I was 17 years old. Our class had just completed our voting for the senior “who’s who,” and I couldn’t wait to find out who I was.
I was thrilled. I had been the recipient of best looking, and best body in my senior class. What more could a girl want? I can remember it like it was yesterday. My mother came walking in the house, and I positioned my body like the figurine I was, and stood like a prop before her.
“What’s up with you?” She asked confused.
“You are looking at Berrien Springs High Schools, best looking, and best body,” I answered with my shoulders forward and my head high. I waited for her accolades.
My mother has dirty blond hair and green eyes. I found a picture of her when I was a child. It was of her in high school. Her hair was platinum blond and she wore a white blouse. She looked nothing like the buttoned up professional I had grown up with. The girl in this photo looked rebellious. She looked like she knew where the party would be. She seemed like the type of girl who knew how to tip toe down the hall way and sneak out from windows. As I stared at the photo, I realized for the first time that my mother was more than just my mother. She was a woman too. And this girl in the photo was not the woman I knew.
I took that photo and slid it in the back of my diary and kept it for years. I had brown curly hair, unlike her straight blond, and brown eyes that looked nothing like her captivating green. I would have given anything to be the beautiful girl with a mischievous grin in that photo. But I wasn’t.
Finally, at 17, after hot irons smoothed my curls, and wax tamed my brows, I had been chosen as the best looking girl in my class. I had somehow morphed into the girl in that picture trapped in the back of my diary, and I was proud to tell my mother that we were not so different after all.
“Oh Heather,” she finally responded. “If after four years, the biggest thing your classmates can say about you, is that you have a pretty face, and a nice body…” her voice trailed off and she sighed, “then you have missed your mark.”
Her words stung my 17-year-old ears. I never forgot them. Up until that point I had done what I thought girls were supposed to do, I had tried to be wanted. I carefully selected pretty friends, I kissed the boys all the girls wanted to kiss. I rode shotgun in trucks with the athletes from neighboring towns, I thought I had succeeded. And suddenly for the first time I realized that I had failed. I had missed the mark.
I just turned 30 on January 1. I have spent the last 13 years trying to atone for past sins. I used to think it was necessary to surround myself with pretty faces, and now I know it is pertinent I encircle myself with beautiful hearts. These roots are so deep however, that I still at moments find myself pulled by them. I got hair extensions a year ago and I remember posting a photo of myself to my Instagram. As each like rolled in I felt more and more shame. I was 28 years old. I was married, I had children, I was almost done with my Ph.D. course work, I was a college instructor, and yet here I was online, trying to convince people that I was pretty? I totally understand why single women post selfies, but I was a married. I didn’t need advertisement, and it is my personal conviction that I don’t want to need affirmation outside of my home. My husband thinks the world of me. I am not lacking in swooning gestures or compliments. I understand that some of us are, and so I don’t want you to think that this is directed at you. Every woman deserves to feel beautiful and I think it is normal if your spouse is not giving you that, to seek it somewhere else, but that was not my situation.
I realized that a small piece of myself still wanted to know that men noticed me. I personally felt like this was hindering me from being the godly mother and wife I desperately wanted to become, or better yet, God needed me to be. I have been very intentional these last few years with letting my husband’s words be enough for me. I don’t need strangers to think I’m pretty and the energy that I spend trying to convince them is the acts of a desperate woman not a confident one.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being powerful is like a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” I have spent the last couple years trying to truly believe that my worth is determined by the way I treat others, not by the way they treat me. I am learning to believe that I am powerful, and beautiful, and worthy. You will not be happy until you find that in yourself. Take it from a 30-year-old woman, I know these things.
Some people may not like my saying this, but I am going to say it anyway. There are a lot of talented, smart, gifted women right now, who are missing their mark. We get so caught up in trying to be recognized physically, that we forget the impact that we can make on this world mentally. Pretty faces may be fashionable, but it is beautiful minds that will change the world.
I love being a woman. I love that I can be a mother, and a nurturer, I love that I can be a friend and a sister. One of my favorite quotes by G.D. Anderson says, “Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
This world is in need of a generation of strong women, who are committed to using their strengths to influence their homes, their families, their communities and their worlds.
Nobody cares if you’re pretty. Don’t miss your mark.
Editor’s note: This essay was originally published by Spilled Milk Club.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.