Beauty is something I think about it a lot, though not nearly as much as I used to, and not in the same way. As a child, preteen, and teenager, I saw beauty as power, currency, and acceptance. I had a hard time fitting in and I got teased a lot, but I noticed that the pretty girls didn’t get made fun of. Boys didn’t laugh at them or gross out when they found out those girls had crushes on them. Nobody called them names.
Summertime was my favorite time of year as long as I was in my own backyard or the canal behind my house, or maybe camping in the woods with my family. Those were my safe zones. I liked swimming, but the pool was a thing to endure. I had fun swimming and playing in the water, but I couldn’t help but notice the other girls with tans and bodies as tight as vacuum seal bags. I wanted their skinny legs and wardrobes so badly because I had hips and thighs in the fifth grade and couldn’t put an outfit together to save my life (still can’t). I’d go swimming with my cousins and wear shorts and a tee shirt over my swimming suit while they ran around in their tankinis and didn’t get sunburned. How come I didn’t turn out like them? Why wasn’t I a cute dancer with skinny legs that turn gold in the sun rather than my own brand of blistering pink?
I felt awkward and unattractive because I thought that’s how others saw me. That assumption stuck with me for a long time, even after I’d found my place in the high school drama club and made friends who loved me for who I was, and even in my freshman year of college when I’d somehow shrunk down to 135 pounds on my 5’8″ bod and had boys asking me out every week. I didn’t even feel beautiful when I started dating Sam and he told me I was beautiful. I hadn’t learned to love myself yet.
Last summer, Sam and I went to a local water park, and though I’d long since given up the shorts and tee shirts over my tankini, for the first time I didn’t feel one bit awkward or self-conscious. I was well above my body’s comfortable weight at the time and it was early June, so my toothpaste-white legs hadn’t seem much daylight yet, but I had my favorite coral toenail polish on and a turquoise tankini that looked a lot like the one my cousin once wore to the same water park almost a decade ago. I’d had a string of emotional breakthroughs that had lifted the depression I’d struggled with for years (and still do on occasion) and I’d reconnected with my creativity after a long dry spell. Though I’d been flailing around with intuitive eating for awhile, I’d finally learned to listen to my body and was starting to lose a little weight.
Because of these things, I had learned that I was beautiful even if I am shaped like a bowling pin and wear cargo shorts and tee shirts all the time. I finally knew who I was recognized my own type of beauty; that quirky, refuses-to-grow-up awkwardness and creativity that makes me who I am.
Oh, this is who I’m supposed to be. This is how life is supposed to be.
The temperature of the poolwater was absolutely perfect that evening, and I remember swimming underwater and coming up to the surface and noticing the gorgeous mountain by the waterpark. It was like seeing a mountain for the first time. I just treaded water for a few minutes and looked at the mountain and realized that the awkwardness and dull ache of not being good enough was completely gone. I felt so whole.
I was almost 23 years old and I finally realized that beauty wasn’t another planet. It wasn’t a party I’d never been invited to. It was just something I’d never recognized because I’d always expected it to be something else that I could feel by cracking the fashion code or whittling down my thighs. I never realized that it had nothing to do with rules or absolutes. I’d been free to feel it all along.
Everyone has a right to feel beautiful.