This post is dedicated to the most beautiful girls that I know: Lexi, Riley, Caroline, Micah, Abbey, Maddie, Kaylee, Meredith, Lexxi, Athena, Taylor, Emma, Hope, Sophie, Lauren, and the young team Anastasis girls that these wonderful ladies set the stage for.
String bean, Toothpick, Twiggy, Slim, Skinny, Bones, Chicken Legs. This is how I was known growing up. More often than not, these “nicknames” were used in place of my actual name. I hated it.
When I was in elementary school, the names didn’t bother me so much. I didn’t really associate them with myself so they didn’t hurt my feelings. I really only heard these names once a year during our PE physical. For some reason someone came up with the brilliant idea to have our height and weight measured in PE class each year. We would all line up against the wall and one by one be told our weight and height while a PE assistant scribbled down our weight on a piece of paper that would be sent home. One by one we walked up, either elated or embarrassed by our height (in elementary school, height rules). Then came the weight. I don’t think any of us really knew what the “ideal” weight was. I don’t remember being embarrassed by the number called out. It wasn’t until they pulled me aside and told me that I was “under weight” and SHOULD weigh more, and that they would send a note home to my parents that I was embarrassed. But, it was one day a year that happened along with eye tests and was always soon forgotten. It was the first time I remember feeling different from the other kids. Like maybe there was something wrong with me.
Cut to middle school where the name of the game is blending in and looking like everyone else. The names started to hurt. It was this constant reminder that there was something “wrong” with me. That I was different. In middle school different is equated with bad. It was the first time that I really began to feel self-conscious about the way that I looked. I was skinny and on the tallish side for how slender I was, mostly I was trapped in the body of Peter Pan. Couple that with the joys of puberty…disastrous. This is the time that you begin to care what others think of you and unfortunately, it comes at the same time as your body is at it’s most awkward.
I started to break out regularly and even though I took care to wash my face twice a day and use products that should have cleared my skin, I always had a break out somewhere on my face. In health class we all got assigned a “disease” to research and report on. As the teacher was calling out assignments, I heard my name, “Kelly, you will do acne.” The boy next to me leaned over laughing, “You know why you got assigned that right? It’s because you always have zits everywhere.” Devastating. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was my bony shoulders, my skinny chicken legs, and the pimples on my face. I felt ugly.
This feeling of not being enough followed me into the high school years. The breakouts started to get under control, but I was still as skinny as ever. At 5’4 I finished high school weighing 90 lbs. This wasn’t for lack of eating. I have an insane sweet tooth and ice cream and milk shakes were part of my regular diet. No matter what or how much I ate, nothing seemed to change my weight. I know, most of you are shaking your head right now sarcastically thinking, “poor Kelly, she could eat ANYTHING and not gain weight…we feel so bad.” I’ve heard that throughout my life too. I never got asked out on a date in high school, never had a boyfriend. My friends seemed to get asked out regularly. Another reminder that something was wrong with me.
In college I was pulled aside by multiple professors and RA’s who wanted to talk to me about “my anorexia.” It’s hard to convince someone who thinks they know you that they don’t actually know you. It took a doctor’s note documenting that I was at a healthy weight, for me, to get them to stop hounding me. This didn’t stop random old ladies from approaching me and grabbing my arm while they told me that I needed to eat more and take care of myself. It also didn’t stop the rude comments random guys would call out at me, “good Lord, eat something!” Different felt ugly. It sent the message over and over, “you are not enough.”
This post isn’t really about my weight. It’s actually a post about beauty.
When I was young, I thought that beauty was something that was unattainable because I didn’t look like the “popular girls.” I had this picture in my mind of what beauty was: being just curvy enough, perfectly made up face, long silky hair, long legs, perfect wardrobe, perfect smile, pouty lips, tan.
Imagine my shock when I learned that none of this is what makes you beautiful. It took a long time to learn this truth. My definition began to shift when I was in college and lived in a house full of girls. I had beautiful roommates. Attractive in every sense of the word; yet the longer I lived with them, the more I heard their insecurities about their looks. I was baffled. How could these beautiful girls look in the mirror and believe they were ugly? Perception is an interesting thing. We assume that people see the same things we see, that they perceive us the same way that we do. This is rarely the case.
My husband was my first boyfriend. He saw beauty that I couldn’t see. He helped reshape my perception. My wonderful friends and roommates had a big hand in this as well. I began to realize that we really don’t see ourselves the way that others do. Our perceptions are often not accurate representations.
Beauty is so much more than what we see in the mirror. It’s sad that we reduce it so much and beat ourselves up about it. I can’t tell you the number of girls I’ve taught that come to me in tears because they don’t feel like they are enough. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not athletic enough, not funny enough. Not enough.
Without exception, every single one of these girls was unequivocally MORE THAN ENOUGH. They are beautiful. They are smart, and funny, and engaging. It breaks my heart to see their tears, to see the insecurity that they carry, to realize that they don’t see themselves the way that the rest of us see them.
They look to makeup, revealing clothes, unhealthy relationships, snap chat, ask FM to tell them they are beautiful.
So girls, with everything above as a backdrop, this is my message for you:
You are beautiful. Yes, you. You are enough. Yes, you. When we look at you, we see beauty. It’s not the makeup you put on. It’s not the tan. It’s not the perfect hair. It’s not the perfect weight or height (as if there is such a thing). You are beautiful because you are brave, you don’t hesitate to leap in and take big risks. You are beautiful because you put passion into the work you do and when you share it, we can’t help but be captivated by the same magic. You are beautiful because of the work you do in the service of joy. You are beautiful because you have a laugh that pulls everyone else into the fun. You are beautiful because of the way your eyes widen with compassion when you see someone hurting, right before you jump in to help. You are beautiful because you have a generous nature that you share freely. You are beautiful because you have a great sense of humor that instantly puts everyone at ease. You are beautiful because you make everyone a friend. You are beautiful because of the way you join in silliness, especially when your peers won’t join in. You are beautiful because your awkwardness is endearing. You are beautiful. We all see it. We want you to see it. You are beautiful. I hope that when you feel like you aren’t enough, you will call and let me change your perception. Sometimes, people will cross your path that don’t deserve you. But that doesn’t matter in the long run, you are beautiful because of the way you keep sharing your gifts with the rest of us who do see the immense beauty. I hope that when you look in the mirror, you see what we see. The beauty that you are.