Exposed. The very word invokes thoughts of discomfort; even pain. Have you ever had an exposed nerve in a tooth, or an exposed wound? I shudder to think of it! Even worse than physical pain is the emotional and mental anguish that some feel they may experience if things they keep hidden are exposed.
I’ve never felt that I am pretty. Never. In fact, there is probably only one day in my entire life that I can say that I actually did feel pretty. That’s just the truth of it. The truth of my feelings. As a little girl I was abnormally skinny, wore glasses and, when very young, couldn’t hear well at all. I was the weird little nerdy one who seemed to be completely introverted (when you can’t see and can’t hear, isolation becomes a place of comfort). Even so, I have always been surrounded a loving family (who never made me feel like I was “less” than anyone else), and by friends—some life-long—that are beautiful, inside and out.
I don’t really know when those feelings of insecurity about my looks began, but those feelings followed me into my teen years. I found the way to make friends was to have a good sense of humor, and just kind of pretend that I was as pretty as everyone else. It’s funny how teenagers think about things: I figured as long as I acted like I was pretty, and other girls hung out with me anyway, then no one would really know how ugly I was, how terribly ugly I felt. Every. Day.
In my teen-aged mind, one of my biggest fears was that everyone would discover the “real” me, see me for the fraud I was, and know that I was ugly. As irrational as that sounds, it was a real fear, and a mighty heavy burden. I truly believed I was unlovely. So, I just went merrily along, acting like everyone else, enjoying and truly treasuring my friendships. Suppressing the ever-present nagging deep inside that I was only wearing the mask of what I considered “normal”, I was terrified that one day my hidden ugliness would show itself.
As the years wore on, and adulthood happened, I settled into a place of comfort with myself, making peace that I am who I am. People seemed to like me. My husband loved me, we somehow managed to bring three truly beautiful little people into the world whom I loved beyond anything I could ever think or imagine, so, no worries. Until one day, it happened.
I was in my thirties, happy and content as we were raising our kids, living a good, American life. Very involved in our church, we spent a lot of time there and a lot of our fellowship and social life revolved around the programs and people within the church. One day a friend from church and I went shopping to get some clothes for an upcoming event.
As we were trying on clothes, she looked at me and said: “You know, that doesn’t do anything for you at all. In fact, I’m just going to say it, Peggy, that you need a whole new look! You’re really pretty plain, and the clothes you wear just accentuate that. You should wear things that make you look better.”
Yes, she said it. And there I was: exposed. If she knew I wasn’t pretty, then so did everyone else. As usual, I laughed it off and made fun of myself, which was the only coping mechanism I had in place. But when I was home alone, it hit me. I was mortified, embarrassed, self-conscious, and terribly hurt. I don’t think I would ever say anything like that to anyone. All of the old insecurities about not being delightfully cute resurfaced. ugh.
It was also one of those life-changing moments for me. As I contemplated the scene (rehashing it over and over again in my mind is more like it!), I came to realize that it wasn’t me that was exposed, but she. She let slip from her mouth something she probably thought many times, all while being part of my company of friends. I came to think that she had a far greater problem than I ever did.
I had gotten over the feelings of self-loathing years before. As my life evolved, I found that my friends were true and just didn’t look at me the same way I did when looking in a mirror. They loved me; it was that simple. My family, husband, kids: they all loved me. That simple. God? He loves me. That simple.
I don’t know why that girl sought me out and made me her friend. Maybe she could only see the 2-dimensional mirror image of my lack of physical beauty, and she made me her project. Maybe I was someone she thought she could transform. The thing was, by that time in my life, I didn’t need to be transformed. I was not a caterpillar needing someone to break me from my cocoon and turn me into a beautiful butterfly. I was happy, content, and quite at peace with myself.
I have not held that incident against her, although our relationship did change a bit. She really seemed to have no clue that her words stung like viper bites. She was exposed, and I realized that even though her physical beauty was far greater than mine, she must have been hiding some terrible insecurities of her own. For me it was a point of growth. I learned how not to act, how not to be. I learned that if I didn’t want to hurt someone, I needed to reflect on myself often and allow God to change my heart and attitude as well. I needed to always strive to be a better person. I began to look at people with different eyes. I needed to forgive her, and I did. I need to be light in darkness, and not allow darkness in any form to overtake me or become the rudder of my ship.
I won’t say I don’t still struggle with the mirror a bit. I couldn’t bring myself to put a picture of myself on my book, my website or my blog. I cringe when someone else posts a picture of me on social media. There are very few good pictures of me, and the thoughts of sitting for a photographer gives me knots in my stomach. BUT, I do not allow those feelings to overtake me. I realize that when I think like that, I am hurting God, who made me as I am, and who loves me unconditionally, and has provided me with a truly blessed life. I guess, in the end, it’s really all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39