You’d think it would be nice to be homecoming queen. But high school is a breeding ground for a lifetime of body image issues. Anorexia. Boulemia. Obesity. Bullying. Dating problems. Sex. Cutting. What happens in those tender years of a young woman’s life affects her core identity for good or bad. When I set out to write this post about an experience that formulated my body image, what came to mind immediately was a moment I had wanted my whole life.
On Being Noticed
You would think being homecoming queen would build up a girl’s self-esteem. It might make her feel important and noticed.
You would think the chance to dress up in a white floor-length dress with high heels, wear a tiara in front of the entire school would make a lasting impression on her youth.
You would think the applause and attention would do something for her self-confidence.
Almost twenty years ago I got the coveted experience. It was the ultimate moment of being seen as beautiful. The moment I could own it.
What made it so powerful was that I was a girl who longed to be beautiful. In elementary school, my idols were Whitney Houston, Miss America, and Olympic ice skater Katarina Witt. But I was pudgy, wore plastic eyeglasses, and never took one dance class. Homecoming queen was never on my radar.
Yet, at 17, I found myself standing in the middle of a basketball gymnasium filled with cheering students. The floor length dress, the heels, the makeup artfully covering my acne, bangs swept to the side just so. It felt like a dream.
You’d think it would be a moment of positive affirmation. Celebration. Even empowerment.
Who doesn’t want to be liked and wanted? Voted best in class? But it wasn’t. I was just an everyday girl who wanted to be loved for herself. Not for accolades, praise, and temporary platform.
That moment gave me a false sense of superiority, flattery from fake friends, and flirtation lessons with the opposite sex. I started to believe I was worth more when I was all made up than who I was at home in my T-shirt and Umbro shorts.
After homecoming, I was never quite beautiful enough or good enough. Every pretty girl became a threat. Every cute boy turned into an object to attract. The soaring sense of security took me straight to the top and then all the way back to the bottom of self-doubt.
The best way to hijack the good in a girl’s body image is to put her on a platform and tell her she’s pretty, over and over.Tweet This
You see, I was at a crucial age in which I needed to be affirmed for who I was, not for what I did or what I looked like.
When I met my first and only boyfriend a few months later, he told me I was beautiful, and he meant it. I couldn’t even say, “Thank you.” I had heard, “You’re pretty,” so many times, the words rang hollow in my ear, and I was beginning to believe I was ugly.
Love Me For Me
This post has proved more difficult to write than I want to admit. It stirred up regrets and longings that still cry out in my 37-year old heart. Questions about accepting the grace of aging and will I see my own dear daughter’s growing beauty as a threat?
But then the other night, my sweet girl said, “Mom, you know you don’t have to be anything other than you, right?” She has enough sense to hear the heart’s cry pulsing through all our veins.
The world’s praise will leave us wanting for more. Always. Tweet This
I have a soft spot in my heart for homecoming queens because I know they have body image issues, just like the rest of us. The nice part is, we don’t have to hope for glory in vain. We can take off our tiaras and high heels and wear our old T-shirts together. We’ll remind each other the ground we walk upon is eternally leveled in love.
What experiences have altered your body image for bad and good? What voices guide you to a healthier body image?
This post is part of the Beauty Rewrites series, a 3-month body image series for women to help us get on good terms with our bodies. Join us every Tuesday through July with posts from blogger Ludavia Harvey at NiftyBetty.com, fiction author Emily Conrad, and me. We hope this series inspires us all to stop pursuing perfection and learn to embrace what’s true and sacredly beautiful about ourselves. Forget Ideal. Embrace the real.