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I've worn glasses since I was eighteen months old. My first pair had cat-eye frames, and everyone thought I looked so cute in them. "Oh, look at that little baby with glasses. Isn't she the sweetest thing?" Then I began to grow, and for about a year I had to wear a patch over my right eye to make the left one stronger. I guess it was a decent idea, but it didn't work. It caused my weaker eye to become the dominant one. As an adult I could only look through a camera lens or telescope with my left eye, the one that saw 20/4000 uncorrected. And don't you know I was a stunner in the Captain Hook patch with cat-eye glasses on top?
In elementary school, kids tagged me, of course, "four eyes." I was special-one of maybe
three "four eyes" in the entire school. Me and my wire-rim, stop-sign-shaped glasses. How cool can a girl be with traffic signs in front of her eyes? Not very. And a few years later, for the full effect, my frames got bigger, and we added three and a half years of braces. Railroad tracks. Tinsel teeth. That was me . . . thick bottle caps before my eyes, tin on my teeth,and-to make things as awful as possible-I was smart.Girls don't want to be smart in junior high. They just want tobe pretty.
By the time junior high rolled around, I knew for sure that beauty had eluded me. Now my best friend, Carla, was beautiful. Some senior guys even asked her to the prom when we were in the eighth grade. The eighth grade! Can you imagine that? Carla was at the high school prom, and I was probably at home writing a paper. Yep, there were many beautiful girls at my school, but I was not among them. I could do algebra and remember the answers for history tests. I actually did all of my homework and turned it in on time. I used to make up practice tests, take the tests, and then grade them - all to prepare for the actual thing. What a dweeb!
All I really wanted was to look like everyone else, but my circumstances wouldn't cooperate. Long, thick, straight hair that I styled with two barrettes every day of my young life. Braces that seemed destined to be a permanent part of my smile. And the doom of "four eyes" forever. Don't get the wrong impression; no one ever called me ugly, and no one ever laughed in my face. It's just that no one ever noticed.
The Plain One
I have fumbled along with this beauty thing ever since those elementary days. I eventually realized that if I couldn't appeal to their visual senses, I could make people laugh and be fun enough to appeal to their hearts. I became a cheerleader and an all-around great friend. Steady. That's what most people called me. You could count on me to show up on time, make good decisions, and always, always, always try to do the right thing. I was the one who would stand with you no matter what, the one you could snub one day and hug the next without so much as an apology. There were no boyfriends to distract me from my friends or academics, and, besides, who doesn't need a friend as faithful as a golden retriever? As long as they'd pat me on the head every once in a while, I'd run and fetch and do just about anything to please.
Every Sunday on the way to church, my daddy would say that he had the prettiest daughter in the whole wide world. I know; it was sweet. But that's what dads are supposed to say, right? I heard him and have held on to his words even to this day, but deep down, back then, I didn't believe him. If I were really pretty, I reasoned, then someone besides my father would notice. But no one ever did.
When compliments were handed out, I was an afterthought. "Wow, Carla, you look amazing in that outfit! . . . Angela, you look nice too." I felt like saying, "Please, don't bother. You're only highlighting the obvious." I remember the high school quarterback calling my name, saying he wanted to talk to me, and then asking if I thought my friend would go out with him. Sound familiar? Happened more times than I can count. It makes me smile now, but I can also still feel the emptiness in my stomach as I reminisce.
It was simply a predetermined fact that I could not control: I was not beautiful. Unless you asked my grandmother, who'd tell you, "Pretty is as pretty does." Of course, that's Southern for, "Well, you are kind of homely, but try not to think about it." God bless my grandmother for always keeping my feet firmly anchored on the ground.
I realize that I have painted a fairly depressing picture here. Homely, brainy nerd compensates by going out for the cheerleading squad, Velcro-ing herself to some friends, and trying always to do the right thing-but still gets lost in the crowd. Depressing, but accurate. Almost.
You see, the summer before my senior year in high school, I discovered contact lenses, got my braces off, and tried a cool, new haircut -all within a week or so. My best friend sat beside me at a baseball game and literally didn't recognize me. I'd wave to friends at the mall, and they wouldn't wave back. Completely changed on the outside. Maybe even pretty if you tilted your head and squinted. But the die had already been cast on the inside. I knew that I would never be beautiful.
Groovin' From the Edge
I know you know the story of Cinderella. The evil stepsisters and their mother are at the ball along with all the other available bachelorettes in the kingdom. Prince Charming is becoming discouraged because he has met every bride wanna-be but no one has captured his heart. Thankfully, there is a fairy godmother, and after a little bibbity-bobbity-boo, Cinderella finally arrives. She is breathtaking, and the entire room is captivated by her beauty. Prince Charming is eternally smitten. There is a night of dancing, a quick good-bye, a shoe that fits, and a happily ever after.
Now tell me, when you think of yourself in this story, which character do you allow yourself to become? Where are you standing at the ball? I would love it if you thought of yourself as Cinderella. I have tried on those slippers but have never been able to bring myself to believe that I should be dancing in her shoes. I have never thought of myself as a stepsister or the evil stepmother either. Somehow, I have always seen myself as one of the faceless in the crowd. One of the girls from the kingdom who gave it her best shot, spent days preparing for the ball, splurged on the dress and the hair, and anxiously arrived with butterflies in her stomach, only to stand around with the other hopefuls, make small talk, smile politely, groove to the music, and remain unnoticed.
I have a friend who said to me, "Angela, I think that's a bunch of bull. I can't believe you really feel like that." Actually, it would be bull to tell you differently. Oh, I want to be Cinderella. I want to be the most beautiful woman at the ball, but I've never been bold enough to think of myself as her. Maybe it's those memories of junior high. Maybe I've been conditioned by my environment. Maybe I'm just a coward. Whichever it is, when you grow up longing to be beautiful but knowing that you are not, it feels like there could never be a glass slipper that would fit.
Most of us took different paths but arrived at the same conclusion: Cinderella is always someone else. There is a little girl inside me who secretly aches for a fairy godmother to magically bumble her way into my life, wave her wand, and make me into the princess I have always longed to be. Make me beautiful. Make me captivating. Make someone notice.
But life is not a fairy tale. Magic wands are only for pretending. Cinderella shoes are mass-produced by the millions for the tiny feet of little girls who still believe Prince Charming will ask then to dance. But sensible girls wear sensible shoes, put their ball gowns in storage, and teach themselves to believe that being asked to dance isn't all that important anyway.
I have spent way too much time standing around the edge of my life trying to convince myself that I do not want to be Cinderella, pretending that I really didn't come to dance. I have concocted a few lies to make life hurt less and then forced myself to live them. Besides, glass slippers probably pinch your toes.
When No One Notices
I don't think this is just my story. I truly believe that the longing to be known as beautiful is part of our design as girls. God put us together this way on purpose. We are wired to long for beauty, yet the world does a wonderful job of squelching this desire. I realized over time that I could not have anything in life that required me to be beautiful. I understood almost instinctively that I should keep my head down, study hard, try to do the right thing, and maybe life would turn out okay in the end.
The journey, of course, can play out in many ways. Your experience may be quite different from mine. My friends who have been beautiful on the outside all of their lives have struggles that are foreign to me. Because they have been noticed for their physical beauty, they fear that no one will ever see their heart or their true self. Or they fear that they will be accepted only because of their beauty and will be rejected if anyone ever looks below the surface. I have a beautiful friend who has anxiety attacks in church because she is afraid that everyone is looking at her. Although it is painfully real for her, it is no exaggeration to say I cannot imagine her struggle. You see, I have always assumed that no one is looking.
And so, when no one notices, a lot of us wander through life blending in, always trying to figure out the balance of being just right, like boiled eggs - bland and easy to swallow. Other girls act out, doing anything to get someone to notice. But either way, after lost hope, the ache of disappointment, and the repetitive pain of rejection, the longing to be beautiful is buried and the insecurities grow. The desire to be known as beautiful is eventually stuffed away into an untouchable place in our hearts.
We cannot deny that the desire is there - whether you are like my friends or like me. It has been there for every girl I've ever known. Deep down, we long for romance. We long to be rescued. We long for a hero to steal us away. We long to be beautiful.
Do you hear me saying that I long to be weak and brainless? Then you have not heard me. I want to be incredibly intelligent, creative, and significant. It's just that when I let myself search for the truth of my heart, it's always in the voice of a little girl who wants to grow up and be beautiful one day too. It fells a little goofy to be wrestling with these truths. But better now than never at all.
Maybe no one has ever really noticed you either. And you've learned to pretend that it's okay. It's not okay! You were made to be seen and known and loved deeply. And it's okay to want what you were made for.
No More Pretending
We all pretend for a while or for a lifetime. But pretending is not living. It's like wearing a designer snow parka and sitting in the lodge but never really skiing down the mountain. When we pretend, we are alive and present, maybe sipping hot chocolate by the fire, but missing the whole extent of what God intended for our lives.
Eventually, there was a day when it was just me and God with my insecurity. Everything had hit me at once and I was crying; actually, I was sobbing like a baby. My heart was racing and my chest felt like it was going to explode. And finally, through a blur of tears, these words made their way into my journal:
Oh, God, do You think I'm beautiful?
No one else has been able…so is it You?There is so much more inside of me, a great well of passion and dreams. A place I never let myself go. Is it safe to trust You with the rest of my heart? What will You do with me if I show You everything? Every desire? Every longing? Every doubt? Every weakness? If I show You, will You still love me? Will You hold me and care for me in the dark?
Oh, God, hold me, please hold me and tell me that You love me. Tell me that You'll fight for me. Tell me that I am beautiful.
I cried and waited. Empty. I lay on the floor completely spent. The question took up the whole room and there was nothing else to say, except to pray:
It's just me.
You see it all. You know it's just me. You know how You've made me, and You know how to speak so that I can hear.
I cannot move until I hear from You.
In the wilderness of that room, as alone as I have ever been, the Lord met me. The words He formed in my mind began to answer the question. In my imagination I could sense the Lord patiently smiling over me, and I heard Him speak into my heart:
Yes, Angela, I think that you are beautiful. Your desire has served its purpose; you have finally brought your true heart to Me. Are you tired of pretending? Are you tired of hoping that someone else could fill the place that was meant for Me? I see you, all of you, and you do not have to hide anymore. I see your sin and I see your flaws and I still desire you as My own. I am crazy about you. I am the answer. The "more" that your heart waits for is Me.
Yes, dear one, yes, you are incredibly beautiful to Me.