His name was, let’s say, Mark.

We were college sophomores at a small private college in the midwest. Full of youth, optimism and dreams to change the world.

Only, my world changed.

I didn’t know him well, although on a small campus as ours, everyone knew everyone. Drop eight hundred students in overpopulated dorms and intimate classrooms, and it doesn’t take long for each of us to know who snuck out the night before and what family drama we left back at home.

Mark wasn’t notable. Average, you’d say. The years would’ve have erased his memory but for one incident.

It happened the end of the my third college semester, a few weeks before Christmas break. As best I can remember, I walked down the wide hallway outside the cafeteria, along the stretch of coat racks filled with hangers. Other than a few scattered people, the hall was quiet. As I neared the corner, a male voice came around the bend.

“Take Michele, for example…”

At the sound of my name I stopped. Held my breath.

He continued.

“She’s one of those who’d be beautiful, if she wasn’t so fat. Know what I mean?”

Heat replaced the hallway’s air. I don’t remember what he said next, didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I turned, ran to my dorm room and wept.

A day or two later, maybe three, I confronted him, let him know I’d overheard his speech outside the cafeteria. His face reddened—as well it should—but he fell short of apologizing. His only offering? “I meant it as a compliment!”

Weeks later, the semester finished, I packed my college dorm room, loaded up my car, and moved back home.

I never returned.

A part of me still wants to blame Mark, maybe hate him a little. I can still feel the sting, remember well the shame I carried far too long. A compliment? Really? In a haphazard moment, he caused damage it took years to heal.

But I don’t hate him, or blame him. Mark was a nineteen-year-old kid. He probably still took his laundry home to mama. And although his words hurt, they simply confirmed what I believed:

Beautiful was out of reach for me.

I’m now forty-one years old. I have six children, a husband, and wear a size eight(ish). But in the past two decades, I’ve been everything from a size two to an eighteen. At each size, regardless of how big or small, I didn’t see myself as beautiful. Whether I passed a bathroom mirror or caught a glimpse in a window’s glass, I cringed:

“You’d be beautiful if …”

You see, beautiful is no longer about size. Nor is it Mark. It’s about how I see me. And what I choose to believe as a result.

We all want to feel beautiful, attractive or desirable in some small way. It’s human. But somewhere along the way, we bought into a voice that put beautiful out of reach. A parent, teacher, peer or ex. Maybe even ourselves. Now, when we pass a mirror, reflection or a photo, we don’t see beautiful. Instead, we cringe and start believing a lie: “I’d be beautiful if …”

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about a prophet named Samuel, who God chooses to appoint a new king. The assumption is a king needs to be a tall, strong, and attractive. Look the part. Kingly. And yet, when God sees a parade of premier choices, he shakes his head at every one:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Beautiful isn’t a size or shape or color. Beautiful is learning how to see.

Beautiful is …

  • giving your life for another.
  • comforting those who hurt.
  • finding joy in the ordinary.
  • seeing the best in others.
  • cheering for those who struggle.
  • humility.
  • perseverance.
  • generosity.
  • love.

Beautiful is knowing you’re beautiful, believing you’re beautiful, because the One who sees you better than anyone else says so.

How have the messages you’ve heard (or said) impacted what you believe about yourself?

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