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I was tagged a few days ago to participate in the “I feel beautiful” challenge that is going around on Facebook. If you haven’t seen this particular Facebook meme it works like this, a friend uploads 5 pictures of herself that make her feel beautiful, and she tags 5 friends to do the same thing.
The only problem is, I don’t feel beautiful.
I have never felt beautiful.
I don’t have a single photograph of myself from my entire lifetime where I look at it and think that I looked beautiful in the picture, or that I felt beautiful on that day and time.
To put it simply, I have never felt beautiful. Ever.
When I look in the mirror there have been times when the reflection looking back at me seems passable. Maybe slightly pretty. Not horrifying or ugly, but definitely not beautiful either. There have been times when I’ve looked in the mirror and thought wow, you look good today. But even looking good today doesn’t look like beautiful to me. And nine times out of ten if I see a photograph of myself from a day when I looked in the mirror and thought it was a good day, I will quickly change my mind. I think that my mirror shows me something different sometimes than what is really there. A camera doesn’t lie.
There’s a lot of pressure these days to love your body, love yourself, and embrace your unique beauty. I see beauty all around me. I see beauty in the faces of my children, I see beauty in the faces of the people that I love, and I see beauty in the faces of my friends. It’s not a matter of not being able to recognize beauty when I see it. It’s a matter of not seeing beauty in my own face, my own body, or my own self.
I know what you’re thinking, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful?”
Sure, I have had people tell me they think I’m pretty. I do have a mother, after all. I’ve had friends tell me they see beauty in me. What do I hear when they say that? I hear them saying “I love you”, I hear them saying “You are such a good person!” I assume that their compliment means something other than my physical appearance. Or they’re just trying to make me feel good by giving me a false compliment.
There was a time in my life, in my twenties and early thirties, when I tried to look beautiful. I took time and put effort into my appearance. I bought clothes that felt like they were flattering. I wore quite a bit of makeup and I researched how to play up my best features with the makeup that I had. I spent time and money on my hair. I colored my hair, I got it trimmed religiously. I felt like my hair was a good feature of mine so I made sure I had a lot of it. If my hair was pretty and I had a lot of hair, then I would be prettier.
At some point the effort seemed to be generating less rewards. I was still spending the same amount of money and time on my appearance but I wasn’t seeing any results for that money and effort so I began to stop. I think on some level I decided if I wasn’t going to be pretty then it was best to look like I wasn’t trying to look pretty. By looking like I didn’t care about my appearance I would somehow distract everyone else from noticing it.
Everything about the way I look seems to be “too much” in my eyes. I’m too tall. I’m too fat. I’m too much. My eyes aren’t right, my mouth is too big, my teeth are too crooked, my smile is too big or too weird or too…something.
Even if I wanted to participate in this Facebook meme, I probably couldn’t do it. I would most likely have to go back to my wedding album from twenty years ago to even find 5 photographs of myself. I remember steeling myself for the endless photos to be taken that day, because even back then (at the age of 25) I knew that being photographed would cause me anxiety. Because I don’t like the way I look, because I don’t think there is beauty in my reflection, I have avoided being in front of a camera at all costs. I remember reviewing my wedding photos, and I thought that I looked thin, and I thought that I looked good on that day…as good as I could look. But I did not think that I looked beautiful. I did not feel beautiful on that day.
Not liking to have my photo taken is probably why I began taking pictures and enjoy photography so much, because if I am behind the camera then no one is taking any pictures of me. If I avoid being photographed, if I avoid looking in the mirror, I can forget that I’m not beautiful. I can forget that people see something different when they are looking at me than I feel like in my mind’s eye. If I avoid looking in the mirror I can forget what I look like, or allow my memory to fade so that I can manage to have just a little bit of self-confidence, enough to have conversations with people, make friends and enjoy life a little bit. If I am reminded what I look like, I become shy and introverted, I retreat inside myself and I probably won’t speak to anyone because all I can think about is, “Why don’t I look like her?”
When I see the news stories and magazine covers about embracing my beauty I want to secretly stick my tongue out at them, or maybe even flip them a certain finger. I can’t embrace what I don’t see, what I don’t have. I don’t have a thigh gap. I don’t have an ultra-flat stomach, and killer abs. I don’t have straight teeth. I don’t have perky breasts (I’ve had and nursed two kids!). I don’t have smooth skin.
I can’t embrace what I don’t have. I can’t share five pictures of what I don’t have. If I was forced, at gunpoint to name one really good feature that I have, I would probably just stand there and let the gunman shoot me.
I’m not writing this post because I am hoping that a hundred people comment and tell me that they think I am beautiful. I am not writing this post because I want someone to read it and feel badly for me. I am not writing this post because I want someone to try and convince me that I do have beauty.
I am writing this post for every woman out there who is just like me, but feels that it’s socially incorrect to admit that they don’t feel beautiful. I am writing this post for every parent of a girl so that you know it takes more than just saying they look beautiful to convince them. I am writing this because I want to start the conversation. I am writing this because I have never, ever felt beautiful.
Originally featured at Angela’s blog, Writer Mom Blog. Photo via.