There was a time when I wanted to be an actress. Back in the day, I was relatively good, too. I held my own on stage among some fantastic performers, and had great fun while (hopefully) entertaining our audiences.
There was a time when I wanted to be a marine biologist. I honestly can't explain why, except to say that I love dolphins. I think I may have been a dolphin in a past life. Oceans excite me; there is literally nothing (save for a healthy portion of dark chocolate, or a Friday-morning latte) that pleases me more than being in or near sea water.
There was also a time when I wanted to be a writer. Oh ... wait ... I am a writer. I guess that one worked out okay. I am making a living doing the thing I love to do, and only occasionally feeling the need to punch someone in the face.
But the one thing I have always, always, always wanted to be is pretty.
What a stupid word, pretty. What does it even mean? And why should that be a girl's fondest desire?
I'm not sure where I got the message that pretty is pretty important, but the point is, I got it. And I never believed I was. As a young girl, I was taunted for having bad teeth; the class bully punched me in the mouth more than a few times, telling me I was ugly, and she was helping. In my teens, I did everything I could to conform to the pretty norm, but always came up short.
Once in my 20s, the phone rang, and Mom told me it was for me. I picked up - hello? And I heard a voice say, "You are so ugly no one wants to be around you." Yes. It happened. And it broke my heart, even though I was so far beyond my teen years. (Sticks, stones and words hurt, no matter your age.)
In college, I met my friend Diane, and was sure beyond a doubt that we would never be friends; she was too pretty. In my mind, she was out of my league. Someone so perfectly put together just didn't seem to fit with the way I saw myself. (Thankfully, I got over it; she has been in my corner since 1996, and shows no signs of leaving.)
What's most troubling to me is that these are some of my most vivid memories. They've been locked away in my psyche for well over 20 years, and still I can replay the tape with crystal clarity. My laser-sharp focus has been on what I look like, ever since I was a young girl.
I'm not going to blame the media, or the cruelty of bullies, or cosmetic companies. I'm really not going to blame anyone. I'm simply trying to understand where the emphasis on looks is coming from. Why that singular facet of woman-kind? Why aren't we consumed by the pursuit of intelligence or talent? Instead, we're focused on the subjective - what is beauty, anway? What does it mean to be "pretty"? Because it can't be defined, looking pretty is a goal that really can't be reached.
What if, instead, we abandon the idea of looking pretty and instead decide that being beautiful is where it's at? It's a subtle difference, and it all boils down to semantics. Let me illustrate: I have a lot of friends. If you believe Facebook, they number well into the hundreds, and save for two of them, I have met them all in person. And they are all beautiful.
I say this because I know them. I have found each of them - men and women both - beautiful since the day I met them, and the more I know them ... the more we share and grow together on this roller coaster of life ... the more beautiful they become. Is that because we soften as we mature, growing into our faces and bodies? I think not. I think it's because when we know someone, the beauty of who they truly are becomes impossible to cover up. (The same is true of the ugly; that stuff becomes so obvious, you can't not see it ... and most of it comes to light not when you first meet, but when you get to know who someone truly is.)
So I have to conclude, after years of avoiding the woman in the mirror, that I've been pretty all along. As I grow older, I have observed my friends becoming more and more beautiful ... so I have to believe the same thing is happening within me. Sure, I would love to be that girl who makes heads turn when she walks into the room. I would love knowing that I fit the stereotypical definition of "pretty," but if I had to choose, I would take real beauty over surface pretty any day.
That being said, I think it's a pretty fair assumption that we can be both.