Like many women, I’ve always struggled with self-worth and seeing myself as beautiful. Growing up with red hair wasn’t fun and didn’t help. Two of my very best friends were both blond and they were tiny. For whatever reason, I had a growth spurt sooner than most kids my age and I ended up taller than everyone in kindergarten, so not only was I teased for the color of my hair, I was teased for how “big” I was. The fact that those two girls were my best friends didn’t stop them from joining in the nastiness. I remember we were going to play some imaginary game and I wanted to play a specific character, but they wouldn’t let me because I was too big and my hair wasn’t the right color. I also remember them telling me I just didn’t fit in with them.
(I don’t think those two girls were mean at their core; most of it came from that horrible dynamic that happens when you bring three girls together. I saw the same thing happen with my own daughter and two of her girlfriends. There’s just something about the number three and girls that doesn’t work somehow.)
Those words and images never really went away and for the longest time the term “big and ugly” was always stuck in my head whenever I thought of myself and especially when someone called me beautiful. This negative self image carried into high school and beyond.
A few years after I graduated, I was going through some pictures from high school and found one of a performance with a singing group I was in. The picture included me and about five girls on a stage in various poses of singing and dancing. I was astounded that I was shorter than every other girl on that stage and I was also the smallest. How is it that the views we hold onto, the way we see ourselves, can be so far from reality?
I’m sad that the picture didn’t help change my self image at the time, but it didn’t. I still managed to hold onto the negative thoughts and feelings that had battered me all my life. Some of that had to do with the depression I’ve dealt with since a young age; some of it had to do with abusive relationships. I built a wall around myself and not only did I not see myself as beautiful, I didn’t think I was lovable.
I wrote a poem somewhere in the darkest part of this time in my life. I wasn’t writing at the time; I wasn’t doing much of anything at the time besides trying to survive, but I found a box of magnetic words that was given to my daughter as a gift. The fun thing about these words is that you have to use what is provided, so if I wanted a specific word, I usually couldn’t find it. I spent a few hours playing with those words and moving them around until I came up with this:
strange beautiful woman
alive between sad desire and whispering fear
wanders through haunted dreams
searching against time for happy escape
almost marked by love
in vivid mystery
I was seeing a therapist at the time and I read it to her in one of our sessions. She said it sounded so sad and that maybe I could write a second part to it and find some peace and happiness for the woman, i.e. me. The second one was harder because I had a specific direction I needed to go in, but after working through it I wrote the response or answer to the poem I had written.
beautiful vivid spirit
finding evil in torrid dreams
fights an ancient truth with inspired love
closing the door to fear
discovering a magical old soul in happy imaginings
new life fills a growing heart
I believe this was the beginning to the change that happened in my life and today, I am happier in my own skin, more loving to myself in my own head than I ever have been in my life. Most of the change was internal but once that change started, the things on the outside started to change to fit what I had changed internally.
Now I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “Wow, I’m beautiful” rather than “I’m just big and ugly,” and I can honestly say it has nothing to do with how I actually look. We are all beautiful creatures in a beautiful world. It doesn’t matter what color your hair is, how big your body is or what kind of clothes you wear. I believe beauty comes from within and the more we find the beauty within ourselves and can see ourselves in a loving and kind way, the more we can spread that love to others.