A couple days ago, I was in the car with Number 3 and he asked me, “Mom, did you used to be pretty?”
Used to be?
I looked at him in the rear view mirror.
“Yeah, I think I used to be pretty,” I told him.
I get it. I’m in my late forties. I’m no spring chicken.
I have the faint beginnings of age spots on my hands. I’ve got crow’s feet and laugh lines and the skin on my neck is showing signs of crepiness..
I’ve got cellulite and a muffin top, I could lose about twenty pounds, and I’ve got those cleavage wrinkles that I remember my second grade teacher having when I was in elementary school.
The package I’m in isn’t wrapped as tightly as it was twenty years ago.
But twenty years ago, I felt my only worth was the wrapping of the package.
I was a size 2 and I had a killer wardrobe and my bra always matched my thong.
Yeah. I used to wear a thong — back in the day. Nowadays the kids are so far up my ass there’s no way I’m sticking a piece of string up there, too.
Back then I had no confidence. I knew I looked pretty good on the outside.
But that’s where feeling good about myself ended. I had zero self-esteem.
And that doesn’t make you feel very attractive.
I thought I knew everything. But I really didn’t know much at all.
I looked for validation in other people. I measured my self worth in conquests.
I didn’t have a wrinkle or really an extra ounce of fat on me, but I lived in a cloud of depression, denial, and literal smoke.
I was unhealthy and unhappy and unfulfilled.
I may have looked pretty on the outside, but I felt pretty ugly on the inside.
The thong days are long gone now.
But so is that lack of confidence.
I know I’m a little bit weathered. I think I look as old as I actually am now.
And yeah, sometimes I look in the mirror and pull my cheeks back a little bit. I pull up my eyelids and wonder if I should have a little procedure to get rid of some of that skin that didn’t used to be there.
But I don’t obsess over it.
Because my definition of pretty has changed over the past twenty years.
I am so much wiser than I was back in the thong days.
I’m less judgmental. I don’t sweat the small things like I used to. I can go with the flow. Roll with the punches.
When shit goes down, I can (usually) find the humor in it. I don’t look to other people to bring me happiness anymore.
I’m smart enough to ask for help when I need it, but strong enough to know I can handle whatever is thrown at me. And not just strong enough mentally.
I’m strong enough physically. I may be twenty-five years out of competitive, Division 1 swimming, but five days ago, at forty-six years old, I ran the Boston marathon faster than the average woman runs a marathon. And after I was done, I carried my thirty-five pound, four-year-old daughter about half a mile through the streets of Boston to get to the T because she was freezing and exhausted and she didn’t want anyone else to carry her.
There is no way in hell I could have done that as a twenty-one-year-old.
I recently had a conversation with someone I’ve known all my life who was looking for a little guidance. Toward the end of the conversation she said to me,
I remember one night when you got really sad …i think someone was leaving, or something? And it was really hard for you to express your feelings.
And you’re like… you remind me of one of those awesome desert plants that take like 25 years to bloom. Like it’s a long hard life in the desert.
And then it’s all just gorgeous!
I mean, life seems to be an uphill climb more than it’s a downhill coast or even a flat, steady ride. I think that’s just the way it goes.
Twenty-five years ago, the ups and downs weren’t really any worse. Or different. But back then I was incapable of even simply identifying my feelings.
I am such an improved and upgraded and model of the person I was twenty-five years ago that even with the worn packaging, I can’t help but feel beautiful. And sexy. And gorgeous!
Because I know I can do anything. And I know my insides are more beautiful than my outsides. (But my outsides still ain’t that bad).
And so after I told Number 3 that I thought I used to be pretty, I added,
“And I still think I’m pretty!”
“REALLY?” he said. “You do?”
“Yep!” I said to him.
He was at a loss. I understand. I didn’t get it back then either.
But I do now.
And while I wish I had figured things out a decade or two earlier, like they say, it’s not about the destination.
It’s what you learn along the way.
And while I’ll always have more to learn, I feel like I’ve finally arrived.