Beautiful Is

Jul 17, 2013

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?

12 Comments

  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Michele,
    Yes…words can hurt…for years! We were just talking about this in my teen girl’s group last night. I had the opposite problem, but I felt shame none-the-less. I was so thin that kids would come up to me in amazement and grab my wrist to see if they could circle it between thumb and little finger (they could). I was called “skinny,” and “stick.” One morning, when I was about 12-years-old, I got up to find a magazine ad for a padded girdle on the table next to the chair my father always sat in to watch television. It was all filled in with my name, in his handwriting. He thought it funny. I was humiliated. To this day I have “imposter syndrome,” I never believe what I do is very good and think I may have fooled anyone who praises my work, whether it be a piece of art or a therapy technique. Thank God we know He sees us as His masterpiece! Great post, Michele.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Ouch. I’m so sorry, Linda. A parent’s words carry such power! I’m convicted. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Reply
  2. Dave Bratcher

    What a powerful story! Thank you for being vulnerable and willing to share. Unfortunately, many people have been placed into a box by an experience from their past. The good news is we were all made in the image of God and he loves us the way we are. Such an uplifting and powerful story! Thanks again Michele for sharing!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Dave. That is good news, indeed.

      Reply
  3. Amy Thedinga

    My mama used to tell me: “pretty is as pretty does”. Michele, although I regard you as a physically beautiful woman, according to my mama’s definition, you are as pretty as they come. Your life is an example of the beauty of denying yourself and following Christ’s call to care for others. Thank you for reminding us what REALLY matters.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, dear Amy. As are you. (P.S. you have a wise mama)

      Reply
  4. Kay Day

    In college my roommate said to me “You’d be beautiful if you lost weight.” And I’d get other remarks like that. A guy said “You should make the most of what you have.” And another one would tell me I shouldn’t eat this or that.
    The thing is, even back then, I knew I wasn’t overweight. I wasn’t supermodel thin, but I was very far from being fat. Those comments hurt of course. But they also confused me. I remember feeling like “What do they WANT from me?” I didn’t feel driven to pursue external perfection (internal is a different story) but they seemed to want me to.

    Reply
  5. Niki Nowell

    This is heartbreakingly beautiful, Michele, and it’s a story I know too well. My favorite was always, “You have such a pretty face.” I always imagined they finished that sentence in their head and it sounded something like, “too bad the rest of you is gross.” I am surrounded by friends getting healthier and stronger and thinner, and they always invite me along on their journey. It’s a struggle because when I do lose weight, everyone around me focuses on that, like my weight makes me who I am. I hate it. I want to be healthier, stronger, and thinner too, but it’s a slow battle for me. I don’t want to be measured along the way with remarks OR compliments. That’s not encouraging.

    I know how to see. I am fat and beautiful trying to become FIT and beautiful. Either way, I am beautiful. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      There’s a gentleman who is a like a father to me. I love him, treasure him. But every time he sees me, he makes a comment about my weight. Something like, “It looks like you’ve really kept the weight off.” He means it as a compliment, but the message behind it is “my weight = who I am.” It’s painful, every. single. time. Regardless of my current size. All that to say, I read every word you wrote, dear Niki, and heard you. Loud and clear. You ARE beautiful. Period.

      Reply
  6. Heather Thorpe

    I was raised in a home of shouting and screaming of hurtful words….. words that to this day are the inner voice I try to amend…. My inner voice is a reminder of what I do NOT want my own child to hear….. ever, yet I know words will hurt her someday….. around the corner, or face to face. This post challenges me as mom to prepare my child with a strong self confidence and open communication to talk out the bad stuff when it happens…..

    Keep writing Michele.

    Your biggest fan,
    Heather

    Reply
  7. Mary Arps

    Thanks for sharing that. Michelle. First of all, I don’t remember you ever being fat (maybe a little fluffy). You just weren’t anorexically stick-skinny like a lot of the 80’s chicks. You’ve always been absolutely gorgeous. Sorry you went through all of that. However, years later, when so many of the pieces of your life-puzzle are coming together, you obviously see how that trauma helped to mold you into the compassionate, helping person you are today. Honestly, in college I always thought you were “drop-dead gorgeous”. You looked like a prettier Judy Garland! Maybe if you had been stick skinny AND drop-dead gorgeous, you may have developed an ugly heart? (although that is hard to imagine) Who knows, though.

    I love the list you put at the end. It is a difficult thing for a person who truly is not outwardly beautiful (as the world defines it) to say “I AM beautiful” and really mean it and feel it in their heart. I think the only way to really believe it deep down inside is to have a close enough relationship with God (through prayer, scripture study, and living His word) that we genuinely care more about what He thinks of us than what the godless people around us think. At least for me, that was the point that I realized the world’s version of who I should be was not only an unreachable mirage, but a downright deception. God’s beauty is attainable, and we were created to know how beautiful and adored we are.

    Big hugs to you for writing this!!! Good job on letting the hurdles in your life eventually become your stepping stones. Judy, Judy, Judy! You ARE so beautiful inside and out. Love you!

    Reply
  8. Shereen Poynton

    Hi Michele, I was reading Michael Hyatt’s blog, ‘How to start a blog in 4 easy steps’ and decided to read your blog. This is the first post I read and I was shocked because you look so gorgeous in your photo. How does a Mum of 6 kids look as gorgeous as you do?? Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your honesty. That spoke to me more than the topic. It showed your heart and your responses too shows you are beautiful on the inside where it counts. The purpose of my reading your blog is to find out if I want to start one of my own. It’s been something I’ve been struggling with. I am not sure I have the commitment and the other problem is to find a theme. Anyway, this is not the place to talk about it…I apologise. Thanks again for your post. Many blessings, Shereen

    Reply

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