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On Beauty and Self-Love, Regardless

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I was never the pretty girl.

I was the smart one. The quiet one. Sometimes cute, but never beautiful. In any group of girls my age, I mentally ranked my looks, and found them lacking. I stared into the mirror, fantasizing about having a different face. It would be slimmer, sharper, poutier; I would have dark hair, and it would be straight. I ate what the media fed me, critiquing my body in contradicting cycles. My hipbones were not as sharp as glass. My breasts were not large and perfectly round. My hair was not glossy and sleek. Even when I was incredibly thin, even when I straightened my hair, even when I allowed myself to gain weight and plenty of it went to my bust - it was not enough. I was not enough.

At my wedding rehearsal dinner, my mother-in-law told my father I had his nose. He said, “Poor girl.”

Who can say why I spun physical beauty into the apex of worthiness? My intelligence and creativity didn’t matter to me. I already owned them, I’d already gotten the credit. But beauty was different. Beauty was something you were given, not something you could earn or learn. Beauty was just out of reach. Beauty was virtue.

I know it sounds dramatic, a real first world problem, but after so many adults telling you how creative you are and how beautiful your sister is, after seeing so many images in the media of what beauty "is," you come to think of yourself as the ugly one.

And I settled for less of everything in my life because of it.

I learned, later, that beauty will not save you. Beauty will not shield you from abandonment, from hardship, from fighting with your own shadow. Beauty will not give you self worth. Beauty will not give you love. Beauty is just beauty.

I learned this because people began to tell me I was beautiful.

And at first, I felt victorious. I felt I had TRICKED people into thinking I was pretty, that the right colors and the right clothing styles had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, that I had performed the most amazing costume change imaginable. That I finally deserved to look for the man of my dreams and ask for what I wanted and show up in the world as a flesh and blood woman with ideas and desires of her own.

It took years for it to occur to me - really occur to me, on a core level - that the autumn lipsticks and half-circle skirts weren’t magic. They could not and did not transform me into a person I wasn’t before. I looked like this all along, but I stopped trying to look like someone else. Which catapulted me toward healing.

Loving yourself is a practice. There are days when I look at myself and think, damn girl. And then there are days when I make myself say nice things about myself in the mirror.

Practicing self-love is “about” a lot of things, from getting enough sleep to seeking out emotional support from others when needed. And for me, it also means refusing to wear clothes that encourage me to criticize my body. I don’t wear anything that makes me look like a distorted version of myself. I don’t squeeze myself into clothing that’s too small, or hide in clothing that’s shapeless. I don’t contour my face or go to any lengths to create the illusion that my bone structure is different than what it is. I don’t diet. I don’t wear makeup every day. I don’t buy things because I want to look like the model wearing it. I limit my time scrolling on Instagram and unfollow accounts that stir up feelings of inadequacy.

Frankly, I try not to think about whether I'm pretty or not. I endeavor to stay far away from that mental whirlpool. I wear clothes that fit comfortably and mirror the lines of my body, in colors that harmonize with my natural coloring. I love beautiful things, and I look for beautiful things that look like they belong with me. Anything that makes me feel less-than is not worth having.

I want to be very clear that I’m not writing this because I want you to comment and tell me that I’m pretty, because I really, really don't.

I'm writing this because I want you to know that you are not alone in the waves of Not-Enough. And the shore is closer than you think.