She takes longer than usual; 45 minutes later Cheyenne is out of the shower as steam escapes through the open door. I watch her standing in front of the mirror, looking as if she never saw herself before and then she notices me. She asks me quietly if I would straighten her mound of golden brown hair.
“Sure,” I say as I begin the tedious process of detangling and blow-drying her Shirley Temple curls. She’s looking at herself in the mirror, but something is different. I don’t like the way she is looking at herself.
She doesn’t say it, so I say it for her, “You don’t think you’re good enough, do you?”
Her big brown eyes begin to mist, the pressure of being in eighth grade and trying to fit into the world is just too much. As I straighten her hair, my thoughts sift out my own memories of not fitting in.
After being tormented for messy clothes, wavy hair and yellowed teeth, I came home in tears. On the table was the mail with women’s magazine. On the cover was a beautiful woman, surrounded by messages of how to look younger, be better, do more and have the confidence to do it.
Between the bullying and the magazine, I realized it wasn’t acceptable to be me, it was better to hide behind the picture of poise; so that day I became someone else.
For several years I had painstakingly worn the look of perfection: the latest make up trend, the most alluring outfits, going into debt to gain an education and then climbing the ladder of career success despite already being a young mom. From the outside, life was perfect, normal, I looked like I had it all.
On the outside, I could fit onto any magazine cover, but on the inside, I felt like I was playing pretend until one hot August day, everything shattered.
“Heather, your daughter is on the Autism Spectrum, she has Asperger’s Syndrome. You will need to enroll her in therapy and find other resources in order for her to have the best possible chance at a normal life.”
Two days later, “Your son isn’t testing out as normal, we’ve confirmed he has severe ADHD with OCD tendencies.”
One month later, “Heather, we cannot find a heartbeat. The baby is gone.”
Three months later, “Heather, we feel you need to take a break from steering and we’d like to ask you to step down for 40 days.”
Shaken to the core, I didn’t know who I was or how to make sense of this new imperfect life. And it wasn’t until my life was a mess of imperfect pieces that I could see the masterpiece for what it was inside and out.
Beauty isn’t about perfection, being normal or fitting in.
Beauty isn’t about makeup or being skinny or confidence.
Beauty isn’t about having it all together.
Beauty is standing out.
It’s embracing every jagged edge and calling it your own. Beauty is the willingness to embrace what is seen in the mirror for its uniqueness. Beauty isn’t defined in the pages of a magazine, nor is it defined by the roles a woman should or could do. Beauty is defined by the braveness in your soul to be authentically you. Beauty is the strength to be authentic in your own skin, and this is what I wanted my daughter to see. As we stood in front of the mirror, I told her,
“God created you for something special. I don’t know what it is yet, Chy, but you have gifts, abilities and talent for the purpose God planned for you. Everything from your hair to your heart has been made absolutely perfect. Forget what those girls are telling you at school or what you see on TV. Beauty is respecting yourself enough to know just how valuable your life is. Your clothes will fade and your skin will crinkle with age, but beauty comes from the strength to be you and to accept exactly who you are meant to be.”
As we stand there in the silence, the song Mean by Taylor Swift plays over the radio and we get silly. Grabbing our hairbrushes, singing along together, “You, with your words like knives, swords and weapons that you use against me. You—You’ve knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like a nothing. … Someday, I’ll be living in a big ol’ city and all you’re ever gonna be is mean. …”
As we dance around our bathroom, somewhere in the middle of it, I get what she’s going through; someday, and soon I hope, she will be strengthened enough in her own feminine mystique of knowing who she is and not what everyone makes her out to be.
After hugging her skinny, five-foot-eight-inch frame, I send her off to bed, feeling like I have no clue what I’m doing in this stage of motherhood but being real with her has somehow helped.
This moment has become an essential part of my life. When I hear the message I am not enough, I remember real beauty is in authenticity and I pray that this becomes the legacy I leave not only my oldest daughter but my little one as well.
I pray God reveals to her the strength and beauty she holds all on her own.
For more of Heather’s great perspective on motherhood, check out Heather’s book Mama Needs A Time-Out: Daily Getaways for the Mom’s Soul.