Mirror, Mirror: What Does It Take For You To Believe You’re Beautiful?

We were laying on the couch in the darkness, the new Sofia Coppola movie flickering on the TV screen. Even in my lightest pajamas with the AC blaring, my skin soaked with sweat. I’d just taken a cool-off shower, which washed off all my carefully applied makeup from dinner. My wet hair hung around my face, drying as much as frizzing in the humidity. 

But still, when he stroked my leg, looked me straight in the eye, and told me, “You’re so pretty,” I believed him. 

I’ve tried in my life to be someone who doesn’t need to much external validation, particularly about my appearance. I’ve always known that what is really important is what I think about myself, not what other people think about me. If I could depend on myself to feel good about myself, I wouldn’t need to seek that from other people. In a way, I trained myself to be “above” compliments about my appearance.

But being “above” compliments also meant I had a general indifference to other people’s opinions — both good or bad. I may not be dependent on a boyfriend, or my mother, or someone else, to make me feel good about how I look, but I couldn’t take a compliment, either. If I took a compliment, wouldn’t that mean that being told I was beautiful — that being beautiful — was important? If being told I was beautiful (and being beautiful) was important, wouldn’t being told that I was not beautiful be especially cutting?

The thing is, I came to a point where I wanted to be able take a compliment, and I didn’t want to feel “above” them. After all, it seemed like being told you’re pretty or beautiful made other women feel good in a way that’s different than inherently feeling good about yourself — and I wanted to feel good from that. There was something about purposefully denying myself from feeling good about feeling beautiful — abstaining, for lack of a better word — that seemed almost religiously ascetic. I stopped feeling like fear of developing a dependence was a good reason to deny myself.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why this guy made me feel like I was no longer “above” compliments. Is it because I finally wanted to hear one? Because something changed in my mind and I truly believe I am beautiful? Because he seemed more genuine than anyone else? Maybe it was the way he was looking at me. Maybe it was the way he made me feel comfortable enough to just lay around in pajamas in no makeup.

But he did make me feel beautiful. And it actually made me feel good.

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