Earlier this week, I was surfing the boards of Pinterest and I found this phenomenal quote by Melissa McCarthy.
And I really do love this quote. Honestly. Because that “someone” she’s talking about? That’s me. I mean, I can tell myself all day that I’m on the low-end of my acceptable weight range, I’m wearing a 6 – 8 in pants and dresses (which I haven’t done since I WAS 6-8 age-wise), and that I’m maintaining within a span of 5 pounds pretty damn well.
Then, I look in the mirror and I think to myself, Okay, but now I look older, and there’s still plenty of fat that could go away, and let’s not even talk about the extra skin and other physical factors leftover from my weight loss…plus there’s the fact that I wish my hair was as thick as it was when I was 10 and that I didn’t have migraines that kept me from wearing my retainer, and on and on and on…
It’s toxic and awful and mean and I can’t seem to stop doing it.
It’s simple – because for years and years and years, I heard the meanest 3 words anyone can say to a woman:
“You look nice.”
I know, it sounds really complimentary, and people usually mean well when they say it, but it’s actually three little words with great potential to hurt you.
You see, beauty is a lot of things. It’s in the eye of the beholder, it’s from the inside, it’s God’s creation, it’s in the imperfections, and it’s confidence. And, upsettingly enough, it’s a euphemism for makeup products and the like.
The truth is, somewhere along the line (and yes, I’m being vague on purpose), people stopped telling me I looked beautiful or even pretty and told me that I “looked nice.” All of a sudden, it was like those three little words were the unwanted perfume samples that you try to avoid, but inevitably stick to you for the rest of your visit to the mall.
“Oh, Erin, your hair looks so nice today!”
“Oh, you look so nice in your formal dress!”
“That jacket looks really nice on you!”
You get the idea. Maybe I was just overly sensitive, it’s possible, probable even, I’m a really sensitive girl. Ask anyone who knows me. Like, really knows me. They’ll tell you I’m like a Cadbury creme egg – rigid and hard on the outside but easy to crack to get to the soft, gooey center.
BTW, is it Easter yet? Can I eat those?
Back to the point: It hurt, not to be told that I was pretty, or beautiful, or whatever teenage girls are supposed to hear. Especially when, 30 seconds later, I would hear the words I so desperately craved leave that person’s lips when they saw one of my friends.
And I know, guys, I know that no one meant it that way. They really were trying to pay me a compliment. It’s like the time in high school that one of my friends was told, “You look really nice today, very un-you-like.” For real, dude? Guys are idiots. He really did mean well, he was just…you know, a teenage guy. But the intention in that case, as well as in my overly-sensitive case makes it even worse.
I mean, they’re trying to be nice, but you’re so far from pretty that it doesn’t even occur to them to tell you that you are? Then how hideous must you be? Really? And yeah, I know that not everyone thinks the same things are pretty, but I also have to point out that as a terrifyingly straight woman, even I can look at another woman and admit when they’re gorgeous. So no excuses there, friends.
My weight change has thrown into sharp relief some of the negative self-talk that I did because of that missing compliment, things I truly believed about myself without realizing it because I just shoved it all to the back of my mind and ignored it. Well, that and the fact that last year I was talking to a guy friend of mine about my dating life and I may or may not have made him irate with my comments. It went something like this:
<Guy awkwardly checks me out at a bar, I blush and shake my head when my friend points it out.>
“I’m just not used to this whole thing now that I’m actually pretty – it just feels weird, you know?”
“Well, you know, I’m not used to getting hit on as much so-”
“No, no – what did you say about not being pretty? You’ve always been pretty.”
“Okay, sure, thanks, but seriously-”
“I am serious. Do you really think you’re not pretty? Because you’ve always been beautiful. Why would you say that about yourself?”
The conversation didn’t end well, so I’ll cut it off there. My friend talked to me the way I talk to anyone who doubts my intelligence due to my gender. It was not pleasant. And so, after this occurrence, I started testing this out on people and found that almost everyone else reacted the same way – people I had always assumed didn’t think I was pretty always had, and were shocked to hear anything different come out of my mouth. I’m not laying the blame at the feet of my friends and family, I’m just as guilty – I knew better than to do that to myself.
So why did I worry so much about it? Because I let everything else in – things I shouldn’t have worried about, that I advised everyone else to ignore – the ads, the models, the jokes on TV, the articles bemoaning our nation’s obesity crisis. I absorbed it all indiscriminately and without notice, and in the end, it affected me far more than I realized.
Maybe, just maybe, if I cut myself a break, I’ll be happier and I actually believe it when people tell me I’m beautiful. Until then, I’m going to work on building other people up by giving them real compliments. My students, my friends, my coworkers – if they look beautiful, I’m going to tell them. Because apparently, that’s something that we don’t say enough anymore.