Sometimes I think we get too specific about beauty. We think we know exactly what it’s made of.
I can look at my face in the mirror and describe to you at great length exactly what would have to change in order for me to be gorgeous. I am mathematical in my precision. The same with my body. A couple inches added to the length of my calves, a tightening of the skin on my back, a slight adjustment to the shape of my breasts. I am surgical in my attention.
And then I remember that once, I didn’t think of beauty as a string of measurements and numbers and proportions. I didn’t have to think of it, really, because it was obvious that I was it. So, the day before my 26th birthday, I want to pause and remind myself of another side of beauty.
Here are some reasons why I was a gorgeous little girl:
I was smart. I could figure things out.
I had brown hair. Which I thought was the best color.
I had beautiful things. Like an old wedding dress that a tiny great aunt had once worn and a veil that an aunt had worn. I rocked that outfit. I was a princess in it, and not necessarily a bride. I had dresses covered in flowers. I had shirts with trains. I had a dinosaur costume.
I looked different from my friends. Which was important, because I could distinguish my beauty.
I had a bump on my nose. Which was striking. I thought that queens had bumps on their noses.
I did not look like people on TV/in movies. Which I thought meant I was prettier.
I was talented.
I was a fast runner. My new Reebok sneakers were puffy and bouncy and perfect. I felt, briefly, like I was flying. And then I ran out of breath.
My parents told me I was beautiful. Once we were at a Passover seder at my Grandma and Pop-Pop’s and my dad said to his brother, “Isn’t she beautiful?” and he looked at me and got a little teary. My mom was always telling me I was beautiful. She always said I looked good in everything I put on.
I was great at drawing, and I could draw myself—with lots of brown hair and green eyes.
I had green eyes. I made a chart of eye colors and the different magic powers they should come with. Blue: healing, violet: good with animals, black: the most powerful, brown: earth magic, gold: incredible strength, gray: the power to vanish and reappear, green: nature magic, brown/green: forest magic. That was mine. Forest magic. Even though I’d made it up, I wasn’t sure what it meant. But it was my favorite. Then I tried to figure out what would be the most powerful combination of eyes- like, if I married someone with blue eyes, what kind of magic would we be able to do? I decided to marry someone with green eyes, like mine. For more forest magic. (And actually, that’s exactly what I one day did.)
I was adventurous. Beauty felt tied to adventure in my mind. Beauty was all about being interesting and strong-minded and good at following streams and bushwhacking paths through fields. I followed the stream all the way through the forest and out the other side, where it ran into a road. I was disappointed, but at least I knew where it went.
Boys thought I was pretty. I knew, because the boy next door told me I looked pretty in my blue bathing suit. And then he asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said, “No way, I already have a boyfriend,” even though I was ten and I definitely didn’t. I was proud of myself for lying because it felt bold and I knew I wasn’t ready to have a boyfriend. But I was also sure that when I was ready, boys would line up. I mean, why not?
I liked myself.
I was likable.
I was me.
(one of my favorite pictures ever taken of me)
You know, I’ve still got a bit of adventure in me. Sometimes I feel like walking out the door and exploring the whole city. Sometimes I get the sense that I’ve only just begun, and who knows where I’ll end up. Maybe Texas. Maybe in the mountains. Maybe in a tiny sandwich shop, making grilled cheeses. Maybe right here, with my laptop, writing whole worlds into existence. If that’s not an adventure, I’ll eat my hat.
I just wanted to say that, because it’s a great image.
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What made you beautiful as a kid?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in boxers and a t-shirt.
P.S. If anyone is wondering what to get me for my birthday (and I know you’re all wondering that), I’d love a picture of you eating cake, for my collection!
This post is also up on HuffPost, with slight variations.