When we were dating, my husband told me that he loved seeing me in jeans. On one of our dates, I squeezed into a pair of uncomfortable denims, slipped on a silky top, and a pulled on some high-heeled booties. Halfway through our date, he realized how uncomfortable I was. My shoes were too tight, I felt confined in my jeans, my silk top was showing my sweaty armpits, and I had just rubbed my eyes—smearing my makeup. At the end of the night, he let me know how upset he was with me. He found me most attractive when I was comfortable. When I was comfortable, I was confident. And when a woman is confident, she looks stunning. His confession shocked me because it had gone against everything I learned as a young girl—that the beauty standards society sets are meant to be followed.
When I think back to my childhood and the women who influenced and encouraged me, I remember where they spent most of their time. I picture my aunt hustling through stores, with her high-waist mom jeans, leather jacket, and a purse that could have been confused for a suitcase. I imagine my Nana settled and comfortable on a ‘70s style white and yellow chair. A cigarette would be nestled between her fingers, a folded crossword puzzle held in the opposite hand, and a giant ashtray just inches away. But when I think of my mother or grandmother, I can’t help but picture them in front of a mirror.
While my mother rarely let me watch her put makeup on, she usually let me watch her find the perfect outfit. She had this oval-shaped, rotating floor mirror which she always stood in front of—turning to make sure the clothing looked good from every angle. During her outfit check, she usually let out a big sigh, obviously not pleased with specific parts of her body. I thought—and still think—that my mother was beautiful. What she saw as imperfections, I didn’t even notice. I thought she was crazy when she mentioned any physical flaws. But no matter how much I told her, my words really didn’t change her mind.
My grandmother, on the other hand, always let me watch her put makeup on. She never left the house without at least some eyeshadow and bright red lipstick. Like the people-pleasing child I was, I always told her she looked pretty without anything on her face, which often resulted in a scoff or a side-eyed stare. As I got older, she encouraged me to wear makeup—because I knew she felt insecure without it, I misinterpreted her suggestion for judgement about my style choices.
Towards the end of 8th grade, I started to struggle with the way I looked. When my Nana told me that I was a “big girl”, I didn’t think she was talking about my height proportionate to my weight or how I could enter a roller derby competition. I heard, “Samantha, you’re really fat and need to lose weight.”
When my mother pointed out her flaws, I started thinking about my own flaws. I was too tall, my breasts were too big, my hair was too poufy, my toes . . . well they were just hideous. And no matter how hard I tried, my smile was always big and goofy. When my grandmother told me I looked so much better with makeup on, I heard, “You’re ugly without it.”
When I complimented my aunt on her legs or flat stomach, she replied by pointing out the veins on her legs or the barely visible stretch marks. I started to wonder how many people noticed my veins, acne, and stretch marks. The people around me unintentionally affected the way I look at my own body because I just copied what they did. Despite the fact that they wanted me to be strong and confident in my own skin because that’s something they couldn’t seem to achieve.
I’m sure the women in my life had no intention of making me insecure. My mother actually refused to let me wear any makeup until I was at least 16, and I had to give her a good reason. At the time the honest answer was, “Because all my friends do”.
But it was never really about makeup. It’s about abusing, twisting, and stomping on God’s idea of perfection. He created us in His image and He calls us wonderfully made—that includes the way we look on the outside. Yet those words become meaningless to us when we start to redefine beauty by some other standard.
It has taken me a while to be confident in my own skin. I’ve embraced my poufy hair, goofy smile, weight, and height. I pray about that appearance struggle, and for my attitude to reflect God’s opinion, because I have two sisters who look up to me and one day I might be blessed with a daughter of my own. I hope she will find confidence in the fact that God created her—even if she has my ugly toes and my husband’s big head. And I can’t help but fear the struggle she’ll go through. The struggle of defining herself by someone else’s standards. I hope that my attitude will serve as an example. That by finding beauty in my own identity, she’ll know to look for hers in the only mirror that provides a true reflection.
Samantha is a freelance writer, image-bearer, and Jesus-seeker. She is passionate about God’s word, human trafficking and domestic abuse awareness, crocheting, Gilmore Girls, lemon and ginger tea, and reading. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband. You can follow her on Instagram or check out her blog.
Photo by Kayla Harris. See more of her work here.