Every so often, Postsecret publishes a secret that could be mine, and this week is one of those times. I didn’t have the above mentioned dream, but when I read it, I found myself thinking I get it. I’m never told I’m beautiful, so… I get it.
I’ve written before that I rarely feel pretty. Feeling beautiful is almost a foreign thought.
I am occasionally told I “look nice” if I have dressed up and put on some makeup. My mother tells me I’m beautiful, but she’s my mother, so that doesn’t reach all that far.
I remember the first time I’d felt pretty in years. It was the day my baby cousin got married in 2013. I had a new dress that I loved, my makeup looked pretty good, and I was happy. It was still while I was at my heaviest, but I remember looking in the mirror and feeling pretty. I saw pictures and was amazed that I managed to look happy amidst the darkest months of my life. Even as I started losing weight and working on being happy, the pictures from that day reminded me of a turning point: I had the potential to be pretty.
Then, a few months ago, my father tried giving me a compliment, but in the process, I was devastated. I know that he was trying to encourage me by noticing the changes I’ve made, and the work I put into it. In doing so, he pulled up a picture to show me just how bad I used to be. It was a picture from that day, in that dress, smiling in that makeup. I know my dad loves me, and I know what he meant, but what it felt like was someone saying What you thought was beautiful is something to be ashamed of. I could barely respond to him. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but damn if that didn’t cut pretty deeply.
I don’t get told I’m pretty very often. Definitely don’t get told I’m beautiful.
But sometimes I like to feel like I might be.
Fat girl clothes are expensive. Pretty fat girl clothes cost a black market kidney.
For most of my adult life, I have been poor, required to wear a uniform of some kind, or both. Especially when I was in seminary and ministry, the opportunities to be frilly and feminine were scarce. When I tried to take advantage of them, I got grief about it from people who didn’t seem to realize that their little jokes and comments about “who I was trying to impress” made me feel foolish for bothering to wear a skirt. So I did what I could: I bought pretty underwear and bras.
Standing in front of my dresser, deciding what I wanted to wear under my uniform was the only time I got to wear something that fit my mood. Lace? Satin? Polka dots? Snowflakes? No one saw them but me, but I felt just a little bit better knowing that there was something pretty there.
That habit hasn’t changed now that I can wear pretty much whatever I want. Wearing boring, plain, cotton underwear makes my day feel less spectacular. I could be wearing the prettiest dress I own, and if my undies are lame, I feel it. I’m willing to spend more on what I like, on what is better quality fabric, cut, etc., because when I wear it, I have a little more confidence. A little more oomph.
When I wear it, I feel like even if I’m not pretty, at least something I’m wearing is. So give me Calvin Kleins, bikinis with lace so delicate you hesitate to touch it, cottons so fine that they feel like magic.
Today, I read that the average person has just twenty-one pairs of underwear. I found this astounding because I own sixty if I own one. I commented to a group of people that I was shocked by this, and the conversation got ugly. I was mocked and laughed at for having so many pairs, and for spending money on something they see as unnecessary. I explained that pretty underwear changes my attitude a little and makes me feel pretty, but what they heard was that I thought they can’t be pretty in regular old Hanes (I didn’t mention them at all). I was told that the things that make them happy are more meaningful: a husband who helps out, kids who do what you want them to do, etc (I don’t have a husband or kids, so those aren’t even options). I tried explaining again, but that didn’t help. I was told it was petty and pointless, and that I needed to get over it. I don’t care what anyone else wears, but it stung to be mocked and told that what makes my day a little brighter is ridiculous. I was defensive and hurt as I cried most of the way home.
It’s so damned hard to feel pretty when you don’t fit the common description of pretty, and as much as I try to be above it, I want to be pretty. And not just wear pretty underwear, or a pretty dress, or manage to braid my hair in a way that impresses people… I want to be beautiful. I want to hear from someone other than my bff tell me that I’m gorgeous, but that has never happened, in 34 years. I want to turn a head for once – in a good way. I’m slowly starting to have more moments when I feel almost pretty. I’m getting there.
And Christ Almighty, if it takes a bit of overpriced lace from Macy’s to help get me there, I’ll go with it. Because chances are, my own voice looking at that scrap of lace is the only voice I’ll hear all day that associates me and beautiful in even the most indirect way.