The ability to see our own beauty comes hard to many people. Since Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video came out, I have read several takes on the message Dove was attempting to share. A good majority of the blogs were actually negative, basically telling Dove, “Nice try, but not enough.” They felt that there wasn’t enough diversity and the women were thin. Based on how often I saw it shared on Facebook though, it hit home to many women.
As a parent to a daughter, I have been more aware of keeping my words positive about my body and my looks. I have looked in the mirror with her face smushed up to mine and said out loud, “We are beautiful.” And then I wonder if she knows that I only think that of her. I don’t want to lie to her and I am working hard to change that. It is not easy after almost 45 years on this earth to convince yourself that just maybe you aren’t unattractive.
I don’t think I was born with that innate confidence gene that some people possess. Couple that with early peer sexualization and by the time I was 12, if a boy was interested in me it was never because of who I was inside or how I looked from the neck up. I was just a body. It got to a point where if a guy did show actual interest, I would waver between thinking he was stupid or thinking that I wasn’t good enough because the other boys had touched me. If there were kind words spoken about the way I looked, you couldn’t have paid me to believe them.
I did believe the boy in 7th grade who told me I looked like Barbra Streisand (who I had hated at the time). I did believe the kids who made fun of my nose (there is a bump on the bridge), my overly large top front teeth or called me Casper in high school. During my teenage years, I had an abusive boyfriend. One of the first times he was violent with me was a night we had gone to a party. I was happy with what I was wearing and the way my hair turned out. When he first picked me up, he looked angry and eventually cut our evening short. I wasn’t wearing a seat belt and he drove the car really fast. It came as a shock when he suddenly stopped short in the middle of the road and I was thrown like a rag doll into the dashboard and my head bounced off the windshield. He yelled at me, but he didn’t make sense. He told me that I had looked too good and I wasn’t to wear that outfit again. By the way, I think it was a loose jumper type thing… really just fancy overalls.
As a teenager, I had wonderful girlfriends that tried to convince me otherwise over the years, but I didn’t trust their judgment. That’s what friends did for one another and besides, I had some really truly gorgeous friends who were confident in knowing their beauty. They had no clue what it was like being me but I appreciated their kindness. Finally out of high school, a guy told me “You aren’t conventionally pretty. There’s just something about you.” and that actually made me feel better about myself. That was a statement that made sense to me. I wasn’t beautiful. I wasn’t pretty. But there was something about me.
I am writing this now because I need to get better at finding the beauty in me. This knowledge will not come from some outside source and has to be something I teach myself. I’ve come a long way over the last few years. I now see my entire face when I look into a mirror instead of the super focused look I would use when brushing my teeth or applying mascara. I have grown comfortable with what I see reflected and can find things that I like about me from the neck up.
I am also writing this now because a great looking male friend was brave enough to post on Facebook how it has taken him over 30 years to see himself as something other than ugly. As his words broke my heart, it reminded me that I not only needed to work harder and faster on my own self-love but also to get my boys in front of a mirror with me, smush our faces together and say out loud that we are beautiful. Boys, girls, men and women — YOU — all of us need to know that we are beautiful and worthy of love – especially from ourselves.