For as long as I can remember, I have been searching for something. Since I was born, since my initiation into this life in pink and joy, it has been a hole in my chest. High and low I have sought it, day and night it has captured my thoughts.
I expect that you have known this for a long time, but you waited. You watched as I searched, you admired from just the right amount of distance. You may even have begged to tell me the answer, to hand me the truth, but even if it killed you, you bided your time.
When I was eleven years old, the boys in my class I called my friends told me I should wear my hair down more, burned straight to hide the frizzy curls. Maybe I should wear a dress once and a while, curl some mascara over my eyelashes and actually try. I wanted them to like the way I looked—I never told anyone how much I craved their attention.
In high school, it grew worse. Do they see me? I asked myself again and again. Some days I felt invisible, not good enough, and bland. Some days I pulled on the basketball shorts and hoped no one would notice. Oh, I craved those words like they were treasure.
Until someone told me I was beautiful, I didn’t matter. Not yet.
Fourteen, and never been liked by a boy. I confessed at a sleepover in a hot tub full of my closest friends and hoped they would feel sorry for me. I wanted them to tell me there wasn’t something wrong—that I wasn’t the only one searching for this thing I thought could fill my soul.
It was this impossible standard I had created, the girls around me had created. Put on the mask, wear the prom dress, wait for their eyes, for their affections. The school will talk, you will have a reputation. People will want you. They will want to be your friend, they will want to be with you, because you are beautiful.
Why? What is it to be pretty, even? I didn’t know then, even despite how much you wanted to tell me. I didn’t know the standard I was chasing.
Three semesters deep in college, and my older sister was getting married. She had everything I wanted—a story-book love story, a man who loved her, grace and elegance, strength. But what she had most of all? Beauty. She was drowning in it: soft skin, a kind smile, her life on track, so ready for the rest of her life to begin.
Standing next to her reminded me of how far I still had to go. All my college roommates seem to have it too, with the pristine pictures in tight clothes, the Saturday night dates, the success on the basketball floor.
On the big day, I slid on that pink strapless gown. My hair got pinned up and my eyes got lined in black. When I looked in the mirror, my hair covered the scars on my back from acne and I looked slender enough. And I was thinking I might just be able to get through the day standing next to the prettiest bride.
I walked into the hall to line up for the ceremony, and you were there. You looked dapper in a grey tux, your tie matching the shade of my dress, your steel grey eyes soft and inviting. You walked up to me for a moment—
Baby, you look beautiful.
I think back now to when I was seven, and you took me to that dance, and I was a princess for the night. I remember the dress with the puffed up sleeves, and how you had to hold me in your arms for our song because you were too tall for me. We swayed to some cheesy 90’s pop song, but it didn’t matter.
Because just like that elementary dance, and just like Anna’s wedding day, I believed for the first time that I was beautiful. That to you, I was more special than all the world.
How many of my friends had told me of their father’s critical eyes? They had been told to lose weight, to not eat so much, to go running more. How many of my friends were searching for what I was, but never had their dad around to tell them the truth you have always told me?
I want to tell them, Dad. I want to tell them the little secret that you have told me, the women and the men in my life.
I want them to know that the moment that they were born, they were branded precious. They had been sown together with ten toes and chubby faces, little ringlets of hair. To be alive is a miracle, to be crafted with the gifts and talents we all are means that we all have value.
I want them to know they don’t have to be the best dressed, or the prom queen, or fight for the eyes or the high regard of others. If they hold to that value they were given from the moment they breathed in life, they will have the eyes of all of the people that really matter—the people and the God that love them unconditionally.
I want them to know they don’t have to give themselves away for beauty, for strength. I have tried. You have watched me through my struggle, as I pandered after the covers of magazines and the lives of everyone I compared myself to. So many days, I still find myself searching. I’m tempted to give in.
But the secret is this: beauty cannot be found in an instant. Beauty cannot be googled, captured in a picture, sold on the internet. Beauty cannot be defined by a cookie cutter or an impossible standard.
You have called me beautiful, despite my awkward adolescence, despite my ugly tantrums, despite my cravings for attention. You have seen me grow, and fall, and get back up again. And that is where you found it—in the margins of my life.[clickToTweet tweet=”Never let me forget that I am defined by a personality, not a face.” quote=”Never let me forget that I am defined by a personality, not a face.”]
Never let me forget it. Never let me forget that I am defined by a personality, not a face. Never let me forget that I am more capable than I can imagine. Never let me forget that I am responsible, designed, to share beauty—the beauty that was there all along—with every corner of this world that I touch.
I love you, Dad.