There was a girl.
She’d wear emblazoned t-shirts, stripy shorts and trainers, lucky if she’d dragged a brush through her flaming hair.
Often to be found muddying her hands as she did cartwheels on the riverbank. Or hugging her knees to her chest as she read of George and Jo’s adventures. She wished she could relate more to Anne and Meg than she could to the rough-and-ready characters with dirty knees, wide eyes and sky-high imaginations. But, inside, she knew the open palms and hearts-ripped-open of the girls who defied ‘girly’ felt more like home.
Prom night. Dolled up in a strapless dress and heels that put her a head’s height above her friends. She felt like the sore, throbbing thumb on a hand of pretty fingers with painted nails. She’d had her mum do her hair, too indifferent to learn for herself the craft of curling using merely a rounded brush and a hairdryer.
She looks back now. Smiles at the brightness of the little, freckled face beaming at her from the other side of years and photographs. Sighs at the discomfort of the beautiful, towering teenager the little face grew into, who lived vicariously through friends’ kiss-and-tell stories, assured in the perception that no boy would ever be interested in the blushing girl who moved bashfully and was only good for spelling out the difficult words for her classmates.
Oh, the adventures she could’ve foreseen. Adventures that would be had by that very same girl. Being precisely herself.
The tales of a still-cherished love, of cross-country moves, of broken hearts that she learnt to fix. Of nights drowned in cocktails, of weekends measured in food savoured, of drawn-out mornings spent with legs entangled. Of the fluttering eyelashes on her cheek of a sweet child who loved her “to the third galaxy and back.”
The stories of words written, of rhythmic voices absorbed, of opinions challenged and deliberations had.
The girl(-turned-woman) showed up to a discussion last week about “the price of beauty.” Beforehand, ironically applied eyeliner as meticulously as she could manage. During, sat silently. Listened. Thought. Attempted to figure out what she wanted her voice to represent among the buzz of opinions, forthright or otherwise, that took up space in the dimly-lit bar. Said nothing. Walked away. Thought some more.
Discussed Debated with friends. Reached the conclusion that she may act like she knows what she’s talking about, but ultimately will always feel a bit like a naive child in a room full of enlightened grown-ups during any discussion.
What does she stand for?
She’s second-guessing, trying to work out how to articulate it. Other people’s opinions are always so convincing.
“Yeah, he’s got a point.”
“I can see where she’s coming from.”
“Oh. I never thought of it that way.”
But what she does know is this.
The girl with the muddy hands who laughed too loudly, spoke up too little and dreamt too much was as deserving of feeling beautiful as the girl with the clean fingernails and the dress with frills at the hemline.
The woman whose size 7s the little girl grew into is allowed to take her time as she works out who she is, where she’s going and what she believes in.
The concept of beauty is subjective. What’s deemed “aesthetically pleasing” to many is an ideal most can’t measure up to. Realising that is the first part of the battle. The next part is accepting it. And the next is flaunting who you are.
The woman with the flaming hair and the freckles she once tried to hide doesn’t need to keep quiet. Unless she wants to. She doesn’t need to dress up. Unless she wants to. She doesn’t need to let her differences and long-held insecurities hold her back from raising her hand, making eye contact or whipping her hair back and forth on the dancefloor.
There was a girl. There are many girls. With much more exciting things to think about than whether they measure up. There are adventures to be had.