I blink once and I’m 18.
I blink again and suddenly I’m 24. 2ne4.
It’s still a little disturbing. People keep congratulating me on reaching my mid-20s, and they don’t realize that in my mind this is hardly a matter meriting congratulations.
But turning 24 did come with something good: It reminded me of a conversation I had with my mom just about ten years ago, and for the last couple weeks, I’ve been playing it over in my head.
At 13, I thought I had blossomed. I thought I was done growing up. I remember feeling as though I was opening up to the world around me. Everything was suddenly important, and I was so certain I had reached the pinnacle of my life, that it was finally kicking off. This was it–I was a woman now, so I had better start acting like one.
I was self-important, self-absorbed, and excessively self-conscious. It was like I had eaten from the tree of knowledge of cool and uncool, and I was quickly aware of how totally uncool I had been. Until thirteen, my opinions on my appearance had been utilitarian at best: Whatever worked with the weather and the wallet worked for me. But now that I was a lady, I desperately wanted to impress. To be cool. Pretty. Important. Regarded. Appreciated. Desired.
So my mom watched me try my hand at make-up. She withheld reprimand as I stole into my sister’s closet more and more often. She listened when I complained about how I had nothing to wear, how I needed things that reflected this “lady” in me. I can’t help but laugh as I write this, but this was, I regret to confess, really what I thought.
I constantly felt ugly and unlikable. I gazed into the mirror and grew upset several times a day. I compared myself to other girls and I cried because no matter what I did, I couldn’t satisfy the daunting standards that loomed over me. I wanted to change everything about myself and create someone that didn’t remind me of who I used to be. So I stopped being the girl who was happiest with her books, who didn’t complain that all her shirts were from Ross or church events, who didn’t need her appearance to be her loudest, most definitive feature.
Then after nearly a year of these adolescent shenanigans, my mom sat me down.
years from now, you’ll be a real lady,
and you’ll come to the prettiest, most fruitful, and exciting years of your life.
지금은 아니야. 지금은 그때가 아니야. Right now is not it. Fourteen is not it.
At first I resisted. But without my even realizing it, her words were written on my heart, never to fade, and there it slowly turned into patience and hope.
Today I consider my transformation, the slow and painful process of pruning my mind, my heart, and my attitude. I reflect on each year between then and now.
Only by grace. All I see is grace.
The process isn’t complete, but it’s also not without result. Some years were better than others (some totally sucked), but I look back at the whole picture and see that I have made strides toward becoming this real lady my mom has always hoped I would be.
I’m stunned because now, for the first time, at 24, I can see that this is exactly the time she was talking about—the prettiest, most fruitful, and exciting years of my life. I’ve come upon it. Ten years later, I feel as though I’ve been crowned with womanhood. The sepals that protected me all these years have finally descended, revealing the definitive outlines of my Self. It’s like I’m seeing the world for the first time, not through the eyes of a child, but through the fiery eyes of a woman come to conquer. My vision is sharp; it isn’t distorted by fantasy or quixotic optimism, but bred with reality and reinforced by a hope that through 10 years of struggle has withstood both defeat and despair. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.
Of course, there are still things about myself that I despise: my unfiltered, insensitive speech, my anger, my blinding competitiveness, my inability to forgive as I am forgiven. To this day I struggle–much more often than I’d like to admit–to silence the pressures that tell me a girl should be pretty first and foremost, that that is chiefly what she is good for. I wrestle with jealousy, reminding myself that the standard to which I am judged has my own unique name on it, not anyone else’s; therefore, I can only compare myself to me, not any other.
More and more I see that inside a girl exists all the rage to be beautiful. Pressure from society holds us against an impossible standard. It screams in our faces, ordering us into line that we should all be measured against it. If we are not physically appealing, it tells us, we have little value. We grew up watching picturesque Disney princesses find love. We see celebrities acknowledged for their figures and faces more so than for their talents and abilities. More often than not, our world tells us that the smart girl, the compassionate girl, the talented girl, the driven girl all fall short of the pretty one.
Herein lies the actual truth, though: The emphasis was never actually in the “prettiest” years, or in being pretty. My mom never meant I would/should be attractive. But as she often told me that a happy girl is a pretty girl, I can only assume that she wished happiness for me–not vanity. A flower doesn’t blossom because she’s beautiful, but because she’s ready. Vanity was never the sunshine nor the mineral that compelled life to bloom. Vanity was never the reason or purpose for a woman’s being.
I know better today than I did yesterday who I am and what I want. The sudden reminder of this conversation with my mom was most opportune, and I’m certain it came from something other than my own memory. Could I posit that it was divine without sounding dogmatic?
All along, my prettiness (my happiness) was tucked away in the contemplation of my character, held within the mirror that reflected my mind and not my face, my heart and not my body. It was scattered among the pages of the books I’ve come to adore. I want to be wise and loving and kind. I’m not great with these things now, but I’ll only get better because I’ll start now. And each time I fail, I’ll start all over again.
It begins now. My happy, pretty, fruitful, exciting years are here. It all begins now.
a photo from the day I kissed my youth goodbye. everyone is so chinky hahahaha!