Like most women (I imagine), I have a lot of ups and downs about my appearance. There will be weeks or months when I feel down about my appearance or my weight or some other superficial thing, and there will be weeks (sometimes months) when I feel like my skin sparkles in the sun like a vampire and my hair can do no wrong and I am about two seconds away from getting a modeling offer (kidding on that last one).
So I when saw this post idea on my friend Mara’s blog (where she was tagged to post 5 pictures of when she felt beautiful), I thought the task would be pretty straightforward—
Bust out all the pictures from my prom and senior year when I was all tan and that one from that one night I sang jazz at that one thing, and blah blah blah, and I could revel in those moments when I had no doubt that I looked good (and reveled in the attention of the masses, because isn’t that always how it goes?).
Surprisingly, the process didn’t go down like that. Because even though I physically LOOKED beautiful during those events, my brain knew that what actually transpired during those things wasn’t always so beautiful–both the senior proms I attended never lived up to the hype, my senior year was fraught with a lot of turbulence that mostly stemmed from my ever-dramatic love life, and I was actually very, very self-conscious about the dress choice I’d made during that jazz solo.
In conclusion, most of the photos below that I chose probably DON’T meet the typical standards for beauty in today’s Photoshopped-obsessed culture. Some of them I even cringed at when I first saw them, complete with the kneejerk reaction in my head of, “Ugh, I look so bad in that.” But over time, I’ve come to love each of those photos because each one represents at least some version of the best in myself, which (as cheesy as it sounds), is what makes me feel the most beautiful.
On to the photos!
1. Me dancing in the musical Footloose, circa 2005
My parents took me to my first musical when I was probably as young as seven or eight, and I was immediately smitten with the idea of “real-life scenarios” being played out in perfectly-synchronized song and dance. I was determined to be in musicals myself someday, belting out a lead number and getting flowers and fan mail in my dressing room.
After growing up a little and realizing that most of my peers could, in fact, also carry a tune (many of them much much better and prettier than I could), my dream started to fall by the wayside until the end of my junior year of high school when I realized, in a panic, that the tryouts were fast approaching for what would be my last chance at the fame and adoration that come with starring in the local production of some or other well-known musical. I cobbled together the best tryout number I could (luckily I was doing tradeout for voice lessons at the time—I accompanied for her and she in turn gave me voice lessons for 30 minutes a week), and I managed to shake off my nerves enough during the tryout to wear–and utilize!–a feather boa while singing Linda Ronstadt’s “You Took Advantage of Me” (click the video below to see the creepiest music video of this song of all time).
And while I didn’t score THE lead, I did manage to nab a pretty major part that required me to sing a few two- or three-line solos, sing regularly in a trio, and have pretty much all the funniest lines of the whole production. For years I’d convinced myself that stage fright and lack of talent would make me a terrible choice for a musical, but when I took a chance on myself, I discovered that I adored it and that I was a lot better than I thought I’d be.
The memory of being in that show remains one of my favorite from high school to this day, and doing something that scared and excited me at the same time brought out the best kind of beauty in me (as is obvious from the Seinfeld-inspired dance move you see above).
2. Me serving a religious mission in El Salvador, circa 2010
Even though I don’t talk about it a lot on here, the 18 months I spent serving a religious mission in El Salvador were some of the most meaningful of my life. Since becoming fully acclimated back to the climate and culture here in Utah, I’ve found myself only throwing out shallow bits here and there about my experience in Central America, like the 25 pounds I gained there, or the fact that I don’t know how I survived all those months without air conditioning (or an oven or a washing machine or carpet). But the fact was, there are few times I’ve felt more wholly beautiful as a person than I did on my mission (and not just because Latin men are VERY vocal about whether or not they find you attractive and my blue eyes were whistled at wherever we went).
I felt beautiful because I utterly and completely stood for something I believe in so fiercely that it consumed me every day, 24 hours a day, for that year and a half. I breathed, ate, and slept what I believed in and in the process, came to own a deep and lasting knowledge that I am a daughter of God and that He loves me, and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all mankind. My mission was awfully hard sometimes, but it is by far one of the most rewarding and lovely experiences of my life.
3. Me on my wedding day just after we tied the knot, circa 2011
Contrary to what I believed “should” happen, I did not feel more beautiful on my wedding day than on any other day in my life. In fact, if I’m being honest, my wedding day wouldn’t even crack my top 5 days. Probably not even my top 10. And while that fact sometimes will bug me when I let myself get caught up in Pinterest or in to-die-for wedding photography, I’ve gotten over it—because even though my outside wasn’t as “perfect” as I thought it should be, the day WAS perfect, and I knew, without doubting it whatsoever, that I was in exactly the right place at the right time with the right person by my side.
Before dating my husband, I had a lot of ex-boyfriends who sometimes made disparaging comments about my appearance—how they didn’t like it when I pulled my bangs back, or how they didn’t find me attractive with my hair pulled back, or how they ONLY found me attractive with my hair pulled back (?). For a long time, those comments really got to me—I felt like I was flawed in some inherent way, or I blamed the guy for being such a jerk.
Truth was, it wasn’t their fault they weren’t attracted to me all the time (or, as is the case with some of them, that they weren’t attracted to me at all). We can’t help who we’re attracted to. But going back to the original point—when I dated Matt, who told me (and still tells me) that I look beautiful all the time, I thought he was just being nice at first (I mean, who looks good ALL THE TIME?!). But in the end, I realized that he meant it, and not just physically—I looked beautiful all the time to him because he saw me all the time for who I really was, and to him, that was beautiful.
So when I finally wised up and married him, it really did turn out to be the most beautiful day of my life because I was choosing someone who has always been able to see me as exactly who I am and love what he sees, flaws and all.
Our marriage is my my most cherished relationship.
Arguably, the day I ran my first marathon was one of the days I probably physically felt the grossest—I hadn’t bothered to put on makeup, I slicked my hair entirely back from my face (something I just never, ever do because I think it’s unflattering), and then I ran 4.5 hours in the blazing heat, resulting in a sticky mass of sweat and dirt and exhaustion at the end of the 26.2 miles.
I can unequivocally say that I’ve never been prouder of myself than I was in that moment.
Sure, I’d done a lot of hard things before—I’d survived teasing in middle school, I’d served a mission in a third-world country (learning another language in the process), I’d graduated summa cum laude from college. But the difference between the marathon and all those things was that I always KNEW I would ultimately succeed and finish those other things—I never had any doubt in my mind that they’d be difficult, but I’d also never doubted that I could finish.
I didn’t know if I could finish that marathon, especially without stopping once to walk.
But you know what?
I did exactly that.
And it’s one of my truest moments of beauty because it proved to me that I’m capable of much, much more than I had previously dreamed possible.
5. Me on the first day of school as a 2nd year teacher, circa 2013
This photo, of the five I’ve posted, is the one I probably feel I physically look the prettiest in (but that’s not the only reason why I’m posting it). As you’ve hopefully picked up from the thread running throughout all these pictures, the beauty to be found is always more than just on the surface—the thing that makes me feel beautiful has to go deeper than just the appearance, otherwise it’s just a memory of “that night I looked really great but hated every second.”
I felt beautiful on this day because I was going back to the profession I’ve chosen and love despite all its disappointments and heartbreaks and stresses and downright annoyances. As many of you know, I have very mixed feelings about my job as a teacher, but whenever I’m allowed two seconds of peace at the school to process everything that’s happening around me, I realize that I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.
I’ve known for many years that I was born to be a teacher. Throughout my life, that has taken (and will take) many different forms, from tutoring friends, mentoring young adults at summer camp, presiding over the young women’s organization at church, to someday raising my own children and maybe even coaching and teaching other writers or photographers or even college students in the future.
In the end though, this is what I know:
I feel beautiful when I’m being me, when I’m being the most true to the self that I know I am.
I would love it if any of you did any similar posts on your Facebook page or blog. If you do end up taking the 5 photo challenge, please comment below or email me so I can check it out!