Wednesday, June 2, 2010

letter to myself re: beauty - and to everyone else who's been there

Remember the good ol' days when you didn't care if you looked good or not, according to anybody?  Remember when you didn't even think about it, and how free it was to be unaware of society's perception of beauty and ugliness and to just live?  Those days passed quickly, but you are making your way back.

You never quite forgave this photographer for making you say "chicken" in your Kindergarten picture, and snapping the pic when you said "ch".  Doesn't everyone on the planet know you're supposed to say "cheese" and snap on the "ee"?!  You hated it then, but look at it now; it adds a bit of fun and joy to your life, doesn't it?

  In junior high, you had great friends and you thought you looked okay.  I was going to add, "when you thought about it at all," but come on, it's junior high, of course you thought about it.  You remember clearly, because you were so shocked, the day a boy one grade ahead of you said "You're so ugly!" to you in front of your friends.  But you also remember many, many good times, and overall, jr. high, like grade school, was a time of a generally healthy self-image.

Then came the culture shock of high school.  A private school which you were able to attend because your dad was a faculty member, not because your family was rich, like most of the others.  That didn't matter to you at first, until you realized it mattered to a lot of other people.  And you cared very much what people thought.  That's normal, but it led to so much sadness.

On your first day, freshman year, you wore the uniform pants instead of a skirt, because you didn't realize girls weren't allowed to wear pants except for in the winter.  You figured it out, however, when a faculty member, at the high school assembly that first day, announced to everyone that girls were supposed to be wearing skirts.  And of course, you were the only one in pants.  And that REALLY mattered.

You listened to, were especially attuned to, any negative comments your fellow students made about you and your appearance for the next four years.  You vaguely remember the great birthday you had sophomore year with lots of gifts from friends and, especially important, your locker was decorated.  There were a number of girls and a few guys you were friends with, especially frosh. and soph. years, and when you try really hard, you can remember some good times.  But what you don't have to try to remember, because it sits like a rock in your heart and you carry it with you everywhere, are the worst times.  When a classmate walked into the hair and makeup room before a school play and saw you being made up and shouted, "U,G,L,Y, you ain't got no alibi, you're ugly, hey hey, you're ugly!"  You laughed along with everyone else in the self-deprecating way you have, but a little piece of you died inside that night.  You remember when, senior year, only one of the five girls in your class was nominated for Homecoming Queen, and the other four spots went to juniors.  That itself was no surprise, but your stomach fell to the floor in shock when you heard that the guys in your class had talked about nominating you and the other 3 senior girls that weren't nominated "as a joke."  You didn't know it was that bad, but you took that information as truth and it became a part of you.  You know the other memories.  The bad ones, anyway.  One day several years after graduation you ran into a girl who had been on the volleyball team with you and was a year behind you.  She greeted you joyfully, and expressed her thanks for the positive impact you'd had on her.  How terribly sad it is that you barely even remembered her or interacting with her.  Your head was too full of other things.

Here you are, by the way, dressed appropriately (skirts were allowed all year 'round).  The pose, though, is a joke.  This is senior year and by now you know that you're smart, quiet, nice, weird, fat, too pale, and ugly. 

It's funny, though, because the summer between your jr. and sr. years, when you went to Sweden on a short-term mission trip, was your favorite ever, and once again what you looked like didn't matter so much. You left all that self-conscious baggage at home. You were free again, and it showed.

Over the next 20 years you had your good days and bad days, in terms of society's perception of beauty, and in terms of how much you cared about it.

Maybe, though, just maybe, there's a different truth than the one you remember, the one you perceived, the one you still carry with you sometimes.  Maybe the fact that you are embracing your weirdness (or quirkiness, as you prefer to call it), your physical traits, and everything else that makes you the individual you are is a closer step to true beauty, no matter what other people say.  Maybe when you stop caring about how people perceive you and you live freely as yourself, whoever and whatever that may be, maybe then you are beautiful.  Or perhaps you're in a place where words like "pretty" and "ugly" no longer even have meaning.  Maybe when you get to know yourself, and love all those parts of you, and come to understand that God loves them and you even more, you can finally let go of self-consciousness again and just live, and more truly love.


  1. Oh girl, I love you! All so wise, I can't even think of a comment on it all! Just that I'm sorry for all the hurt and so proud of all the clarity you've reached/are reaching.

  2. I realize that in no way the following can remove the hurt, but you do realize there's a place in my life that only you have filled. The place that only 'niece Kerri' could light up, when I would come over and if you were napping, I would leave, only to come back later. You are my one and only
    'beautiful Kerri'.
    Aunt Janet