or not it was possible to have rib-reduction surgery.
It sounds silly, but I hated that these giant ribs that were unchangeably part of my appearance. No matter how hard I worked out, how healthy I ate, they would still be there.
I started wearing make up around the 6th grade.
It was fun at first, exciting.
But slowly, over time, I became fearful of leaving the house without it.
It would take me an hour, solid, of hair-make up time before I was ready to leave the house. Even for the smallest things!
Running to the grocery store…
Going to the mall…
Volunteering down town at an after-school program…
I was a slave.
And not even to the image staring back at me, but to the image in my head. The voices from my childhood screaming lies.
But I couldn’t hear the truth.
I never heard the compliments.
I would smile, bat my perfectly curled lashes and say thank you, but the words never got down into my soul.
My Dad wrote me a letter when I was 13 about how beautiful I was and how he couldn’t imagine me wanting to change anything about the way I looked.
I read the letter and I sobbed.
I would read it over and over and over again through my teen years and into college, trying to believe it.
I started slipping on my beauty regiment in college. As a pre-med major my first year of college was pretty demanding. I would be up late studying and then up early for my 8 o’clock class every, single, day of the week.
I did it for a semester.
Going to bed at 1:30 or 2, waking up at 6am and waltzing into class with my face and hair done.
I caved second semester.
I hated going to class that way.
I hunkered down in my hooded sweatshirt and tried to avoid eye contact.
And it sucked at first.
But it got easier.
I noticed that no one I really loved, really treated me differently if I had make up on or not.
I prayed. I asked for freedom. I asked for healing. I asked to be beautiful.
I became conscious of the fact that the voices I was listening to were not the voice of my Maker and Sustainer, but the voice of a liar out to destroy me.
I married a man who tells me every day, even when I’m still in my running shorts with sweaty hair 10 hours after my workout, that I’m beautiful.
And I’m starting to believe it.
I’m starting to listen to a different voice.
I had a child. A daughter. Who is certifiably gorgeous.
And I refuse to pass this down to her.
I will wage war against the mirrors, the inner voices and the demons that lurk in the racks of clothes at the mall.
Because beauty is not bad.
And I still wear make up sometimes.
But I don’t feel compelled to do so.
I’m not shackled to a mascara wand and straightening iron.
I don’t feel less, or unworthy, or undeserving, or repulsive when I roll out of my house with my hair up and my blackheads showing.
…at least not on most days.
Because that’s not what beauty is, that’s not where it comes from.
And whether you find me to be physically attractive or not, I am beautiful.
Because the One who is Beauty is alive and well in me.
And slowly but surely, a little more each day, I’m starting to actually believe it.
I know exactly what you are saying, my friend. I think it is certainly an affliction of women, to feel un-beautiful, even when told over and over by the most important and valued people in our lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and past on this.
You are right that beauty isn’t about makeup and made up hair. To you, it is your love, for EVERYTHING and everyone around you. It is your laughter and patience and creativity and joy. You are a blessing to all who know you and I am honored to be your friend.
And – I used to spend an hour applying makeup every morning.* So it’s not just women. It’s just people.
*Incidentally, it was Bare Escentuals, so I wasn’t enslaving children, just myself. I remember it clouded out of the container and left a golden dust over everything in the bathroom. When it was time to move, I could not get it clean.
it is a pain to clean up, that’s my one beef with their product.