It happened shortly after my daughter was born. People started saying the same two things over and over again, and like rain after a very long draught, they gave new life to a part of me I never thought about fighting for. I thought it was too far gone.
“Your daughter is so beautiful,” would come the first observation. Then, “She looks just like you.”
I don’t think anyone realized what they were doing. I’m pretty sure they didn’t know that, once I connected the dots of those two statements, I was being invited to believe that I was beautiful. That wasn’t their intention. But there it was regardless.
Like many women, I had a lifetime of experience to convince me that I was not beautiful. I didn’t get asked to the prom, didn’t find myself on a guy’s arm on a Friday night in high school – or college, for that matter. I was sure that I was a hard worker, I was smart, I was funny (to the right audience). One thing that I was not sure of was my physical appearance. Simply put, I didn’t love the skin I found myself in. I accepted my skin, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. Then the two sentences happened. And happened again. And again.
When people began to say that my daughter looked like me, things changed. Because the fact is, I could stare at that little girl for days. Not because she meets some popular standard for physical beauty. Any mom knows that is the last thing on our minds. Instead, it is because when I look at her, I am able to see a full picture of what beauty can and should be. She is bold, fearless and funny. She looks great whether her little curls are perfectly styled for church or wild from a day of chasing her brother. She picks her clothes with confidence (already!) because she only cares about what makes her feel great. She is confident in herself and it is beautiful. She is beautiful.
Watching her, hearing about our shared qualities, I felt a jolt of confidence, a permission to pursue a part of myself that I had never dared to before. I started to smile at the mirror. I celebrated good hair days and realized that on the bad ones, I actually thought my messy bun game was pretty good. I shunned makeup on most days and enjoyed the subtle changes of my skin throughout the year, even laughed at the pimples that popped up here and there. I stopped dying my hair and wished I had sooner, so that I could enjoy these last maintenance-free years before grays force me back to dye. Instead of fighting my love of T-shirts and jeans, I found a pair of skinnies that I loved and bought two, and did the same with some inexpensive plain tees. I finished the look off with my faithful Toms and felt happy and wholly myself.
As I made my peace with the mirror, I also embraced other parts of life that contributed to this new feeling of beauty. I picked a pretty scripture reading guide that I loved picking up every morning. I woke up earlier so I could enjoy my coffee and read before the kids were up. And speaking of coffee, I upped my game and started heating and foaming my milk. I pulled up yoga sessions online and dropped my mat onto the living room floor while the rest of the family played in the afternoon. I slowly created a structure over the parts of my day that I could control that made me feel more whole, more fulfilled, and thus, more beautiful.
All of this grew and blossomed for the first three years of my little girl’s life, until I could truly say I owned the body I was in. That I was not only happy, but totally embracing who I was. So I am thankful. First, to the people who started to compare me to a girl who is beautiful inside and out. Second, to the girl herself, a little lady full of little opinions. May they only strengthen with time. I hope my own strength and my newfound confidence will be an example to her. And I wonder if she will know that she is the one who made me confident in the first place.
Nicole M. Burrell is a freelance writer living and working in New Jersey. She is the mom of two kids who fill her days with joy and a healthy dose of hijinks. She has been a recent contributor to Reader’s Digest, The Art of Simple, and Her View From Home. She also writes for her own site, www.nicolemburrell.com , where her favorite current feature is Garden Haiku. You can follow her work on Instagram @bynicolemburrell and Twitter @nicolemburrell.