Thinking about the days when my self image was at its very worst, and the long redemptive road to now, where it's day by day but overall good, I realized something important, about something important I'd had to learn.
Convoluted, I know. I'll break it down, 'cause I like over-analyzing things.
The thing I had to learn was to step back from focusing on flaws, and smile at my reflection instead.
This simple step was incredibly hard. but deeply profound.
And the other day I realized another layer of why it works, why it was so helpful.
In my dark days, I could never see any prettiness in me. I could vaguely see that other people saw it-beauty-in me, and so subconsciously there was this bit of hope, that maybe it was there. But I didn't see it.
And I had to slowly learn to change the way I looked at myself. Metaphorically and spiritually, definitely. But, as I already noted, a huge part of that was changing the way I actually physically looked at myself.
Other people looking at me saw prettiness, some something attractive, either on just a physical level but probably also on an emotional/spiritual level, my real me-ness that makes anybody want to talk to me for more than 5 minutes, be my friend, what have you. But I couldn't see it, and what was with that?
When I looked into the mirror, I saw a person who looked out with gleeful criticism, jumping on every flaw, every pimple, anything and everything that could ever be construed as a flaw. I looked at a person who looked out with disappointment and self-loathing.
But how did I look to someone else? They saw prettiness, and no wonder, because they saw someone who laughed a lot, and smiles at people even more, who gets really passionate and excited about important things, who tries, to the best of her small ability, to look out at everyone (almost) with grace in her eyes. Grace to know you, like you, give you the benefit of the doubt and focus on the good in you.
So I think people thought I was "pretty" because 1) I am actually fairly pretty in just an arbitrary-scale way (the scale is dumb and I reject it wholesale, but that's another post) and 2) I looked at them with grace and liking.
If I'd looked at them the way I looked at me, they too would have soon become convinced that I was highly unattractive, in fact a disgusting person. Because I would have been all up in their face, literally examining them critically from 2 inches away, crowing maliciously over every flaw they had, and a few extra I could make up and convince them they had. I would have stared at them with condemnation, and they would have hated me with a self-protective rage to defend from the inadequacy I made them feel. Insecurity giving rise to dislike and their dislike translating into the belief that I was physically ugly because they felt ugly emotions around me. Because our emotions are so entwined with how we perceive people, the way they make us feel.
And aside from an arbitrary out there "scale" defining prettiness, I think this is why people could see "prettiness," beauty in me when I couldn't. I'm certainly not perfect, but overall I like people, I love the image of God in them, I try to extend grace. It's this strange circular thing, seeing beauty in others and them responding to the beauty in you, the opposite of the vicious cycle of seeing ugly-creating ugly.
And I had to break that cycle, take a physical, tangible step back, and smile my warmest, smile with joy and love behind it, laughter and grace extended. So that I saw in the mirror not a girl who extended grace to (almost) everyone, but everyone.