Puberty hit early for me, and it was not my friend. I sprouted into a C-cup overnight, and no one seemed to know how to react to my changing body. Where I’d previously walked with a dancer’s posture, I suddenly felt like everyone was staring at me, and I began slouching through the world.
Over the next two decades, I avoided anything that would call attention to my body – including the dance classes I’d previously adored. Like so many people, I hid my anxiety, hurt, disappointment, and fear in food – and my body gradually began to look in reality the same way it looked in my mind.
Well-meaning friends, family members, and coworkers tried to encourage me to lose weight, telling me “you’d be so beautiful if you just lost a few pounds.”
All that managed to do was continue a cycle of low self-esteem that was wholly connected to my physical appearance.
Then I had children.
The first time my son proclaimed, “Mumma, you’re beautiful!” my gut reaction was to tell him he was wrong.
After all, I was recovering from a nasty stomach bug, and I hadn’t showered in a few days. Whose idea of beauty is that?
Before the instinctive response “Thank you, but no, I’m not” could tumble from my mouth, I had a rare moment of parenting clarity.
If my son thinks someone or something is beautiful, who am I to tell him he’s wrong?
In fact, don’t I owe it to everyone else in the world to encourage him to see beauty wherever possible? Don’t I owe it to him?
That day, instead of explaining to him why I wasn’t beautiful, I gave my son a huge hug, said “thank you,” and started thinking that maybe he was a little bit right. Maybe I was a little bit pretty.
Around the same time, my daughter was beginning to change from baby girl to full-fledged-toddler-person. Her features became more distinct and her personality showed through every picture I took of her.
Whenever I shared those photos on social media, my friends and family would inevitably say the same thing: “Maggie, she’s beautiful! She looks just like you!”
I mean, yes, my daughter is gorgeous, and yes, she does look like me.
Does that mean I think I’m beautiful?
Three years later, I still struggle to connect these dots. When I catch sight of my own reflection, I have to consciously remember not to dismiss myself as “unattractive.”
I spent the better part of two decades convincing myself that my physical appearance wasn’t worth anything – and it’s only since becoming a mother that I’ve been able to see how much that changed my entire sense of self. In trying to make sure that my children know their value comes from who they are, I realized that I had never given myself permission to believe that my merit isn’t based on how I look.
Like every other human being, I’m a work in progress.
I still find every flaw when I look at my reflection, but I also work really hard to take up space in the world and to believe that my existence matters.
And I stopped worrying first about whether I’m pretty enough, smart enough, or funny enough to everyone else.
I still worry about it – but it’s not first on my list.
Instead, I focus on reminding myself that I’m the only mom my kiddos will ever have, and I’m exactly the mom they need.
All of which brings me to the advice I wished I’d been able to hear decades ago.
You are beautiful.
Simply because you exist, you are beautiful.
Whether you’re happily chasing your dreams or you’re struggling to find your path in life, you are beautiful.
Whether you feel beautiful or not, you are, in fact, beautiful.
Your humanity, your curiosity, your interest, your heart, and your soul make you beautiful.
There is no one in the world exactly like you, and that’s what makes you beautiful.
Be you bravely,