beauty

"Ever since I was 12, I've been told I'm beautiful. Here's what my life is really like."

This post deals with eating disorders and might be triggering for some readers.

I’m going to say the one thing women aren’t ever allowed to say - I am beautiful.

By 2000’s standards anyway. Less Kim K, more Paris Hilton.

I was born longer and thinner than my older brother, and was taller than my mum by age 10. I reached my peak at age 17 - I was 5’10”, weighing in at 48kg. I was beautiful because I was tall and thin, blue-eyed and blonde-haired. 

How did I know I was beautiful? Because, people told me. All the time. But, I have to admit, the way people told me was vastly different, depending on their gender.

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High school is hard for most of us. Most people experience bullying of some kind between childhood and adolescence. And what’s the number one line we were all told by a trusted adult? They’re bullying you because they’re just jealous of you.

My bully was a dancer - she did ballet from when she was three. There is one rule for ballerinas: no boobs allowed. The second her body started to change, so did her interactions with me. I was openly excluded, my words were mocked, and then there were “the looks”. If you’ve ever interacted with a teenage girl, you know the ones.

This girl picked on me from when I was 12 to 18 - it only stopped when we graduated. And from age 12, still a child, I was told by the many trusted women in my life “she’s just jealous because you’re prettier than her.” 

That was the line. I was prettier. I’ll admit, that was pretty hard to believe with my braces and lanky limbs, always stooping so I wouldn’t be a head taller than the other kids. I was always different, taller and thinner than the others. I hated it, until I realised I was what the other girls wanted to be.

But by 17, we were all obsessed with our bodies. It wasn’t just the adults in my life telling me I was pretty - my peers started telling me too. I was not in  the “cool” group in high school - I wasn’t very interested in being popular. But I was the only girl not in that group to be put on the “hot list” by the boys. 

Boys would give me their phone numbers when they came through my register at the supermarket where I worked. I was the first to start dating, first to be kissed. Of all my friends, I was the only one to get my license first try from the scary man at the RMS.

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My friends told me too, in their own ways. “It is so annoying that you look like a model in leggings and a flannel.” “Can you crouch at the front of the photo, you’re too tall to stand next to us.” “I am NOT wearing a bikini to the beach if I have to go with you!”

One of my best friends, Jane, sewed a stunning ball gown for her HSC textiles major work. She had planned for months that I would be the one to model it for her, so she could photograph her submission. I was so tall and so thin - I was the perfect candidate to wear her dress.

I just wished she had asked me when we weren’t standing with Sam. Sam loved everything beauty - makeup, photography, fashion, hair. I knew that Sam had dreamed she would be the one asked to wear the dress.

There was another problem. I had seen the dress. It was a women’s size 8. Small, yes, but I was fitting into clothes with 0-2 on the label. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to try it on, but I knew it wasn’t going to fit. 

And it didn’t. Not only did it swim on me, it hung at an awkward length just above my ankles. Suddenly, I was a disappointment to two of my friends, just because of the way I looked. I took the camera out of Sam’s hands and slipped the dress over her head. A perfect fit. A crisis averted - but I knew that they were judging my body.

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The comments on my appearance didn’t stop when I left school. When I was 19, I worked as a waitress at a local restaurant. They liked me to work at the front, and on tables with older men. I always brought in more tips for the team that way.

Every time the owner came in, he would rave about how beautiful I was. “You should be a model,” he would often say. I always laughed it off. Like I said, we aren’t meant to acknowledge our own beauty.

One day, my boss handed me a piece of paper. On it, he had written the names and phone numbers of several modelling agencies in Sydney. He said I needed to get out there and just do it. Think of how far I could go!

This told me that the greatest value I held in this world was purely on the surface. We live in a world that tells us there is only one way to be “enough”. Tall. Thin. Beautiful. Because I looked the way I did, I was enough.

I hate to say it, but women tend to have the opposite reaction. Music is one of my greatest passions, and I loved to perform in community theatre while I was at university. I thought those snide remarks, sideways looks and concealed whispers would end with high school. They didn’t. 

The main offenders? Women in their 40s. I could feel the glares on my back during rehearsals, and they always had far more criticisms for me than anyone else on the crew. They made me feel like I should apologise for being 20 and thin. I sometimes still feel that way.

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There was one very important reason I did not pursue a career in modelling or theatre. Because it is dangerous. And addictive.

I was told from 12 that I was worthy of envy because I was skinny. My greatest, maybe only, value was the size of my waist.

By age 15, I began to seriously restrict my diet. I spent the last two years of high school in and out of doctors offices with a severe eating disorder. 

Unlike many of my peers, I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw. Every bone in my ribcage, the separate bones that made up my shoulder joints. I once heard a comedian say “I want to have collar bones so hollow, you could eat soup from them.” Hahaha. I had those. I was so beautiful.

But, thankfully, my family saw through it. I only now realise how genuinely worried they all were. There were little comments here and there. My grandmother once told me I looked like I was a prisoner of war. 

My mother thought I was going to die. She found me the resources I needed. She saved my life.

So, every Monday in my free period, I would go to the doctor to be weighed, and just to talk. We began to untie the knots I found myself in, to untangle my true value from the inside out. 

How lucky am I that this was unmuddled from my brain before I hit adulthood? By the time I was being handed pieces of paper and told how far my beauty could go, I had learned that my value was so much more than my appearance.

I am smart. I love to make people laugh. Singing fills my soul, and I love to share that gift with others. I am loyal, kind, patient.

I am so much more than my “beauty”.

Yes, I do sometimes get “drinks on the house” when I go out with girlfriends. I struggle with the fat that has started to develop around my tummy  - I guess that’s what a belly is meant to look like. Service is almost always great, fast and friendly. 

But let me tell you a secret - beautiful is total BS. 

It’s boring, it’s hard work and it can be all consuming. 

It is so easy to let it slide over you like quicksand - and it’s easier to stay there than it is to climb out. We talk so much about inner beauty, but the fact is we all feel like we should look a certain way.

I feel lucky to see myself as beautiful. It’s one less insecurity.

Only 7984 to go!

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] You can also visit their website, here

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