I didn't want to be unhappy with my body when I was a teenager. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be positive, and not care about what other people thought of me. I wanted to think I was beautiful.
I was short. Short legs. Short torso. Short everything.
And my thighs always seemed too thick.
And even though I was a size zero, my stomach wasn't perfectly flat. And my arms weren't as slender as I thought they should be.
AND MY THIGHS. MY STUPID THIGHS. The way they spread out when I sat down!
Then there was my face. My nose was just a little bit bigger than my ideal image of what a girl's nose should be. My lips a little bit smaller. My eyes a little bit too close together. My ears too low. (My ears too low?? Yes. My ears too low. I decided my ears were too low.) My neck not long enough.
My hands and my eye color I was happy with. Those could remain as is.
So in my head I developed this elaborate fantasy. I didn't want to want to change the way I looked, but in this fantasy some sort of magic person (misguided! maybe a bit evil!) decided they were in love with me and, without my permission, magically changed my looks to perfect every little flaw. I was horrified! How terrible!
But...I was perfect. So when I got away from the crazed and misguided magical plastic surgeon, darnit, I had to take all that perfection with me.
Fast forward several years. Hot Stuff and I, fairly newly married, are watching a reality TV program called The Swan. The premise was that "ugly" women were taken, given extensive plastic surgery and intense personal training, and were then revealed to their families and loved ones as New and Improved! Which, from the get-go, is kind of a twisted concept.
But I remember one woman, the oldest contestant (in her mid-forties), getting ready to go under the knife. She had a distinctive nose with a rather large bump in the middle that they were going to shave off to give her idealized, "perfected" features.
She said no. The reason she said no? Because her two teenage daughters had her same nose. And when she looked at them, she saw beauty and perfection, and she could see the same in herself using them as her mirrors. So she kept her nose, and she lost the competition aspect of the program.
But she kept herself, both for herself and for her daughters.
My grandmother was a beautiful woman. Elegant--always wearing jewel-toned suits, her hair well-set, her makeup in place as she played the piano better than anyone I knew. I loved her and she held an important part in my life. She died when I was seventeen, and for months afterward I'd dream of her and wake up crying. My mother got some of my grandmother's things, including a picture.
I still can't walk by it without doing a double-take, thinking it's a photo of me.
That's the face--the history--the me I would have wished away. The me my parents loved and raised. The me my future husband would fall in love with. The me that would cradle my own children and feel their tiny hands on my face.
I don't wish it away anymore. I'm happy with the quirks and details of my face, with the way I can see my grandmothers and my parents in me, the way that I can see tiny details of myself in my children (who, as it happens, look exactly like my husband's side of the family, except maybe in the set of their eyes--the same set of their eyes I wanted to change in myself but now find utterly and completely lovely).
Being generically perfect isn't beautiful. Thighs and necks and skin and (heaven forbid) ears have nothing to do with beauty. Beauty is in the stories of our faces, the people who have loved us, the people we have loved and do love and will love. Beauty is what we have survived and what we will create. Beauty is stamped into the way our eyes shift when we smile, the things our hands do, the kindness that comes out of our mouths. Beauty is not how the world sees us, but what we take of ourselves and give to the world.
Today when you look in the mirror, don't wish yourself away. Trace the lines of your face, the you that you are. Because you are beautiful.