Free To Be Beautiful

blossomsI can’t remember if I ever thought I was pretty.  I have a vague recollection that I felt beautiful, for the first time, when I held my newborn babies.  I was swollen, blotchy, sweaty and exhausted, but I felt beautiful.

I have spent a lot of years denying my femininity.   Along the way, I received  messages that I heard as criticisms of femininity in general, not just my own femininity.

In college, I hated my body and hid behind baggy Levis and un-tucked, too large flannel shirts.  The older I got, the more I looked at makeup, painted nails and dyed hair as superficial wastes of time.

I made excuses for being sensitive and emotional – feelings typically attributed to femininity.  I tried to hide those feelings.

If people were going to like me, they were going to like the plain, unmade-up me – the unemotional me.

How much could people like me if I didn’t like myself?


Marriage to a narcissist is corrosive to self-esteem.  Everything centered around him and what he looked like.  As long as I continued to look younger than he did, wore the clothes he chose for me, and pretended to be outdoorsy and athletic, then I was good enough to be associated with him.  He rarely talked of my appearance or referred to me as beautiful.

Feeling deflated by the day-to-day of relating with a narcissist, I didn’t see any point in trying to make myself look better.  I didn’t see a connection between how I  looked and how I felt.

It was not about me.


Pregnancy wasn’t at all what I expected.  I thought the two of us would embrace those precious nine months.  I assumed he’d go to appointments with me, hand me Kleenexes while I cried over ultrasound pictures, and take me shopping for baby stuff.  I wanted to revel in what was going on  inside my body.  I wanted to celebrate each week, the changes, the way I felt –  the whole process.

It wasn’t about me.

I went to my appointments alone.  I read the books, took notes, and kept my excitement to myself.  If anyone asked, I’d change the subject.   I was screaming inside with the need to talk about this magical event in my life.


When I nursed Will,  I started to feel good about being female.  I felt powerful and loving and life-giving and beautiful on the inside.  I felt my deep capacity for love.  I saw love in my reflection in the mirror.  For the first time, I actually liked the way I looked.

Mark was uncomfortable with the breast-feeding, however, so it was a constant struggle to feel good about nursing.  I felt like I shouldn’t nurse my baby in front of him.  I felt dirty, primal and selfish.

The time I spent bonding with Will jeopardized my relationship with Mark.


When Jenny was born, my extended family almost tripped over themselves wondering how I would handle all things pink.  “What are you going to do if she likes pink and bows?”  “What are you going to do if she wants to be a cheerleader?”  “What are you going to do if she’s a girly-girl?”

I knew I’d love her, but I was a little nervous about navigating all the girly stuff.  How was I going to make sure she felt good about herself, if I felt so crappy about being female?

As Jenny got older, she reminded me how fun it was, and is, to be female.  It was good to wear frilly dresses and paint nails.  It felt natural to curl hair, and be sweet and mushy and sensitive.  It was good to love flowers and baby animals and have tea parties and play house.  Jenny showed me that it was fine – better than fine – to be a girl.


I haven’t worn a necklace since I can’t remember when.  I stopped wearing necklaces because I thought they called attention to me.  Wearing a necklace was saying, “Look at me.  I’m trying to get your attention.  Do I look pretty?”

During the holidays, I saw my cousin’s daughter wearing a necklace with a symbol that represents karma.  I went out and bought myself the same necklace.  Even Jen and Will were surprised that I bought myself jewelry.  I started wearing this little silver necklace, and no one said, “Who do you think you are, acting all feminine-like?”  I liked the necklace, what it meant, and the way I felt when I wore it.

I’m slowly learning that I am most beautiful when I express my femininity.  I am more fully myself when doing so – with or without a necklace, painted nails, or curled hair.

I have no other expectations to meet.

I am free to be beautiful –  for me.


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  1. Those who know you have always thought you beautiful – inside and out. So relieved the realization has come and you’re seeing yourself as others see you. Celebrate the true you!

  2. Thanks, mom. :)

    pssst *whisper* you might be a little biased.

  3. Oh my. I can sure relate. I didn’t think I was pretty when I was growing up…all thru school. I tried to look my best in my early twenties, but I don’t remember thinking that I was pretty back then, even tho I can look at pics and see I was. I did dress up (yes, in dresses and heels and makeup and stuff). I enjoyed it then, but since I had my slip and fall accident and gained weight, I haven’t cared much at all. It’s been 10 years.

    I’m getting ready to turn a new decade soon. (Well, too soon for me!) I’ve been wondering how I can celebrate or turn me into who I want to be. I gave myself a BD party at a redneck bar for my last decade celebration, mostly because I couldn’t believe I was still here. I was in Paris, France for my BD in 1994. Quite awesome! So yes, I do know how to party!

    But I’m not sure what I want to do or who I want to be. Sometimes it just seems to be too much trouble to put on makeup for a trip to the store, especially when the face doesn’t look like it did ten years ago. I just don’t want the attention like I used to. In fact, I think I will just go hide.

    Look for me in your nearest cave. :)

    See, I CAN make a decision!

  4. I’ll still be at the grocery sans makeup. That’s just who I am. But when the occasion warrants it, I’m going to step out and feel like I am the best version of ‘me’. Not too much of anything. Just me, only slightly better.

    I’m hoping that’ll give me confidence to make the best of this journey I’m on.

    It’s as if I’ve been waiting for something – a career, a man, an age, or a lightening bolt.

    I’m done waiting. I don’t want to miss my chance.

    And if I make it to Michigan, I’m draggin’ your butt out of that cave.

  5. Jesse…you have no idea how others see you. When we were growing up in jr high and high school I used to envy your looks!!! I still do! I think you are beautiful! Isn’t it something that we have perceptions of ourselves that no one else shares sometimes. I envy your lean look. I am so round!!! I can’t stand it!!! Wow Jesse…you have no idea! I think that is one of your charms – you just don’t get how incredible you are. I know though…and I am so glad we are friends again.

  6. And that’s the crux of the issue – when you say those nice things, I hear “blah, blah, blah, blah.”

    I think it’s about being able to say that for/to myself – a healthy appreciation of inner beauty without being so critical of the physical, outward stuff. I want my kids to feel good about themselves, too. They shouldn’t need to hear that from others.

    You aren’t round, silly. You have the curves that define a woman. Just ask your husband. ;)

    p.s. We were friends all along – just separated by distance for awhile.

    love you :)

  7. Oh Jesse. So happy for you. You go girl.

    p.s. I felt the same way about breast feeding – so empowered and nurturing and beautiful and feminine.

  8. Thanks, Jessica.

    It’s nice having you here with us.

  9. I’m with Lucy. You have no idea how beautiful we always thought you were. I looked up to you so much and wanted to look like you (tall and lean instead of short and average). You always appeared self-assured – maybe that was just around us -and I was so . . . . NOT. I always admired that you felt confident enough to go out without makeup! I have only grown into myself since I’ve been a mom. I feel more beautiful now than ever before. Definitely getting better with age and not even hating another birthday coming right up. Maybe motherhood does that to all of us.

  10. Kate,

    Please! You have NEVER BEEN average!

    Me? Self-assured? I should have gone into acting.

    Oh, if we could only see ourselves as others see us. (My mom said that to me a couple nights ago. She’s’ so right.)

    I read something a long time ago – wish I could remember what or where. A woman said, “I feel the most beautiful when I’m with my kids – faded jeans, spit-up on t-shirt, hair in a pony tail and no make-up.”

    But what if you don’t have kids? What if your kids are grown and out of the house? I want to find a way to feel that feeling without relying on my kids, or a man, or a pet, or makeup, or the words of dear friends and cousins.

    See what I mean?

    As I write this, a thought popped into my head that I read from Kelly Diels (Cleavage), and she said simply, “It’s about love.” And the depth of love I felt/feel for my kids manifests itself in a deeper inner beauty in myself. It’s a win/win. Others benefit from our love, and we benefit from the act of loving.

    Am I on the right track here?

  11. Jesse – It’s so interesting reading the posts from the people who know you in “real” life. I’ve had so many people tell me that they thought I had it all together during times when I was completely falling apart inside.

    I too need to find a way to feel beautiful and to love myself without external validation. It’s hard sometimes, isn’t it?

  12. Jessica,

    It’s so very hard. Is it for everyone? I don’t know. Some seem to go through life and not give a rip what others think. Or is that their facade, just like ours was to make it look like we had it all together, when we didn’t.

    I’m writing about this today in the challenge. Maybe I’ll get to an answer by the end of the #2500. That’s a little optimistic. Isn’t this an age-old question? But I really think the answer is so obvious.

    Thanks for your kind words, and support in the challenge.

    I feel like I know you. :)

  13. i honestly cannot believe that this morning of all mornings i found your site. i told my husband to leave 2 days ago & i truly feel stronger after reading your beautifully written words. i have been reading for hours & you are brilliant.

    thank you for lending me strength & the ability to see the other side through you.

  14. Hi Altah,

    If I’ve learned anything in the last year or so, it’s this:

    When I was ready to make a change in myself, things started to fall into place. It seemed as though I was handed just the right article or book, or I heard the right speaker just when I most needed the message. When I decided to change and help myself, the Universe delivered what I most needed to foster that change. I know that sounds crazy.

    It is so true.

    My kids have gotten so much stronger and healthier.
    I reconnected with my Aunt, who has been such a comfort and a sounding board.
    I see parts of myself returning that I’d completely forgotten existed.
    My relationships have improved – gotten richer and more real.
    I’m hardly ever sick anymore.
    Most days (many days) I am very content with the knowledge that I am on my correct path.

    Altah, thanks for commenting.

    Sending you more strength and courage.


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