View this post on Instagram
“I want to be beautiful, Mommy.”
These are words you never want to hear, especially from your five-year-old daughter.
At first, my words caught in my throat. Then, with eyebrows almost stretched to my hairline, I looked her in the eye and said, “But darling, you are beautiful. You are always beautiful, just the way you are.”
Clearly not convincing her, she said, “No, I want to be more beautifuler.”
Well, as if her first statement hadn’t haunted me enough, her response certainly did.
My daughter’s desire to be more beautiful left my head in a whirl. Of course, I am slightly biased as her mother, but she has been blessed with skin that looks like it was dipped in rich toffee. Her hair is a dark shade of espresso that forms soft, bouncy ringlets that perfectly hug my finger. She has deep, inviting brown eyes with long, thick lashes. Her nose is petite and her lips are the color of delicate pink rosebuds. When she laughs, her giggle is so raw and deep that it can tickle the laughs out of even the most somber of spirits.
And that, mind you, is just the outside package.
She is also that perfect balance of hiding behind my husband and me when we meet new neighbors and initiating a game of hide-and-seek with new friends as soon as we reach the neighborhood playground. She ponders the inner workings of our cell phones and creates new fashion-forward outfits for her Barbie dolls out of Play-doh. She wrestles with her daddy every chance she gets, but still cries when her best friend, Cole Kitty, who left this earthly world only a few months ago, wanders into her mind again.
She is beautiful, all the way down to her soul.
What was even more perplexing to me—knowing her this way—was the fact that we, her parents, have always recognized her for being the kind, strong, smart, funny, sensitive kid she is. We have never been quiet about all of her beautiful qualities.
Why was it, then, so difficult for her to see the beauty within herself?
This question left me with a flat pillow and dark circles around my eyes for days. In part, because I vividly remember thinking the exact same thing as a child: I wish I was more beautiful. And it took me nearly four decades to see the true beauty within myself.
As a child, I had chubby cheeks and a chubby middle to match. I was also born with an underbite. Thus, between first and fourth grade I wore a plastic retainer that fit snugly to the top of my mouth. It faintly covered my front teeth with a shade of Pepto-Bismol pink and left me speaking with a slight lisp. In middle and high school, the flex arm hang became my nemesis, as I could never hold the position for more than 0.5 seconds before my arms would tremble uncontrollably, and I would slip from the bar down to the gymnasium floor.
Always questioning my self-worth, I hid in the safety of the shadows wherever I was, and I rarely raised my hand in class. I saved my observations and my opinions only for the nurturing eyes of my journal.
Of course, just like my daughter, there was much more to me than I saw through the curtain of negativity I hung over my eyes. I earned high marks all the way through school and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. I felt the injuries of others and always offered my hand or shoulder to those who were bleeding, inside or out. I danced like nobody was watching and belted out the lyrics to every song played on the radio. Social injustice ignited a fire within me, and through my writing, I was able to be a voice for those who were stifled by misconceptions and ignorance, while still safely hiding under the comfort of my red fleece blanket and gray hoodie.
As years pass by, they graciously share their wisdom with us. Now, I can finally see the beauty that has made me the person I am today. But, why could I not see my worth for the first 30 years of my life?
The answer to this question surprisingly came when I watched a TED talk given by Brené Brown on vulnerability. Based on her research, she discovered that to let go of our self-deprecating and overly critical opinions toward ourselves, we must first learn to be comfortable with being vulnerable.
What does that mean? Well, for most of us, that means we need to learn how to be gentle with ourselves when we make a mistake. Even though we are human and know making mistakes is part of the human experience, our first instinct is to feel guilty when we hurt someone’s feelings or ashamed when we make the wrong choice. We feel exposed, and we want to curl up like a hedgehog to protect ourselves from these feelings of vulnerability.
Also, when we feel emotionally naked in this way, we are sure someone will always be nearby, ready to call us out for screwing up. How many of us have stumbled on a raised crack in the sidewalk or unexpectedly skated across a patch of ice in January, only to come crashing down in a thud? If you are like me, before you even pulled yourself up, I’m guessing your head did a full 360-degree turn in less than a hundredth of a second to make sure no one caught a glimpse of your fall.
We unconsciously want to make sure nobody notices our mistakes. We don’t want spectators to see our moment of vulnerability. We have built up our own vulnerable feelings of embarrassment and guilt so greatly that we are sure their judgments will leave us without a job, without our decade-long friendship, or even worse—completely unlovable.
Thus, we preempt the criticisms and try to avoid their bite. We announce the coffee stain we dripped on our pants when we crawled into the car at 6 a.m. We apologize for wearing the same pink and black floral blouse we wore three months prior to our sister’s graduation dinner. But, the truth is, had we never called attention to our insecurities, our colleagues, family, friends, or the strangers we pass by in the parking lot at the mall would never have noticed. And if they did notice, would they really care? I highly doubt it.
The coffee stains, the falls, the wrinkles, and even the annoying gray hairs are part of being alive. Our friends, our sisters, and yes, our bosses have all worn the same blouse or dress many times to similar events. We have all spilled coffee, soda, ketchup, or mustard on ourselves as we raced to the next meeting or hurried to get our child to swimming lessons on time.
We understand. We have been there. These tiny imperfections do not make us ugly or unworthy. They make us human.
The next time you pass by a bathroom or bedroom mirror, stop and look at yourself. Spend at least a full 60 seconds seeing the real you—the raw you—looking back.
Notice the wrinkles around your smile.
Notice the gray spirals dancing under the fluorescent light.
Notice your perfect shade of mocha-colored skin and the 33 freckles painted around your nose.
Notice the curls that gently tickle your face and that one rebel curl that wants to leap off your head.
Notice the stretch marks and the scars and recall the stories they tell—the stories that have made you who you are, the stories that have made you beautiful.
Notice them all and smile.
Then, repeat after me, “I am beautiful. I am enough. I matter.” Repeat it as many times as you need until you start to believe it. Then, repeat it five more times. Why? Because we are beautiful. We are enough. We do matter.
You are the only person on this planet who has the unique combination of talents, interests, knowledge, humor, and experiences that you do. You were born into this world for a reason and are desperately needed to bring all that you have learned, not only to help yourself grow, but also to encourage and lead those around you.
Sure, you’re imperfect—so am I. And yes, even though it is hard for me to admit, my daughter is imperfect too. We all are. We’re all vulnerable, and we all fear what others will say about our wind-blown hair or mismatched socks or our guilty pleasure television show that we must watch every Monday night.
But, remember, we all have days when the wind uses our hair to create its next Picasso-inspired portrait. We all have days when we swear that our navy blue sock looked black when we grabbed it from the back of the dresser drawer. And we all have a guilty pleasure show we must watch, even if ours is on Thursday night and not Monday.
We are not weird or unlovable. We are perfect just the way we are.
So the next time your thoughts trick you into doubting your own self-worth, please remember three things:
We are all human.
We are all vulnerable.
And we are all beautiful—especially you!