My Journey to Feel Pretty

In May, I received what some might think of as a compliment from a group of ladies. “Do you ever take a bad picture?” they asked.

The question transported me to fourth grade when I learned from my orthodontist that I had an over AND underbite.  I hadn’t known that was possible, and it meant a total of eight years in metal brackets. That was also the year I was growing out the world’s worst bangs. I no longer wanted a mushroom cut with frayed layers. I just wanted pretty, silky hair that was all the same length. Yet, my bangs were so long by the time of school pictures they covered my eyes.

Words That Cut to the Core

A friend from school looked at my school picture and said I was ugly. To be exact she said, “That’s the world’s ugliest picture, Terri. You’re so ugly.”

My mom had taken me to Abdalla’s to buy me a new shirt just for picture day, and she had worked so hard to curl my hair that morning. My jeans were pressed, and I had on Bass boots. The night before, my Dad had polished them. How on Earth could she call the picture ugly?

Terri’s awkward stage

I extend grace to her today because I’m not sure she meant it, nor that she knew the power her words had. Maybe they were motivated by her own ugly feelings: jealousy because I had a better outfit than her that day or because I’d just made the cheer squad. But she said it, and her words stuck. You see, I looked up to her. We even shared the same middle name, and we were at an age where such similarities seemed more like fate than banal coincidence.

No matter which new outfit I wore, student council election I won, fantastic grade I made on a paper, her words were there in the background. It wasn’t until I was 22, almost 23, and living in another state that I thought I might *not* actually be ugly. Of course, it took a boy and a fancy dinner to turn the tide.

The Face in the Mirror

I must painfully admit that sometimes I look at the pictures I post think they don’t look like the me I see in the mirror. Some days, they look like someone who loves a good “beat” from a great makeup artist. Other days, I don’t know the person that shows up in the pictures at all. When I am at peace, I recognize myself and my smile. Clearly, those words are still with me today!

As we move through life, we must think about every word we say, #Firestarter. I am not sure I have always given proper credit to the power language holds over us, but I do think about my language now. Words can make or break someone. They give some the gift of confidence and send others into a downward spiral.

The author in high school

I Am More Than a Picture

Even though I knew the ladies meant well who had complimented me for taking good pictures, I was still offended because I felt like I was being reduced, summed up, by those words. I was more than just a picture. Didn’t they know that? I worked for them behind the scenes to make things happen when they didn’t know it. I took up for them when others said awful things about them, and I loved them unconditionally when they didn’t fully understand my ancestors’ struggle. I was more than a picture, wasn’t I? I recognize that their words struck a chord with me because I still have some unresolved feelings from fourth grade (I know I’m not alone in that – high school is brutal!) But still, it’s a good reminder that we need to be more thoughtful and intentional with our words. They do resonate, and ultimately, we choose whether they resonate positively or negatively.

Beautiful Thoughts for Beautiful People

Here’s how we can all get better at this:

  • Make statements that celebrate the core values of each other. This can only be done if we get to know each other beyond the superficial;
  • Show up as passengers on the journey together rather than just folks who might bump into each other at the security point;
  • Compliment each other on the things we have in common rather than on the things we see in others and wish we had

Confucious said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Will you join me in a movement to find beauty everywhere?

PS. Let’s continue the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. Check out my latest post and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thank you, #Firestarter! And be sure to come back next week, I’ll introduce you to a movement that is about self love!


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