When I was a child, I hated to have my hair brushed. I would scream and flail and my mother would simply say to me, “Beauty knows no pain.”
As a little girl, that phrase made little sense to me. Beauty seemed to be something that should be enjoyed, not something to cause pain. It baffled me, but I gave the phrase little thought because my mother was full of one-liners and catch phrases. Even as a child I knew that this was a quote she heard growing up and now used in an effort to calm me down and (let’s be real) make me sit still so that she could move on to the next never-finished task on her list that I am pretty sure was titled, “The Never-Ending Duties of a Single Mother.”
Her intentions were innocent, and they still are. My mother is simply the best. I giggle now about the idea of my mother trying to wrestle me down and brush my hair. As a mother with daughters, I now know exactly how she feels.
“Beauty knows no pain” had little impact on me as a wee one. It was code for “You better sit your little ass down.” As I grew older, however, I began to distort my mother’s silly message, ultimately tainting the memory and in classic “me” fashion, over-thinking it to death. This is how it developed:
In 4th grade I realized I was chubbier than most other girls.
In 5th grade, I was slapped and punched by a boy who said I was “too fat.”
In 6th grade, I was introduced to racism and fat-shaming.
In 7th grade, I realized that I made more friends on the days I wore my bongo shorts or Guess jeans.
In 8th grade, I became a cheerleader, which came with even more approval and attention.
In 9th grade, at my thinnest, I discovered that I had to eat 700 calories and work out for at least 2 hours a day in order to maintain my figure. Even at this level of starvation and activity, I was still 5’5″, and 135 pounds. Thin, yes, but still pretty solid for a girl practically killing herself. I wore a 5/7 pant but had a 24 inch waist. My thighs still touched. It positively tortured me.
In 10th grade, I quit cheerleading and quit compulsively exercising. I was still restricting food most of the day, but always ate whatever mom made for dinner. It was my comfort…a real meal. Mama can cook, and I really needed the nourishment. This, however, resulted in some weight gain. At the time, I thought I was HUGE. I obsessed over my looks constantly. I was probably a size 9. No where near huge, but in my mind, I was the literal elephant in the room.
In 11th grade, I got a job. A waitress at a crap-hole restaurant. The job sucked, but the money was good for a girl my age. I usually made 50-80 bucks a night in tips, which almost always went to fashion magazines, “fat-free” foods for home, makeup and clothes. Lots and lots of clothes. Clothes for DAYS. It was not uncommon for me to get off work, hit the grocery store for slim-fast or cans of fat-free, meatless chili beans (which I ate out of the can, cold for lunch at school) and then head to whatever dept. store was open so that I could buy an outfit for school the next day. It was a compulsion. I would spend every dollar I had making sure I had something decent to wear the next day, only to panic as soon as I walked on campus. I cannot tell you how many times I turned around, got in my car and drove home. 11th grade was when I figured out the art of the ditch.
My grades began to fall, my closet was over-stuffed, and my head was spinning out of control.
In 12th grade, I was in a full-blown emotional spiral. My life consisted of balancing school, work, shopping, and trying to convince myself I wasn’t hungry. I was missing school quite a bit, and anxiety attacks were a daily issue. The only way I felt completely safe at school was if I was 100% happy with what I was wearing. Or how my makeup looked. Or how happy I was with my latest 60$ hairstyle that surely had to be better than the one I had four weeks ago. I almost didn’t graduate due to lack of attendance. I spent a good portion of my senior year at home, in bed, trying to get myself together. I would get trapped staring in the mirror for HOURS on end, afraid to walk away. I was certain that as soon as I stepped away from the mirror, it was all going to fall apart and my appearance would be a burden on the world.
I cannot even explain how my mind got to this point. I really, really can’t. All I know is that I lived in my own special type of prison.
Trapped. Imprisoned. Terrified. And for what? For some idealistic idea of beauty?
I remember the day it hit me.
“Beauty knows no pain.”
Except that in my mind, beauty was pain. It all seemed like such a deception. I mulled those words over in my head as I walked through the grocery store, looking for “Snackwells” and diet shakes.
I remember thinking, “Beauty is pain because I don’t possess it. If I was beautiful, it wouldn’t hurt.”
The room began to spin as I began to deconstruct and taint a sweet childhood memory. I made it something ugly, and it didn’t take me long.
Having my first born child was the turning point. It was the first time I realized that my body was capable of something *so* intensely beautiful that it could not be put into words. There is a reason pregnancy isn’t in fashion magazines…the inexplicable gorgeousness of it would overshadow the latest trends. Lagerfeld’s got NOTHING on creating life.
Long story short? I realized my body was capable of doing something so much more beautiful than donning apparel. It had a purpose. A really, really grand purpose that was far great than what I had used it for.
Also, in this case, beauty did know pain, and it was worth all 45 hours of it.
The next 13 years brought many changes.
3 babies, who did a good job of reminding me of all this cake on occasion. It may have been by saying they “love my squishy hugs” or “Mom, I love to walk behind you because your butt jiggles and it’s funny.”
Or perhaps with drawings such as these, which kept me laughing:
lots of stretch marks
a total of 4 years of breastfeeding (and the subsequent physical changes)
weight fluctuations and evidence of aging:
wrinkles (which I have actually grown to love.)
a few grey hairs…and at least six pairs of yoga pants, which I will spare you a picture of.
For a few years there, fashion went out the window, showers were my beauty routine, and handbags were replaced with diaper bags. Baby slings in various colors became my accessories of choice and I took pleasure in finding a halfway decent nursing shirt.
You know what I learned?
I am beautiful.
Really, really beautiful.
True beauty knows plenty of pain. The pain of vulnerability. The pain of uncertainty. The pain of concern for your babies in a world that is so broken. The pain that only the most genuine beauty in life can bring to a person.
Physical beauty only knows pain if you let it. If you embrace and love yourself, and know that you are beautiful, the pain disappears. You no longer have to compare yourself to a standard set by society. You can, without a doubt, examine your reflection and see that the face looking back at you has a purpose. It has a mission. It has *beauty*.
The only pain I really feel in that department at this point is the hurt that comes when I think of how hard I was on myself, and much happier I could have been. I mourn the days that I lost. The time I wasted hating every inch of myself. Hindsight can be very frustrating.
The more I began to see myself in a positive light, the more my mother’s words resonated with me. “Beauty knows no pain” finally made sense. She meant, of course, that brushing my hair, and feeling the resulting pain was worth not looking homeless.(I’m still not convinced. I hate having my hair brushed.)
I’m sure she never expected me to make it into what I did, but the result was that without trying, my mother gave me the grounds for two of the biggest revelations of my life:
1.) Beauty knows no pain when you realize that you are a wondrous creation, artfully made.
2.) Real, genuine beauty in life often comes with a certain pain…but it’s worth it.