When I was a kid, I don’t remember a time that I looked in the mirror and felt pretty or beautiful. I was a very hungry kid who ate a lot. My parents actually worried about me because of how much I ate. And I didn’t just eat food- I ate toothpaste, chapstick, and even a beetle. I know, it’s really gross and I can’t really explain why I did it, except that toothpaste and chapstick both tasted sweet to me as a kid. The beetle? I just remember trying to shock my babysitter. I also ate straight butter right off of the dish, earning the name “Piggy” from some of my siblings.
I cringe looking back at these memories. I remember putting on dresses that I loved as a kid and thinking the dresses were beautiful- in particular a sparkly gold and purple one I wore for a dance recital, and a white one with little pink strawberries printed all over it. I always loved dresses and how they made me feel; for a second, I wasn’t a chubby, awkward kid. I was a princess.
I think I let go of the idea of being “pretty” at a very young age. I didn’t really think much of my appearance. I thought of myself as a mix of things- funny, because I made my siblings laugh. A writer, because I wrote poems and stories and made my own books out of construction paper and scraps of fabric. A reader, getting lost in Nancy Drew, American Girl historical fiction books, Jane Eyre, and The Series Of Unfortunate Events. I was drawn to characters who were different, maybe a bit of an outcast to some but really, I could see they were just “extraordinary.” Just like me.
I ached to be accepted and feel beautiful, and hoped to be as I grew older, but things got worse. In middle school, I grew 6 inches in 2 years- at 12, I was five foot two; by fourteen, I had shot up to five foot eight. I went from being a chubby kid to a very skinny girl. This did not feel like a good thing at all. I remember seeing other girls who looked pretty and feminine to me. I felt more like a broomstick with hair- long, gangly arms and legs, zero curves. Aren’t women “supposed” to be curvy? Isn’t that what makes you feminine? So if I am as straight as a pencil, what am I?
A giraffe with turquoise braces on my teeth. That’s what I felt like.
It didn’t help that I felt painfully rejected by boys and constantly compared myself to my two sisters Christina and Lisa who are eighteen months above and below me in age. In my mind, they both were friends with some of the more “popular” girls, and a lot more boys had crushes on them. I felt utterly invisible and rejected by boys. There were a few boys that liked me in middle school but I considered them to be “weird” so I thought, I must be in the same category as them. I must be “weird.”
Around the age of fourteen, I decided to give up and stop trying. I remember the moment I subconsciously made that decision- I had walked up to a group of my friends from youth group, and I remember looking around the circle and realizing that my presence had changed nothing about the dynamic. Everyone kept talking to each other as usual, and no one acknowledged my existence. What was even worse was that my crush was in that group and he was talking to another girl. I felt invisible. After several similar experiences, I made a mental note not to put myself out there or ever risk being rejected. It was too painful.
When I was sixteen, things started to shift for me. I went through a period of self-discovery that set my soul on fire. I was hungry to form an identity, develop my talents, and form opinions on things. And so, I set out to do so. I started walking down the big hill behind my house to the community library and filling my empty backpack with books, many recommended to me by my aunt, who taught English and was a huge inspiration to me. I read books like The Catcher In The Rye, The Joy Luck Club, The Chosen by Chaim Potok, and books of poetry by Mary Oliver, Langston Hughes and Charles Bukowski. I started baking huge chocolate chip cookies several days a week. I did boxing, swim team, musical theatre, and church choir. I got back into writing, churning out poetry and journal entries. I sat out on my front doorstep at night that summer, playing the bass and singing into the trees and the wind.
The more I explored my personality, and read books and wrote out my thoughts and ideas, the more something extraordinary started to happen. I started liking myself. I thought, “I may not be pretty or popular or cool, but I know that I am an interesting, likable person. I have thoughts and opinions and ideas to share. If someone just gave me a chance, I bet they would like me.”
When I was 17.
Things continued on an upward trajectory as I turned 17. I got my braces off after four years (FINALLY!!) and my mom let me pierce my ears. With my brace-less teeth and pierced ears, I sometimes actually felt… pretty? Wow, it felt weird to associate that word with myself, and I didn’t feel it that often. But every once in a while, my hair would fall just right, my outfit would fit well, and I would look in the mirror and approve of my appearance. That in itself felt like a revelation. I thought I was slightly pretty, in a conditional sense.
Later on in my 17th year, my life changed drastically.
My sisters and I uploaded our first cover video to YouTube and overnight it got 20,000 views. Thousands turned to millions, and as the views poured in, so did the comments. For some reason, a lot of “haters” were drawn to commenting on me and my appearance. Maybe they could sense that I was insecure. A lot of them seemed to think I was “fake”, probably because I had a huge smile and was dancing around a lot in that video.
“The girl in the middle is soo annoying. She needs to go die.”
“The tall one looks like a horse. She’s ugly.”
“Her smile is weird. She’s all gums.”
I remember reading those comments and my stomach twisting into a knot. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t eat. I tried to eat meals and I would take one bite and feel like I was going to throw up. Also, even worse than that, there were tons of comments rating me and my sisters from ugliest to prettiest, best singer to worst singer, favorite to least favorite. For a long time, I always cringed when I saw myself rated as ugliest, worst singer, or least favorite.
A dark voice spoke up inside of me, these people don’t even know you, so why would they lie? They must be telling the truth.
That small foundation of security and confidence I was starting to build shattered. I felt like the ugliest, most unwanted person on the planet. And so, for years and years, I hid myself. When I was 18, I cut off my hair so it was a short bob. Secretly, the reason I did it was because I wanted to take myself out of the “race.” I was tired of being compared to my sisters (who had long hair) and called ugly. I thought, “Maybe I look like I’m trying to be pretty. If people don’t think I’m trying, maybe they’ll leave me alone.”
I decided again that I wasn’t pretty. That old confidence in my personality remained, and I thought, “Maybe I can find a guy based on my personality and he can just overlook my appearance.” In my early 20s, when I looked in the mirror, I still saw a girl who didn’t have curves and was not “conventionally beautiful.” Yet, life went on. I was going on dates and meeting guys who liked me. I was making friendships and experiencing life. I stopped reading YouTube comments cause it was too painful. In a lot of ways, I checked out of the “YouTube experience” because the whole thing was too painful for me. I was in the videos, but I felt like an imposter. Not good enough, not worthy. I was physically in the videos, but mentally checked out and disconnected for years.
Things started to change for me around 2015. We were just starting to tour and our first tour was in Europe. My sisters and I were tired of the Los Angeles pop artist machine and the pressure that is placed on women to be overly sexualized and basically to become a robot Barbie (more on that in a future post). We heavily rebelled and embraced much more of a grungy, raw and stripped-down vibe. It felt amazing. I felt a connection with our fans and I could see the impact our music was having on them. Somehow, along the way, I started to shed some of that darkness and self-loathing I had battled for so long.
I don’t know how exactly how it happened, but one day, I started to feel a little bit beautiful. Just slightly. Maybe it was reaching the age of 25 and my brain being fully developed. Or maybe it was the years of talking about self-worth and self-love to young girls and telling the fans at our shows to love themselves. I needed that message just as much, and it was starting to bleed into me, too.
I started to see beauty as something different than what I thought before. Beauty became more like a feeling, or a state of being, for me. I started to feel beautiful as a person, because of who I was, how I loved and felt things so deeply and the way I lived my life. It was not a conditional thing that happened when my hair looked good and my clothes fit right. It was a devoted, committed thing. At some point, I decided I was beautiful. I started talking to myself more gently, looking in the mirror and seeing the good in myself, focusing on features I liked instead of hating on myself for my inadequacies.
I also realized, it's not a competition. That was extremely hard for me, being someone who was compared to my sisters over and over again my entire life. Someone else being beautiful does not take away from the fact that you are beautiful. You can both be beautiful. Period. Just because another person deems one of you beautiful and the other as ugly doesn't mean they're right. You can take the power back and decide for yourself.
I also realized that I don't have to fit into the cultural and current, ever-changing standards of beauty to be beautiful. It's something I can decide to see in myself or not. Just like some people prefer blue eyes or brown eyes, black hair or red hair, I can decide to like the features I have been given and appreciate them. Does that mean that I have to proclaim that I have no flaws or that I am perfect? No. I think beautiful is seeing your imperfections and embracing them. Embracing them as part of this intricate, complex and priceless human being you are.
It’s not a perfect, flawless path. It’s messy. There are many days I struggle with it. I have scars on my arms and legs from eczema and bug bites. I have cellulite. My arms are not perfectly toned. I still don't think I fit the cultural standard of beauty. But after decades of this battle, I gave up the war and surrendered. I let go of that self-hatred and trying to force myself into a "beauty box."
I am me. That's it. Saying that I like who I am and how I look feels like a victory. I am allowed to say that and so are you. I wrote this for my childhood self, to tell her I am sorry. I'm sorry for the years of self-criticism and self-loathing I put you through. I'm sorry for agreeing with the negative voices for so many years.
I don't have it all figured out, beauty-wise. Just like loving another person, I think loving yourself is a daily choice. I can choose to spend my time and energy hating my body and wishing it were different, or embracing my body, flaws and all, and choosing to spend that time and energy on much more important things.
To my body, I love you and I'm sorry for all of my mistakes. To anyone reading this who struggles similarly, let this be an invitation. It's time to let go. It is time to start fresh and create a new chapter, a new-born love story.
Maybe this is who you were meant to be all along.