I want to be beautiful.
That’s just one of the thoughts that plague young girls and women. When we learn that who we are is not enough. And never will be.
When I was about 13, I became obsessed with fashion.
I would read Vogue and Elle magazine religiously each month. America’s Next Top Model quickly became my new favourite TV show. And clothes were a way for me to express who I was, and get people to think I was “cool,” without me having to say a word.
And I was blissfully unaware of the effect the constant stream of heavily edited, beautiful images were having on me. On my confidence, my self-esteem, and my relationship with my body.
But they were having an effect.
Before I reached the age of 12, my confidence was pretty average. I wasn’t afraid to be myself, and I truly didn’t care if someone didn’t like me at school.
And if I knew the answer to a question, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise my hand. I was quick to stand up for myself when I needed to.
I knew who I was, and I wasn’t interested in changing myself to be someone else. To fit in. Or to be liked.
I want to be beautiful, never crossed my mind.
And then it became all-consuming.
Looking in the mirror began to fill me with disgust and shame.
I convinced myself that nothing about me was beautiful, or worth loving. My brown skin, and Bambi legs. The way my nose arches and fills my face. My soft and sensitive nature. The glasses I had to wear so the world wouldn’t be a blur.
No wonder they all hate me.
I battled on, and a few years later, the name calling and teasing had mostly stopped. I’d moved schools and got the chance to start over.
But my heart continued to carry the weight of that trauma.
It’s not that easy to go back to the way things were.
I was desperate to feel good about myself again. And I had no idea how or where to start.
All I knew was those beautiful women in the magazines and on TV seemed to have a perfect life.
So I decided I wanted to be a model too. I was tall, and fairly skinny, so I thought I had a shot. This would the answer to all my problems.
My parents weren’t too supportive of it, but I didn’t care.
Modelling would give me money, and freedom to travel and live my own life. I’d get to wear amazing clothes and have my hair and make-up done by the best. I’d be attractive to guys. Everyone would think I’m amazing and want to be my best friend. I’d be happy like those women are.
And most importantly, this would help me see that I am beautiful.
I needed the world to tell me I was beautiful, before I could believe it myself.
At least, that’s what the younger me naively thought.
It wasn’t until many years later I realised I wasn’t looking for that at all. And even if I’d found it, it wouldn’t have helped.
I’d still be craving external validation. And my definition of beauty would be what they told me it was.
What I was really searching for was self-acceptance. My own love. Inner peace.
How many of us spend our lives searching for those things outside of ourselves?
In a job, a relationship, or money.
We think the key to success and real happiness is out there.
But it’s not.
It has always been inside us.
But somewhere on our journey here, we’ve become distracted and disconnected from this truth.
Beauty is not something you need to desire or strive for.
It’s not something you paint on your face, or drape on your body.
Beauty is something you are.
It’s the way a smile unfolds on your lips, and the way your eyes light up when you laugh from deep in your belly. The way you listen to someone with patience, and make them feel heard. Beauty is the way you walk tall down the street without a giving a damn what they think. The way you find your voice and dare to use it, even when you’re afraid. Beauty is woven into the curves and spirals of your body. It’s the way you wear your heart on your sleeve, even after you’ve been hurt. Beauty is the way you love your family and strangers alike. And it’s the way you won’t apologise for taking up space in this world, exactly the way you are.
This is beauty.
This is what it means to be beautiful.