“You’re so pretty”, Sally had said.
I can recall the day like it was yesterday. It was our very first day of moving into the university’s halls of residence. We were both 17. And it was a warm summer’s afternoon in February 1992.
This was the first time I ever met Sally. And that was the first thing she ever said to me.
I blinked at her, stunned. Eventually, I spluttered a thank you, with my gaze held downwards, my cheeks hot.
I remember feeling confused. I had believed myself to be ugly, well, ever since I moved to Australia. You see, in year 9, aged 14, not even a full year after migrating to Melbourne, I was told as such in the girls’ bathroom while washing my hands.
“Gosh, you’re ugly,” a classmate had pronounced out of the blue, as if it were fact. Her name was Deirdre.
I recall my words getting caught in my throat. My body shrinking, as my spine slouched. I had simply wanted to disappear.
Taking Deirdre’s words as gospel, I had believed myself to be grotesque. So when three years later Sally remarked on my beauty, I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know whether I should believe her. But a small part of me thought, what if she’s right? And a bold part of me candidly thought, “Can’t people decide whether I was pretty or ugly?”
How naïve was I. As if it were someone else’s call to decide. As if someone else gets to decide.
As a society, we’ve placed external beauty on a pedestal. It’s obvious in every type of media. It can be the reason for getting snubbed or being revered. It can be the reason for getting the job, or applying for the next one because you didn’t.
And if someone hasn’t been cruel to us as bluntly as Deirdre was to me, we are cruel to ourselves. With our self-talk. With our seeking validation outside ourselves.
For example, while “Does my bum look big in this?” is the butt of many good-humoured conversations, it still gets posed on a serious note.
Heck, even I sometimes ask my husband before we head out somewhere, “How do I look?”
You know how he answers? Like this: “If you’re happy with how you look and feel, then why does it matter what someone else thinks?”
Smart man. Because what he is saying is that you don’t need my – or anyone else’s – endorsement to feel beautiful.
The thing is, people will always judge our exterior. And if we absorb someone else’s opinions about ourselves as the truth, we give away our power to be who we are.
Skin-deep beauty is fickle. So, you might as well hold on to your power, and love your own unique exquisiteness.
How? By telling yourself that you’re beautiful. With your self-talk, with your behaviour, with how you treat yourself.
No one else gets to decide. Not even Sally.