She stands in front of the mirror with her lips pursed tightly together and turned downward. Her hips tilt slightly forward crunching her stomach together. In her hands she grips the stomach rolls that form and then stands up straight sucking in her stomach pulling her navel to her spine. Slowly she turns this way and that and critiques the reflection as though she was a judge at a county fair. She ticks her tongue in disgust and then runs her hands gently over her hips and rear. One step forward and then another she leans into the mirror closely and inspects her face. The lips, the eyes, the cheekbones, the chin, the teeth. Her chest rises as she breathes in deeply. Nothing is satisfactory.
She is 11.
She no longer remembers the time when she ran freely without a care in the world about what her body looked like. Without wondering what other people saw when they saw her. Without touching her skin and wondering why she could not be beautiful. The world has given her many questions to ask and many images to compare herself to. The culture has given her many voices that tell her where she falls. Seeing her own imperfections, she trusts the voices around her more than her own and looks to them for validation. She is one. They are many. She weighs them on the balances in her mind. The voices that she values carry more weight than the ones she easily dismisses. Daily the scales rock back and forth. Pretty or ugly? Fat or skinny? Valuable or worthless?
The days tick off the calendar one by one until she has travelled the road from young girl into adulthood. Her own opinion long buried under the weight the world has set upon her mind. The voices have become a noisy din until she no longer remembers who they belong to. She has trained herself to judge herself harshly and criticize the smallest of errs to be sure she can daily fall in line with whatever image she feels the world most wants to see. She is no longer herself, but a collage of images cut and pasted together like bits cut out of magazines. Her mind holds firmly to an image of the word beautiful and measures herself against it daily. Some days her scores come back high. Some days they come back low. Some days she dares not so much as glance in the mirror so she cannot see the face staring back at her.
And you and I would see her there at 11, at 16, at 19, at 21, at 27, 30, 45 and all the ages along the way and we would shake our heads and tell her she is too hard on herself. We would point out the beauty we see and the things that made her unique and special. We would tell her not to judge herself and we would not understand how she could not see herself the way we see her.
Then we would go home, look in the mirror, and judge ourselves just as harshly.
That image you see, that image you’ve learned to judge, that image you are so critical of is not the image the rest of the world sees. When we see you, we do not see the words said to you when you were tiny and defenseless. We do not see the unkindness shown to you in middle school. We do not hear the critical voices that judged your worth or your mistakes. We do not feel the weight of a thousand arrows of rejection or loss. We do not experience the relationships ended or the people who took you for granted.
Instead we see you through our own lenses. We see you through our own experiences and our own struggles. We see you through the thousand voices that have spoken into our lives and written onto our souls and our hearts. We brush lightly against the edge of your world while trying not to crash headlong into you with the full weight of ours.
And some of us will do so with beautiful grace. We will build you up and make you feel most wonderful about who you are and how strong you fight. Some of us will do so with the gentleness of an angry goat who isn’t getting his way. None of it will be about you. None of it will be the true litmus test of your worth, beauty, or importance to the world.
What you see in the mirror is skewed by lights and angles. By time and materials. By eras and attitudes. You cannot fully trust it. It is clouded by voices weighed down by the amateur way they are experiencing their own lives and worlds.
While you and I would tell the 11 year old girl to back away from the mirror and enjoy her youth without fear we will look deeply into the mirror and glance at each window we see to pass judgement on where we fall within the spectrum of beauty. Our days, our experience, our joy can all rise and fall based on where we find ourselves on a given day.
Today, when you look into that mirror, tell that image that you see that he or she looks exactly as they are meant to. You can fuss with your hair or adjust your clothes but not for one moment insult the body they are on. The image in that mirror is a one of a kind unique work of art that has never existed before and will never exist again. It is a vessel that is transporting around thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas that matter to the world around it. When its time is done there will be no tombstone that gives your weight or measurements. Nothing will record the size of your breasts or nose. Your grandchildren will not wish your hair had been straighter or your butt had been rounder.
What you do and how you made others feel. That is what people will remember. Whether you were wrapped up in yourself or if you did things for others. Whether you were generous. Whether you were kind. Whether you kept your word. Whether you contributed to the world around you.
And when you meet others today, they will not hear all those thoughts in your head and all those judgements you cast upon yourself. They will only see the outermost edges of your world against the outermost edges of theirs. However, the places that really matter, they are deep inside where only a select few will ever tread. It is that place, that secret place inside you that your worth grows out from.
If you ever catch sight of that place in a mirror you will see what those that love you already know.
You are astoundingly beautiful.
Let your life shine out from that place.
And don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.