We were in the middle of a snow ball fight outside Gedney hall my senior year of college when he said it.
Justin Myers said to me, “No fair if you turn sideways, ’cause then you’re an invisible target.”
While everyone else laughed it took me a while to figure out what he meant.
In high school Jason and his friends used to describe me as a “flea on toothpicks,” I was that skinny.
I dreamed of curves.
And while most girls would have loved to diet their way to my spaghetti-like physique I hated that I was all bony angles where I wanted curvacious womanhood.
What daughter doesn’t want to be beautiful?
And we can pretend that she doesn’t need to hear it. We can say that it’s enough to be smart or brave or funny.
But deep down is a hole that hungers to hear the word, Beauty.
The night the boy on the motorcycle delivered flowers to my house and left his anonymous love letter, I brought it to my mother. She was cooking and I passed it to her across the kitchen counter and she glanced down at the note, kept stirring the spaghetti sauce, shrugged and answered out of the deep well of her own insecurities,
“Oh my darling, I’m sure it’s just your friends playing a joke on you.”
He kept bringing me flowers and I stopped telling her about it.
Eighteen years later I gave birth to a daughter. A terrifying bundle of pink and I’m the girl with two brothers and a dead mother and I don’t know how to dress a girl.
There are books and blog posts and articles that I comb through in the dark hours. And they say that girls need to hear that they are brave and strong and capable. That their bodies are useful more than they are beautiful.
I don’t doubt that’s true.
But my baby is fast asleep next door wrapped around with the pink and white tutu she wouldn’t take off before bed.
And I imagine there’s something to that too.
As we’re packing up our suitcases for our flight to South Africa and Christmas with the family we haven’t seen in two years I throw in six princess dresses at the last minute. They are soft hand-me-downs and fold up so small into the nooks and crannies of space we’ve got left over and it’s an impulse to bring a blue Cinderella and yellow Belle and pink Barbie home with me.
I’ve just got this feeling there are some princesses who need their dresses waiting for us.
The thing about beauty, is that it’s always there.
It just looks different for each of us.
But it’s always there waiting to be called out.
A grown up friend writes me that, “I want to be told that I’m beautiful too.”
Behind our glasses and insecurities, behind our unruly bangs and track training records, behind our accomplishments and husbands and kids, there is always the little girl who wants to be told she’s beautiful.
I know this because I see her in the mirror.
And one afternoon in South Africa we have a princess party for our daughters. And I see in each of their wide eyes and longing looks at the mirror that beauty loves to be called out, to be celebrated and cherished and recognized by our mothers.
Our daughters will see themselves as beautiful in our eyes first. If we let them.
And once they’ve seen themselves as beautiful in the eyes of their mother, maybe they’ll be braver dancing through the minefields of what the movies and magazines scream is desirable.
On a whim the moms dress up too.
The only princess dresses that fit us are the ones from our weddings. I haven’t worn mine in 14 years and it won’t zip up all the way in back.
But I step into it anyway and see my own wild hopes echoed in five pairs of eyes.
Small arms wrap tightly around my neck and the promise that the future holds love stories for each of us.
Daughters lost and found, abandoned, broken and adopted.
And the word might not always fit us. It might feel like it’s too tight or sticking in back like my dress that gaped open with a disgruntled zipper. But it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that I’d outgrown that dress, because you can’t ever outgrow the beauty of being loved.
And when my two year old daughter wrapped herself around with my veil I saw my past, present and future all cupped in that singular moment in the hands of the God who declares us all beautiful.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. ~Ecclesiastes 3:11
That means you and me and our hurts and unhappy endings.
Everything is beautiful when reflected in the eyes of the God who names us so.
Beauty like so much grace, so much hope, so many promises,
in the eye of the faithful, heavenly beholder.