When I was 15 or 16 years old, a stranger at Church came up to me while I was washing my hands in the bathroom and told me I was beautiful.
I cried when I got home, because I couldn’t bring myself to believe she was telling the truth.
A teenage girl’s perception of beauty is largely defined by women she sees in the media, which set an unachievable goal of perfection. She becomes convinced that unless she looks like the model on the magazine cover or the celebrity on the red carpet, then she can’t possibly be pretty. She begins to list in her head all the things she has to change about herself in order to truly be beautiful.
And then that girl grows up, gets married, and has a daughter of her own. And suddenly…everything is a little bit different.
I was seven months into my pregnancy when I noticed the stretch marks. I had been sure that they wouldn’t be a problem – my mom had never gotten any, so genetically-speaking, neither should I. But all of the sudden they appeared, almost overnight, long red streaks running up and down my belly. I would look in the mirror in horror and the teenage girl inside of me would scream that it just wasn’t fair. Why did I have to add one more thing to my list of “things to change about myself”? Why did I keep falling further and further away from “beautiful”?
Josephine was born on my birthday. In the past two years, she has grown into a beautiful little toddler, and I can see that she has my eyes, her dad’s smile, and the most gorgeous blonde hair. And in that time since she entered this world, I have become much less critical of myself.
I have my father’s nose and his wavy hair.
I have my mother’s voice and eyes.
I have battle scars that streak across my stomach, and that tell the story of the nine months when I grew the most beautiful little girl inside of me.
And I no longer want to be flawlessly beautiful.
The stretch marks have faded. They’re barely visible now. But each time I notice them, I’m reminded of the story that they tell. I’ve come to realize that beauty isn’t about perfection. It’s about laugh lines, gray hairs, stretch marks, scars and callouses. It is every little part of our body that tells the story of our experiences. Beauty is when a stranger can see, by the most cursory glance, that we are truly living and loving our life. Beauty is in the unique stories that each of us can tell.
So when I look in the mirror and can only see the love handles, I remind myself of my story. I remind myself of the life I have a lived and how far I have come. And suddenly, I can see what that woman saw all those years ago. I can see that I am beautiful.