I went to a wedding recently. And I bought a dress. It was the perfect dress. The perfect shade of magenta to compliment my hair color and my skin tone. I borrowed a pair of nude pumps to wear with it and I felt like I could for once be the beautiful girl running through the castle courtyard. I could be a beautiful, sleepy daydreamer, walking wistfully through a field of wildflowers. For once, I could just be the girl in the dress.
But when I looked at the photos, I didn’t see that image. I didn’t see an ethereal beauty. I saw the perfect dress, but it was on the wrong girl. I saw a girl who wanted to be enough but wasn’t.
I was never an overweight child. I was a bike rider and baseball player. I never thought of my appearance as something that defined me. I could change if I wanted too. I was a beautiful princess one day and a fantastic astronaut the next. I was not limited to one look. I was every shade of every color. And that was okay. My body was the everything I needed and I was proud of my scarred knees and my missing teeth. I loved being tall and being strong enough to climb the trees faster than everyone else. My body never felt like it wasn’t enough.
It’s funny, because I remember the exact moment that changed for me. The idea of being overweight had never occurred to me until one day, when I was about eight years old. And I was not even a little chubby at that age. I remember it so clearly, because my mother had just bought me a new outfit and I was “struttin’ my stuff.” I felt pretty. But as I stood in line for the restroom in a church nursery full of clucking hens, one woman took a step toward me. Her name was Barbara and she scared me the most out of everyone. And it seemed like she hated little kids. She poked me in the belly and said, “You’ve got a little pooch there.” Instinctively, I held my hands over my stomach. And looked up at her questioningly. What did that mean? “It’s okay, it’s not that bad.” she said as she fixed the bottom of my shirt and then walked away. It was the first time I had ever tried to make myself smaller. I looked in the mirror after that and lifted my shirt, trying to understand why she had said that and how could I make that “pooch” go away.
I was very tall for my age, so at the ages of five through 10, I towered over most of my peers. I felt like a giant compared to all of my friends, and puberty did not help. I started wearing a bra at 10 and started my period at 11. Suddenly, my body felt foreign and I couldn’t figure out how I fit in my new skin. I was changing faster than I wanted to. And my love for stained t-shirts wasn’t going to help me fit in.
Years came and went and opinions were expressed about my body, but I still maintained a good level of confidence. I was now an artist, a singer, an actress, and a volleyball player. I no longer towered over the boys and I never questioned my worth based on a number on my clothing. And thank God I got over my manhands complex. I was not an elegant girl by any means, but I was okay with what I saw in the mirror.
Then I graduated high school, and that’s when everything changed.
I read an article once about how if you’ve gone through a lot of trauma, your brain will actually block out memories from that time in order to help you cope with past trauma. I have to be honest that most of the memories from that period of my life are a blur. My life was a spinning hurricane for the five years that followed my graduation and the only eye of that storm was my wedding day. Even so, I didn’t get to wear the dress of my dreams. I wouldn’t get the chance to be the beautiful girl in the dress. When I looked at those photos from that day, I didn’t recognize myself. There was no angelic beauty in this one. For the first time in my life, I was a plus-sized girl, and I wasn’t even good enough for the world anymore. I wasn’t even good enough for myself.
Then, a few years ago, I was hired as a nanny for the family of a precocious six-year-old little girl named Brielle. She had spent the first years of her life in an abusive home and had just been adopted by a loving family. Every day that I came over, she would pop out of her room in another colorful dress and she would dance and sing across the living room without a care in the world. Then she would run up to me and twirl around and say, “Aren’t I beautiful! I am so pretty and sparkly, right?” And my heart would swell, because she was the most beautiful little princess I’d ever laid my eyes on. And I would never tell her otherwise. She didn’t wear a single sign of the years of abuse she had endured. She was striving in her new light, leaving rainbows where pain had once rained so heavily. She knew that she was beautiful, because that’s what love had taught her. She was just a beautiful girl in a beautiful dress.
It’s taken me years to move past all of those feelings of inadequacy, to see that I am more than my reflection. And I have learned that I am good enough. I don’t take up too much space in this world, but just enough. And every time I feel I don’t measure up, I think of Brielle and how her view of herself became something beautiful when she learned that she was loved. I deserve to be loved. We all do. And maybe if we could go back to the mirror and picture ourselves from the view of our six year old selves, we would see something so different. We would see beauty at its purest form. And we would understand that a little more self-love makes that much more of a difference. This world has so much to say about what our standard of beauty should be, but what does your heart say? What would that six-year-old version of you say?
And so, I write this for every girl who has put on a dress and not felt good enough. To every girl who has looked at a photo of herself and felt her insides crumble. To everyone who wanted the scale to say something different. To every woman who bears her insecurities like a heart on her sleeve. To every person who has changed and become something different than you expected. You are good enough. Wear the dress, the shirt, the pants, the wig, the lingerie, the bikini in your favorite color. Wear the heels, the boots, the sneakers. And know that you are good enough. And you are beautiful.
Now when I look at those photos of myself in that beautiful magenta dress, I just see a happy girl who loved herself enough to wear the dress, because she is beautiful with or without it.