by Erin Dullea
It’s been a long time since I told myself I was beautiful.
I remember in my mid-twenties, when my eyes would meet their reflection in the rear-view mirror of my car — and I would pause for a second. There was something new — something compelling — that caught my attention.
Perhaps it was the seedlings of wisdom, or the glimmer of new love, or the changing landscape of my maturing face. Still, that experience is etched in my memory as clear as day. I felt beautiful.
I had been coming into my own back then.
Fast forward a good fifteen years — and I still catch glimpses of my eyes in the rear-view mirror. Except, I’m no longer in my little, green hatchback [a car with a door across the full width at the back end that opens upward to provide easy access for loading] that carried me through the sweetest — and roughest — times of my young adulthood.
Rather, it’s from the raised, worn-leather seat of my mini-van — something I never imagined I might own.
My life has shifted its shape significantly since then. I moved up north, married and started a family, and am now raising three children and doing what had begun to take root within my heart way back then.
And yet, in the midst of all of this, I’ve stopped really seeing my own beauty.
I know it is there. But the truth is that I’ve become rather attuned to critiquing my outward appearance, as if beauty resides there.
I have to admit that the advent of social media — like Facebook — certainly doesn’t help. We’ve created an almost paparazzi way of life where we’ve become voyeurs into the lives of old acquaintances and friends — and friends of friends — and they, in turn, into ours.
I’d like to say that my ego stays in check and that I waste no energy wondering how other women my age appear so youthful and, well, downright gorgeous, when wrinkles seem to be appearing on me with the same fortitude as the blemishes of my adolescence (as do dimples — and not the cute, cheeky kind either). But I’d be lying.
I’ve spent many moments staring at another woman in awe of her appearance and then — somehow — finding myself feeling less than.
But then, Monday happened.
There I stood at the bathroom vanity, as I’ve done every day for as long as I can remember. But this time, I held my gaze. I was drawn in — and what I felt inside was a rising of warmth and love and gratitude.
It encompassed me. And then, without any summoning, the thought arrived: You are beautiful.
And I knew it to be true. There was no questioning, no trying to convince, no boasting, nor angling of any kind to be had. I was listening to the wiser part of me — the woman within who knows what beauty is — and what it is not.
And it is not what Calvin Klein ads would like us to believe.
Instead, it is something that is cultivated within us. It’s in the way we carry ourselves and the lenses through which we see the world. It’s in the space that we carve out within us so that we are able to let others in.
It’s not fleeting or temporary or confined by shape or age. It is immeasurable and knows no rules as to what does and does not qualify.
Because it’s something that is evoked within us when we choose to see it.
Someday, I will likely look back on today with a deep longing within my heart. I may scroll through old photos of me — here, in my 40th year — and wonder how I ever believed myself to be old or anything less than beautiful.
I will have gained more wisdom — more life — by then. And my laugh lines — and scowl marks — will be deeper; perhaps seemingly engraved upon my face. There will be more sagging and loosening and finding things where they never used to be.
And if I can’t quite cover my grey hairs for any length of time right now, surely they will be peering through with even greater stubbornness.
I will be a different kind of beautiful. And I hope that I look deeply enough that I see it. Often.
In the meantime, I sit here now as I write, with tussled hair and a cursory make-up job at best. And while I could scoot upstairs and make myself more presentable for the day before the house comes alive with activity, I’d rather be doing this.
Finding beauty in what already is.
Erin Dullea is a professional life coach, writer and creator of the #52DareChallenge – a movement for women to grow their brave and expand their worlds.
She is also a mother of three young children who teach her the true meaning of brave.