My story is like so many little girl’s in our modern image saturated culture – one of constant discontent with my reflection that led to struggles with food, self-esteem, and friends. In elementary school I already began to realize that I didn’t look like the girls I wanted to be like.
My long hair was always tightly braided or frizzy and crazy around my face. I was covered in freckles and every inch of my highly not athletic body looked, well, highly not athletic. I didn’t like the way clothes looked on me. I felt like I was just somehow inherently less than everyone else I met.
To my memory I wasn’t bullied for the way I looked, though I was bullied for other things, being smart foremost among them. My parents always saw me as their beautiful daughter, in a way that I only understand now that I have one of my own. My teachers, though never commenting on my appearance, made it a point to appreciate my intelligence, kindness, and respectfulness.
The things coming in were all positive, more or less. So what made me feel less than?
Why do some people struggle so much inside themselves? It’s not a question I know the answer to, and I know that there are many people that struggle much more than me. But years of reflection on my own story have helped me to see that I struggled so much because I never believed – for whatever reason – that I was truly loved and therefore I never felt safe in who I was. I always felt like I needed to change somehow. That I was somehow different from everyone else and the love I knew existed just didn’t reach all the way to me.
This is embarrassing to admit. I had SO many people that loved me. I still do. For whatever reason, that truth of the love in my life didn’t truly break through for me until much later in life.
My desire to rework my image in an effort to finally feel like enough led to a roller coaster inside, feeling like not only my face but my spirit needed a makeover. And it was constant. The constant need to change. The constant, smothering discontent. I learned about makeup. I tried to lose weight. I got into shopping. By college I had learned enough to start working as an intern in fashion writing, beginning my own fashion blog as well.
My hair was no longer frizzy. My face was finally made up in the subtle and beautiful ways other women made up their faces. My clothes were all thrifted and quirky and meticulously combined. I was the right size to pull them off. But I never felt beautiful. Not truly.
This lasted years. Probably about 14 to my count. 11 to 25.
I felt like this in middle school, high school, college, at my first job, and in a crushing new way during my pregnancies.
My first pregnancy ended in a nightmare diagnosis and labor (thankfully at full term) that left me scarred and terrified to give birth again. Then, at only 9 months postpartum, I found out the unthinkable had happened: I was pregnant again.
I was not happy. I was actively unhappy, I think. “Why now?” I thought, “Why at such a horrible time?”
But the timing was actually, of course, just right. My previous pregnancy had rendered me high risk for life and so I was eligible for Anointing of the Sick. I went to my priest with my family after mass one day for the sacrament and didn’t think much more about it.
My pregnancy went on for a few more weeks. A pre-birth weight that started with a 2 (at 5’1”) felt like the final straw. I was never going to stop feeling like this – un-beautiful, less than, and scared.
And just as the Gospels should have led me to expect, when I thought it was over Christ brought about a resurrection in my soul.
It was having my daughter that changed it all. Suddenly I saw. I saw how much a person, a little girl, was really worth just because she existed. Not because she was beautiful, not because she was special, talented, or inspiring, but just because she was. I realized how I wanted her to feel every moment of her life – cherished, important, and loved.
I wanted that for my daughter, but who was I to tell her that if I didn’t believe it for myself?
And here’s the kicker and the reason I mentioned my Anointing: I actually changed. I saw myself differently for the first time in my life. I saw myself the way I hope my daughter will see herself: cherished, important, and loved. Not for myself, not for how I look, but because I am.
I exist. God chose me. He chose to create me in this place and this time looking this way with these talents. He delights in me like my now toddler daughter delights in koozies, Tickle Me Elmo, and the sushi rolling mat. Does it totally make sense to me? Not in the slightest. But do I see it now – feel it?
Suddenly beauty has stopped being all about fashion, makeup, and styling, it is about honesty, authenticity, courage, and joy. The world is thrown open. I feel capable of risk. I feel capable of putting myself out there because my worth was no longer a theory in need of validation.
I’ve never believed so completely in God’s providence. My daughter was not what I would have chosen, but since she was given to me anyway thanks to our openness to life she was undoubtedly the instrument that God used to save my life.
I will tell her the story as soon as she is old enough to understand it because it is so important to me that she realize how her very existence improves the world. She is already one of my heroes. The light in her is so strong and unbridled that a lot of days I am left in awe, striving to be more like my two-year-old. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a two-year-old just like any other two-year-old. She has a sassy streak a mile wide and knows exactly where all my buttons are. Her mischievous side eye (accompanying one of her many daily boundary tests) is basically a local legend. But there is a joy her that is just so real.
It feels like she was the key that unlocked the true meaning of beauty for me and that is why I say this blog is for her. I wonder how many daughters do this for their mothers. I am sure I am not the only one. So how do we give that key back to our daughters? That’s in part what we’re here to figure out.
There are women that you notice because they are culturally beautiful – thin and yet curvy, wearing fashionable clothes, perfectly made up, with perfect hair. But my experience is that the women that inspire with their beauty are the women who live with the kind of unbridled joy that I see in my two-year-old daughter. That is the transformative beauty, the kind that draws you in and actually makes you better, not jealous, not competitive, but actually, truly uplifted.
I think feeling beautiful is what happens when the beauty of God – His love for us – invades us. That is what happened for me in the sacrament of Anointing. It is full of the freedom of being two: unafraid, curious, and only held back by making sure the Parent is in sight.
If you are struggling with feeling less than, un-lovable, or un-beautiful, there are a few things you can do. First of all, it’s okay to pray for healing for this struggle. That is not something that honestly ever occurred to me throughout my struggles with self-worth and self-esteem. Part of it is that I think a lot of people think their feelings really are true (i.e. that they actually are un-beautiful/un-lovable/less than) and so they see that as the truth they need to accept and not that the actual truth: that they are wounded, for whatever reason, and in need of real healing. It can be so hard in the midst of struggles with self-worth, but I think that knowing and saying that your feelings are not the truth is often the first step in accepting the real truth of your own value.
And hearing it from others helps too. So allow me:
You are enough.
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
You exist. That in itself is a miracle and proof of your value.
You can also develop the habit of praying this simple prayer suggested by the priest at my parish a few years ago:
“God, help me experience your love for me.“
Then report back – how did you experience God’s love for you? I find this is good for rebellious types (ahem, me). Let God show you His love. But be warned: my daughter was conceived shortly after I began saying this prayer. True story.
One other activity that was extraordinarily powerful for me: kneeling in your pew after communion say this short prayer:
“God, help me see the beauty you see in the people passing by.”
I did this a week ago and I was literally sobbing by the third verse of the Communion song. The lines on their faces, the fathers, the mothers, the children in their arms, the elderly assisted by canes, walkers, and steady companions. Good Lord. It was so beautiful and I know it was only the slightest sparkle of what God actually sees. Seeing the incredible beauty of all kinds of people passing me, almost none of which our society would traditionally elevate as “beautiful” I became even more convicted in my own beauty that flows from God. I imagine this was not just me. I would love to hear your stories if you try this as well. Maybe pray this about your spouse, or your children, or your coworkers as well. I would love to hear what God shows you!
So all in all I am just figuring things out as I go – just like you. All I know is that God’s love is the answer to every problem and that this whole endeavor is for my little girl, my darling daughter. I look forward to a life of she and I being a key and a lock together – finding purpose and freedom in each other. I have quite the feeling that’s just what God created us to be. That, and it’s going to be beautiful.