Lining the wall of my mom’s hallway are family photos. One of those photos is of me; I think I was 20 or 21 when I took it. The roll of film was on its last picture and I pointed the camera at my face and clicked. It’s an awful picture, so when I saw it hanging on the wall the first time I questioned my Mom about it.
Months later, I thought about that picture again still not understanding what she saw in it. A few days later, after a conversation with her, I finally understood. She thought I looked beautiful because in that picture, unlike in real life or other pictures, my skin looked clear. It didn’t matter that I had no expression on my face or that my eyes lacked a sparkle; my skin looked clear and therefore to her, I was beautiful.
Now, my Mom would never admit to this reasoning, so I never asked her to confirm, but I know my Mom, so I know I am 100% correct in my assessment. See, my Mom has never thought of me as beautiful, perhaps because she also had problem skin and didn’t consider herself beautiful either.
Growing up, I was an adorable little girl—the proof is in the pictures— but when I hit puberty, things went downhill. My skin broke out at the same time my hair frizzed up. Add to that the fact that Iwas super-smart and shy, and to say that I was an awkward teenager would be an understatement; I was miserable.
Seeing Mom follow society by valuing beauty over brains only helped to instill in me that beauty was important above all. I cursed God for giving me brains instead of beauty and began a hateful relationship with myself. I spent my hard-earned babysitting money on magazines like Seventeen and Teen, in hopes that somewhere in those pages there was some advice that would make me beautiful. Those magazines, I realize now, only served to make me feel worse as their advice never worked. Looking at models only served to raise the bar on my own expectations.
Slowly, I allowed the obsession to be beautiful to take over and I sacrificed my studies to reach my [unreachable] goal; eventually dropping out of high school. The girl who’d been invited to a summer program at Harvard University became a statistic; it was a high prize to pay.
Those years are long gone as are some of my obsession with beauty and a few of my issues with self-esteem. Though still obsessed with beauty, I now value my brain and my kind heart more. There are even moments of absolute clarity,when Mom’s voice that lives in my head is quiet and I look in the mirror or at a picture and I think, wow…I am mesmerizing.