I struggle a lot with beauty…
When I was a kid and all through my teens and 20s I thought that I unattractive. I believed I was plain and homely to the point that there was literally nothing to look at on me that could be considered pretty, beautiful or anything even close. It’s not that I necessarily thought anything was wrong with me, I just didn’t think there was anything special about my appearance; genetics had placed the gifts that made me exceptional on the inside, not out. I didn’t have awesome clothes, I didn’t have the right shaped figure, I was awkwardly tall, chubby (really, I was fat),and I have this huge, roundish-oval face that plays up my chubby cheeks and strong jaw line. I’m a natural born Amazon and didn’t realize that it is kind of a cool thing!

I could never imagine that I would be attractive to anyone. Ever. I wasn’t ugly, necessarily, but I definitely never thought I was even close to pretty. I had plans, even as a young girl, to make sure I would never be seen by anyone naked ever. EVER. I worried about my future husband and what his expectations would be. I had wedding night plans of a darkened room, long nightgown and rapid flight from the bathroom to the bed. No one would ever see this! It’s funny, because when I think back, I don’t even have a sense of loss or pain about it, just acceptance. I said I was a non-standard beauty. Unconventionally attractive. That beauty didn’t matter. I relied on my personality to make it through; I fostered being funny, kind, giving, friendly, loving, honest and truthful, virtues that make a good friend or partner that have nothing to do with appearances. I assumed that I always rated low on the sex appeal scale, so I had zero expectations from the opposite sex and would see the most repulsive (inside and/or outside) teenaged boy on the bus or at school and I would wonder, in my mind, if that person would be able to get over how I looked and I might have a date with him… or boyfriend… It galls me now to think of how little I considered my appearance and myself that I lowered my standards to yucky people with terrible ethics and even more terrible hygiene.

My husband describes first laying eyes on me as a magical moment. I had longish, curly, light-brown hair. I was wearing cut off shorts and an old T-shirt with a big sunshine-compass on it. I was about a size 20. Apparently, as the story goes, I was engaged in conversation with him and had to get something from the nightstand next to my bed. On my knees, I shuffled across the bed as he watched me and he just fell instantly in love with me… or whatever you want to call it. LOL. I thought he was cute, but he was a tall, blonde, blue eyed, slender man. He filled all the categories of conventional attractiveness to me while all of my attractiveness boxes remained unchecked in my mind. I heard through the grapevine about how he thought I was so beautiful and so nice and so friendly and I just could not believe that this person was even moderately interested in me, this chubby, homely girl who was really nothing special!

After we got together, he continued to tell me how beautiful I was, how sexy I was and how attracted he was to me just as I was at that very moment. Again I just fell back on the idea that he liked me for my mind and my heart and he was able to overlook all of the plain aspects of my face and body. He was just saying what I wanted to hear, not the truth. He was just trying to make me feel better, right? I just thought that was something that you said to your partner, just like parents always tell their kids that they’re cute. It’s just what you say. You’re supposed to. That’s all I thought it was: an ego massage.

It took him almost 15 years to convince me that he actually does find me attractive. That he has loved me as I have gained weight and lost it. Every curve and ounce has been adored and mourned… That yes, he loves my mind, but he is still a man. The funny thing is that I remain ever convinced that he is the only person in the world who actually thinks I’m attractive. I am told that I pass muster, even that I’m pretty or beautiful quite regularly now by friends, family and mostly my students. I honestly don’t even know what to do with that. Anytime somebody says gives me any kind of a compliment based on my appearance, I immediately roll my eyes, blush and look away in disbelief. Sometimes I audibly snort before I can stop it. I can’t handle their ‘lies’ at all. It is the most inappropriate response to compliment that I can think of, yet I consistently respond that way. I’m working on it. Last weekend someone told me I’m pretty and I looked that person in the eye and thanked her. It was difficult. Silly!

Thinking too much about how attractive or not attractive I am can be a distracting and slippery slope. There are things about me that I see and like and it freaks me out. Shifting my thoughts from being a very plain person to thinking I might be more conventionally attractive than I ever would have imagined is really hard and pretty scary. I always want to be appreciated first and foremost for the ideas and love that I put into the world over how pretty my hair is, how nice my smile is, or how acceptable and shapely my figure is. But I’ll admit that it is really fun on the days or nights that I buy into the idea that I look pretty and allow myself to feel it, but I don’t want to go too far in that direction and become one of those crazy, vain, diva-women! It scares me. It seems safer just to keep on feeling frumpy.

While raising my daughter I didn’t want her to be known for only how pretty she is. My daughter is gorgeous, she’s got long legs, a beautifully shaped figure and the cutest little face and smile that I could ever imagine. Her hair is long, wavy and blonde and she’s a kind, sweet, smart girl. From the moment her heart started fluttering, we have told her she is a smart, brilliant, creative and clever cat. I spent her childhood building up her brain and her confidence because I wanted her awareness and sense of self to come from who she truly is and not just her appearance. Well, I still believe that her insides are really the most important part that needs to be built up the most, but I realized recently that she’s entering her teens and I didn’t want her to start out life as a woman thinking that her entire value rested in her heart and brain. I want her to also know that she’s the complete package! It scared me a little bit that she might be thinking those dark thoughts just like I had: plain, homely, nothing special. Everyone wants to be special. So I’ve started campaigning, telling her how amazing she is and also including complements here and there about how pretty her hair is, what a gorgeous smile she has, what a lovely body she has, that she looks so strong and healthy… I started telling my son similar things too, about how his little smile is beaming with love, how he has pretty blue eyes, how his cheek is so soft and peachy that it’s my favorite one to kiss and how his little, round body is beautiful and wonderful to hug. I also need to talk about the things I see on myself, the things I like, so they hear me being proud and pretty too.

But they have an awareness of the way I see myself. On my birthday my daughter made a movie of me blowing out the candles on my birthday cake and immediately posted it to Instagram without previewing it to me first. I freaked out! She looked stricken, ashamed, and very scared. I asked her if I could watch the video and she walked over to me and held it up in front of my face and let me watch the whole thing. As the short video played I was very surprised at what I saw. I wasn’t looking at a plain, homely monster of a woman. I was looking at a mom who looked very pretty. She didn’t look pretty only because of her absolute beauty, and she did look beautiful, she looked pretty because of the way she looked lovingly at her children and her husband while they serenaded her with the birthday song. But I can honestly say she also looked pretty just in her own right. Guinevere looked at me and she asked, “Is it okay mommy? You can’t even see your boobs!” I looked at her with surprise and said it’s a really good video and I can’t believe how pretty I look. And then I realized the boobs comment- I wasn’t wearing a bra! The horrors!

My daughter has an awareness that I have insecurities about my body and applies those same insecurities to herself. I reflected back on how she is perceiving herself and her own body development and the worries that she has as she is growing, expanding and changing. She’s already told me she doesn’t want some of the things on my body the way they are on mine, has asked me how to prevent certain things and it’s been hurtful, but I have to admit that it’s been me saying all those things in front of her all these years. It’s been me giving her a tour of my body and the things I think are unappealing or unattractive. Now I have the task of switching that around and making her see herself as beautiful while I try to make me see myself as beautiful too.

{The hashtag name comes from one 23 year old woman from Portland who goes by the Instagram name of wingardiumleviosa. I ‘met’ her online when she liked one of my Disney photos, because she’s a Disney geek too, and I started following her… Unbeknownst to me, she is also neck deep in the body-posi movement and inspires me all the time as she learns how to be unafraid of her own body and conventional standards of beauty. :)}

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