Thursday, October 31, 2013

Beauty and the Pedestal

My mom likes to tell this story about me as a tyke, before fashion and weight and acne were even a whisper of a thought.

I am three-years-old,  fresh out of my parents' shower, and my mom finds me striking poses in front of her full length mirror.
In my birthday suit.
Proud as can be.
I had never seen fashion models, but, at that moment, you'd think I was rehearsing for my Vogue debut.
"Sarah, what are you doing?"
"Looking." I strike another pose, pause, and say, "Am I the prettiest?"
My mom's a very literal person.  So she thinks about it a moment and says, "Well, Sarah . . . You're the prettiest little girl to me. Every mommy thinks her little girl is prettiest."
I look at her--deadpan, irritated, incredulous. "So everyone doesn't think I'm the prettiest?"
Just like that, people.
Just like that.

I have no idea if I'm two or three here (probably closer to two . . . ),

Also, that Mickey went everywhere with me for a looooong time.
Every kid needs a good Mickey, right?

I don't remember where I learned what pretty was. I don't know when or how I had decided that beauty was the ultimate goal, but, at least by three-years-old, it's what I wanted. You know how little boys turn everything into a weapon? Even if he's never seen a single action movie, a little boy picks up a stick, and it is suddenly a mighty sword.  I think little girls are the same way; you put a little girl in a store, and she will automatically pick the shiniest, fluffiest, prettiest little dress and twirl.
We are born with our hearts longing for beauty.

I don't think society has to teach us that. It's the song of our little feminine souls.

Of course, society comes in, peer pressure, and the beast of comparison.
Comparison is like a drug for me: I hate it but I don't know how to function without it. I should, but it is a struggle not to focus on the pros, cons, similarities, and differences. It began as simple observation--looking and taking mental notes to learn how to look, speak, dress. To assimilate. And then it grew.

Once I was in high school, my already teetering ego took a dive because I was ignored by the opposite sex.
Tell me, why is it that the female self-esteem is so desperately linked to how attractive males find her? If you're religious, you'll say it's that whole "your longing shall be for your husband" curse, and if you're scientific it's all of that primal need to reproduce. Whatever it is, it's annoying.  To find your worth in a group of adolescents who laugh until they cry over fart jokes? Who smell like dirty shoes no matter how much they wash? And, for some bizarre reason, their attention can make or break your self-esteem.
It's the bane of pubescent females.

Females of all ages, really.

Eventually, I came to the popular conclusion that my body was all wrong. There must simply be too much of me to be attractive. Especially rump. I have always had a surplus of honkytonkbadonkadonk, if you know what I mean.
For years, I tried to vanquish it with diet and exercise (but not TOO much, because, let's be honest, I loved food and hated the outdoors . . . running in the outdoors especially, and, at the time, I was told that was the only way to exercise). Alas, everything would tone or shrink but that.
And yet, all I could think was, "If I can lose my butt, I will be thin, and they will love me."

Fifteen-years-old at one of my  piano recitals
P.S. Still have that cardigan. It's stretched with me.

After getting married, I put on roughly thirty pounds on top of my college years' Freshman Twenty. After three years of struggle and denial about my weight, we moved, I started working hard on my exercise, cutting portions, all that jazz, and I've lost almost all of the post-wedding weight. Freshman Twenty? I don't know. That might be here to stay. 
With all that, the thought still nagging my brain is "If I lose ten more pounds, THEN I will be happy with me."
Sometimes, though, I wonder if ten pounds is really an option.
You see, what the media never tells you--what society never explains--is that puberty isn't the end of physical changes. You go from a girl to a woman--a real woman--and then you create life (a wonderful gift), and it is possible that you will never look like your teenage self again.
More importantly, if you did, would you really be healthy and happy?
Or would it still be "Five pounds more, and I'll be happy"  while you wither away?

Part of my own issues, I know, stem in fear and jealousy. 
I know my gene pool.
We're curvy women.
We're women who bear children and wear the marks, blessed as they may be.
We're women whose bodies take time.
Me? I'm a woman who puts on weight just by looking at a cheeseburger for too long. 
I'm not saying that my weight issues aren't due to my own lack of discipline, but, golly, I was not handed the skinny DNA, all right?
So I look forward, hoping to one day have a successful pregnancy, and my mind always darts back to my pants size. "If I work out before and during, I won't gain as much, and I'll bounce back, right???"
My mind is constantly rolling in that direction.
Because I know I am not one of those women who just miraculously bounce back from things like that.
I can't eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and not exercise without wearing it. It's who I am. I am still learning to accept that. To understand that, one day, my body might not just bounce back. That I will probably never achieve my ideal self image. That, somewhere, left all on my own, I will always look in the mirror and think, "Five more pounds, ten more pounds, any more pounds. I'm not okay, yet."
And I know it's wrong.

It's funny--I can look at other women and praise their beauty, regardless of size, and mean every single word with all of my heart.  I don't think a heavier frame equals unattractive at all. These are GORGEOUS women. Women I praise and cheer on, even envy for their style and confidence. They wear they curves with Marilyn VAVOOM.
It's just that I'm not okay with me.

We are always our harshest critics, aren't we? Why?

With some friends for the Doctor Who season premiere when I was at my heaviest.

 How are we women so obsessed with weight? There are skinny causes, women-sized causes, somewhere in-between causes, big boobs, little boobs, butt, pancake, thigh gaps, super strength, super slender, before baby, after baby, new body, old body, the works.
We fixate on it in all facets.
If we're not bashing weight, we're praising it.  If we're not attacking it, we're defending it.
It's always there, this hovering minion that nibbles at our self-esteem or is thrown up like a shield.
I'm too skinny.
I'm too fat.
I love my body no matter what anyone says! That's the newest battle cry.
I'm perfect just how I am, and I love it.
How many of us believe it?  How many of us sincerely look in the mirror, smile, and proclaim, "PERFECT!!!" Not picking at every tiny flaw, every wrinkle, every scar, every hint of a muffin top, every too-slender thigh. Just looking, seeing, and loving. No hesitations. No improvements.

How do you get there? I want to be there.
I am so tired of this cycle. This round and round and round the bathroom scale. 
It shouldn't be about the numbers.
It should be about my body's abilities. Can I walk farther, climb higher on my hikes than I could before?  Is my heart healthy? Does it really matter if my thighs aren't rock hard or if my arms don't look "great" in a tank top? No, not even remotely.
I'm alive. That's what matters.

I never post mirror selfies, but, three weeks ago, I thought, why not?
So this is me, married weight shed, still wondering if it was enough.

Some people say the key to all this is to negate the concept of beauty. Praise a little girl for her brains and not her twirly skirt.  Read her books about strong women, and banish the idea of a pretty princess.  I don't think any of those things are bad on their own (I applaud tales of strong, life-changing females and brilliant minds), but, just like boys and the stick-swords, every little girl will find something sparkly and make it a gown.  I don't think banishing beauty is the key at all.
I think it's the balance.
Something, somewhere, has grown so totally skewed we can't see straight.  It's about the numbers or the straightness of a nose or the perfect color combination. Beauty has been put on a pedestal it can't possibly sustain. We claim it the key to happiness, and it's a weight it cannot possibly bear. It's tried, and the struggle has left it a twisted beast we'd never recognize. It was never meant to be THIS, this ultimate goal. 
It was meant to be a joy-bringer, an extra ray of sunshine, not the whole blasted sun. It's not fair to us or beauty.

It's about the existence of you--that you are not an accident. 
It's about knowing that you are a work of art.  You are not a mistake. Nothing about you comes even close to a mistake. You are phenomenal and you are lovely. Yes, even with all the imperfections that taunt you in every mirror and every photograph. Even if the girl in first period gets all the attention and your sister is effortlessly your ideal pants size. You are so lovely.
You are here for a reason, for some wonderful, brilliant, unique reason that only YOU can fulfill.
Yes, you want to be pretty. That's not a bad thing, on its own.  But is it the most important thing? To you? Who defines pretty? The airbrushed movie stars? The boys in science class who think picking your nose is a grand adventure? A machine without a soul that counts poundage? Really? Them? Oh boy, if that's the case we are in some serious trouble. Kiss society goodbye, peeps, it's not worth it anymore.

I don't have it all figured out in my heart.
In my head, it all makes sense, but believing it?  To look in the mirror every day and say, "You are not a mistake"?  That's a war that's raging.  Somewhere, I let my ideal image take the wheel, and it has crippled me.

Beauty was never meant to cripple. It was meant to enable.
To empower.
To make your heart sing.

When you look in the mirror, is your heart singing? It wants to. 
Step back, look past the flaws, and witness the incredible miracle that you are--of all the possibilities, the millions people and the millions of cells, these came together and made YOU, just as you are. It could have been anyone, but it was you. Perfectly and wonderfully you. You are not flaws, your weight, or your clothes.
You're a miracle.

And you are so beautiful. 


  1. What a wonderful post. Those last two paragraphs totally choked me up. Thank you. I needed to read this today.

    Also: three year old you? So sassy! I love it :)


  2. thank you for this honest and inspiring post. you always look beautiful, and what's most important is you have a beautiful soul that radiates right through your posts! keep shining sarah!=)

  3. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. This is possibly the most incredible and beautiful blog I have ever read.

    My favorite part is that sentence: "not the whole sun." Holy smokes girl. I think you've got some God-ordained words here and there is someone who reads your blog and these words were put on your heart especially for them.

    This is just one of those things I think.

    Also you look so great! Good for you for working on yourself and taking care of your body. It's not what you look like that matters but how much more you can do. True true true. I hope your heart sees the beauty of that girl in the mirror. You are more than what's on the outside & beauty is only skin deep anyway. Look at the talent in this one, single post. Girl. You rock!


  4. Umm, this is gorgeous. "It was meant to be a joy-bringer, an extra ray of sunshine, not the whole blasted sun." Yes! That's the truth! Beauty is not the be-all and end-all. But it is nice. I'm glad there's a whole lot of beauty in the world and the people in it--and I'm glad to believe that there is NOT one ideal of beauty, even if some might argue that there is.

  5. I'm so glad there's beauty in the world and so many different kinds of it, as well! So glad you enjoyed my little post! :]

  6. Aw, LARISSA!! Thank you! So much! Your comment almost made me cry, thank you!!! <3 <3 <3

  7. Thank you so so much! Really, thank you! <3

  8. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this, that it spoke to you today. Really and truly. :]
    And yes, I was SUCH a sassy, precocious little toddler. ;]

  9. I found this via Delirious Rhapsody and wow! - I am blown away. What a great post - and I believe you are right about balance...and I was writing a REALLY long comment but I've decided to make my comments into a blog post. :) Without being too self promoting, I'd like to invite you to come over and see it some time if you might. :)

  10. Thank you so much! I will definitely check out your post and am so excited to read it! Thanks for stopping by!


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