A couple of years ago, as I was cleaning out my apartment before we got married, I came across an old photo.  Two tall, dark-haired girls from another lifetime stared back at me.  It was my friend Lisa and I, right before our eleventh grade homecoming. I wore a long black, sleeveless dress and way-to-bright red lipstick, and as I looked at my younger self, I was startled.

I was beautiful.

For the first time–over ten years after the fact–I realized, that as a high school student, I was beautiful.

Perhaps this realization seems silly or conceited, but you have to understand that with this startling realization came also the memories of my intense insecurities in eleventh grade.  The same, smiling girl in the photo, sat out in the hall during the slow dances that night, convinced no one would ask her to dance.

But that’s not the worst part.

Now, fifteen years later, and after almost two years of being married to a man I admired years before I was ready to date him–a man who tells me I am beautiful every day–I still struggle to find beauty and self-acceptance when I look in the mirror.

There is an unsaid understanding that part of being female means being beautiful.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture and time period where the definition of beauty that we have been given is too narrow (pun intended). We are somehow left to feel that we are less of a woman if our dimensions aren’t right–as if the size of our hips, chest, or legs  are the only factors that add up to true beauty–and true worth.

Yet for years I have allowed our cultural definition of beauty to inform how I see myself.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

I want to be aware of true beauty and be able to name it in others.  I want to be unafraid to name it in myself. And I want to help others do the same.