I got married in a nearly black dress. I’d picked it from a clearance rack at a mall somewhere in Colorado mostly because it was almost black, covered my legs and was big enough to keep my enormous breast at bay. I didn’t feel beautiful in it and I certainly wasn’t a beautiful, white-clad bride. It made this funny swishing sounds when I walked and cost far less than the dress I’d purchased for Devlynn to wear that day. I’d taken great care and consideration in what she’d wear. I’d tossed my appearance to the wind. By the time I got married, I had already embedded in my head I wasn’t pretty enough to be a beautiful bride. I wasn’t beautiful enough for much of anything.
As a little girl I got mocked for being fat. It didn’t help that I’d already begun breast development by 5th grade and I remember getting my first bras around 3rd or 4th, but my dates could be off. I’m apple-shaped. My middle far exceeds my legs width. I had a round/square head and simple features. Short, mousey hair and bucky toothed smile. Boys didn’t like me. Girls didn’t like me. And I was “ugly” from right about 3rd grade on.
I started dressing more like a boy than a girl in middle school. I wore button up shirts to hide my boobs and tried to paint my eyes as dark as I could in hopes it would make look less like the mouse I’d created in my head. I wore a dress to the occasional dance but I’d never turned a head and no one ever stood there beside me telling me I was beautiful. In fact the two of the three dances I’d attended in my youth, I shopped alone. I don’t think there is a photo of the only homecoming I attended and only a memory of my best friends ROTC ball.
I stopped letting people take photos of me in my 20s. There are only a handful of scattered photos of me and my babies. I can’t recall a single photo of me pregnant with Devlynn or Davis. And when we welcomed Davis into our family, I’m not sure there is paper proof I was even there. I’m basically erased from the photographic history of my family. I like to think it’s mostly because I am the photographer but I know it’s because I have excluded myself for so long, that everyone stopped trying to include me in the shot. I often wonder if anyone has ever thought of it.
That’s what happens when you don’t feel beautiful.
I’m now in my middle thirties. Maybe closer to late thirties and I have put on a staggering 45 pounds since getting married. There are no full length mirrors in our home, well at least not on the main floor. And I don’t bother with new clothes anymore, until the holes aren’t hideable anymore… because I know they’re nothing more than ill-fitting coverings to a body full of shame. I learned to contour and cover a face of estrogen spots and I wear the same, beaten gray sweater that covers my middle and I hope disguises the lump I feel like I have become. And despite doing everything I have read you should be doing, I gained 3 pounds after a month of charting food, walking every day and being really cautious about what I was taking into my body.
When I found out Devlynn was a girl I prayed she’d be beautiful and thin and very, very smart. And she is. Beautiful inside and out. It’s a lovely miracle I have in her. And I suppose she sees how awful I feel about myself even though I try very hard to keep it from her. I cannot imagine being a teenager these days. I think there has to be so much pressure to be physically beautiful. It’s not even beautiful anymore, it’s sexy and skinny and perfect. It makes me hyper aware of what she is eating and how she’s acting. I feel fortunate that I don’t see signs in her of self hate. I feel like she knows who she is and loves herself. Even though I know most teenagers, especially girls, have a bit of “yuck” in them.
7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with family and friends.
– Real Girls, Real Pressure: National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, Dove Self-Esteem Fund
How do I save my daughter from this? Am I doing a good enough job with her? Self esteem is a brutal thing. And I don’t know how, once it’s crushed, to uncrush it. I worry constantly that my child hides it from me. I worry she’s feels terrible and feels like she can’t talk to me. And I want her to know she is and always has been and always will be, good enough. I never ever want her to feel the weight of worthlessness. I never want her to feel not good enough to be a part of her family’s history.
I worry for my sons too. I think there is an unspoken pressure in being the most handsome or the most physically fit. Davis is a tween. Going over and around the lumps and bumps of the funny ages of 10, 11 and 12. He’s got friends on all spectrums of development. I can see which ones will and which won’t take their shirts off the play basketball. Beauty doesn’t fall short at our son’s either. They feel it too. And I hope and pray that he and the other boys can successfully wade through the murk of it.
I hope they always know how beautiful they are, inside and out.