Yesterday I followed the example of many others on social media and shared my high school graduation picture. As it was uploading I thought to myself “Do you really want to share this horrible photo?” I even wrote in my post that I’ve gotten better with age. In my mind, I was ugly. My skin was too white, my nose was too big, there was a gap in my front teeth. In my mind, I didn’t become even remotely (and I do mean remotely) attractive until a few years ago when I learned how to better apply my makeup and got a really great haircut and color. A few years ago was when I finally started to become comfortable in my own skin. I owe a lot of that to Toastmasters where I gradually overcame issues with self-confidence.
So back to my post… I was SHOCKED when people started writing things like “Gorgeous!” and “Beautiful.” At first I thought they were just being kind, but then it continued and I thought… “Maybe they are actually sincere! Are they blind? Do they not see what I see when I look at that picture? A wimpy, awkward, nerdy girl?” My parents had always told me I was beautiful, but you know how biased parents can be! I shared my thoughts with my husband, A.J. who had dated and then married that girl (I was only 20 when we met). His mouth dropped open. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “Do you not see what we see in that picture?” He, too, however, confessed that he had not remembered my being “so gorgeous” (his word, not mine). I stared at him and gave him one of my looks… you know… the one that says with my eyes “Are you freaking mad?”
I was truly baffled by the whole thing. I kept staring at my picture from 1979 wondering what I was missing. I thought about my photo from 2019 when I graduated with my Masters degree and remembered how much I actually felt pretty in that picture. For the first time in my life, I really felt pretty (at least for my age). I pulled that picture up on my computer screen and compared it to the one 40 years prior. Suddenly, I had a revelation! I was the same person in both photos… well, a little less worn for the wear in one versus the other… but truly the same person. I could see in my young photo the same eagerness to tackle the world and the same heart for God that I have now.
What’s really the difference between that 18 year old then and the 58 year old who finished grad school in December? Perhaps it’s that I’ve had 40 years to overcome the comments made by mean girls (and boys) in my school and sadly even in my church youth group, or maybe I’m finally self-confident enough that I no longer crave the approval of others. I spent years changing my clothing style and my hair color with no satisfaction and now I understand why (golly… it only took me 59 years to get there). Don’t get me wrong! I still want everyone to love me, but it’s more important that they “love me for me, not for what I have done or what I will become,” just as God loves me. (That’s a reference to a beautiful song by Christian artist, J.J. Heller.)
This whole thing makes me wonder if those mean girls (and boys) knew back then how much damage they were doing. Nevertheless, I don’t know that I would change a thing. Perhaps those meanspirited jabs are what has given me the empathy that I feel for so many other people who never seem to feel they are enough, and maybe my lack of self-confidence has kept me grounded enough that I was never tempted to feel like I was better than anyone else. Whatever the case, this simple process has changed my life for the better and given me a new sense of self that I didn’t have previously. I hope my sharing this helps some of you realize this may be your story as well! Take comfort in knowing that God created you to be you and that’s just perfect.