I can clearly remember the first day I ever thought of myself as pretty.
And not in a vain, self indulgent way. Just a sudden acceptance of facts. Because every girl is pretty in her own way, even if she doesn’t see it.
And up until March 10th 2000, I never saw it.
It was two days after my 17th birthday, and I remember the date only because my birthday was the 8th, and that was the day our year eleven and twelve drama class flew to Adelaide for the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
It was one of my most favourite school trips, of which there were many. We met Lano and Woodley after their show on the Friday night, and the drama teacher coined the term ‘gratuitous smut’ for the first time, which is still, in my mind, one of the very coolest phrases out there. I ate my first Subway Foot-long sub on that trip (in fact I ate several), which was impressive for this fussy eater. We saw the most magical musical edition of Much Ado about Nothing, which inspired a musical revamp of our year twelve production of Merchant of Venice, later in the year. And, last, but definitely not least, we left a huge hole in the hedge of some poor people in Hahndorf, after wondering if I could in fact climb in it. Sorry about that whoever you are.
And it was the first time I thought I was pretty.
It was the Sunday Morning, and we went to church. Being a Christian school that’s not odd, but especially not as it was where we were staying. A large building somewhere in the heart of Adelaide’s suburbs, with a huge dining area that was transformed into a dorm of sorts. We were asked to stay in the one part of the building, so most of my memories have only included a swag on a cold tile floor, and the outdoor area it all connected to. It’s not a place I’ve ever really thought of, because what’s the point? Up until last week, I couldn’t even have told you what part of Adelaide it was in.
Last Wednesday in fact.
Now like I said last week, we were off to Adelaide for a few days for a ENT appointment. It’s a six and half hour drive to the SA capital, from our spot on the Eyre Peninsula, and about two hours out of the city we received a phone call saying the doc was sick, and could we reschedule for next Thursday?
No. Sorry. Not going to happen.
Determined to make the most of what was initially a very frustrating situation, we decided our trip was now solely for vacation purposes, (and shopping for new brown boots which I had decided I needed), and we were going to enjoy it. It also happened to be the national conference of the denomination our church is affiliated with, and so we thought we would check out the night services.
Which is how I came to be standing in this same church that I had stayed in 14 years ago, looking around at the auditorium, trying to work out what was familiar about the place. My eye kept being drawn to one spot in particular and I was thinking, ‘have I been here? Did I stand right there? Is this where we stayed for that drama trip?’ I wasn’t entirely convinced, because, like I said, we had been confined to one part of the building except for that lone church service visit. But as we left, I cast my glance left and was pretty sure I recognised the hallway. And then, walking outside, I realised that yes, that right there was the exact spot Phil hi-5ed me that one time. A weird memory to have, but isn’t that how memories work?
The next night, knowing where it was, I could properly remember that day in Church. I was wearing a new shirt I had been given for my birthday, and getting dressed I distinctly remembering feeling not only skinny (a massive thing considering my severe body image issues), but also pretty.
It was so incredibly liberating.
It’s no coincidence that it also occurred at the time of my life when I actually felt more confident in who I was. Having those good hi-5ing friends around me was crucial, and we won’t neglect the fact that it was that birthday I received my beloved red doc martens. 😉 (We might also say that boots directly enhance a woman’s self-esteem, but that’s a post for another day 🙂 )
It’s also no coincidence that the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with self-image and worth quite a lot. It’s not an unusual occurrence for me, but at times it’s harder than others. Just lately I’ve been struggling to like myself so much, that it’s greatly impacting on how I’m treating the people I love most. Because let’s be honest, if you don’t like yourself, and your kids start doing things just like you, it makes it really hard to like them too. Not a nice thing to admit, but sadly true.
Now I’m not saying that standing in that church building last week on the trip that wasn’t what I thought it would be, has miraculously healed me from any kind of negative self-worth images. That would be naive. But it flipped the switch. And suddenly, standing there, in new brown boots (of the not Doc Marten variety), I was seventeen again, and my eyes were opened to the realisation that I am beautiful. That I have worth. That I am wonderful and likeable and not a giant pain in everyone’s arse.
That my worth is not dependent on my usefulness; a giraffe is not a practical animal, but it is amazing nonetheless. All my attempts to be a person of substance are not in vain, but that’s not all I am. I’m allowed to be amazing, just for being me.
The best thing about having that realisation? It allows you to see everyone else as amazing too. Self criticism automatically breeds ‘others’ criticism, whether you want it to or not. When you’re judging yourself under a ruthless standard, it’s only natural that no one else will measure up. It’s an exhausting cycle where it’s hard to find beauty any where, no matter how hard you try. And it usually hurts the ones you love the most.
Amazingly though, after flipping the switch, it was so much easier to not only love my kids more, but like them as well. All their annoying annoyances and the way they do things just like me, stopped being so gratingly irritating. Changing the way I saw myself, is changing the way I see everyone else. Not only do I now feel better, but I love better as well.
I remember the first day I ever thought I was pretty, and it was the start of something wonderful.
I’m now quite determined it won’t be the last.
Do you struggle with how you see yourself?
Do you feel as though you need to flip the switch?