“You’re beautiful just the way you are!”
What a disgusting, overused cliché. I loathe the way it rolls off peoples tongues so easily – too easily – as if the very words are weaving some perfumed heart around my face with a green check mark by it. Congratulations, your personal weirdness has alerted fellow humans in the general vicinity that you need to be swaddled with the token perfumed heart. I have such a strong dislike to these clichés that I sometimes spend time ruminating on why they are still used. Amid one of these sessions, a very vivid and admittedly strong life event, presented itself to me. My youngest older brother, Luke, reassuring me of a mole on my face, and without saying explicitly, telling me that I was beautiful just the way I was. And with this memory came a flurrying of warmth and happiness and confidence. Everything that aged, general saying should do.
Now, before I delve any further into my childhood story and the impact it had on my life, I must first explain why I chose to write about Luke. You see, I’ve had an extraordinary life thus far and there are, quite frankly, a multitude of people and events that have shaped my life. I struggled for months deciding who has impacted me in such a significant way that I wanted to put the story into ink. This I know for certain; everyone who came to mind is somebody I am extremely grateful for. You all surfaced in my brain holding a film of memories that I hold close, as well as different pieces of what makes me this unique and beautifully flawed human that I am. I’m not sure exactly what it was about Luke that stood out the most however. Perhaps it’s the fact that he is a soon to be father and I’m so incredibly happy thinking about how great he will be at this new role, or maybe it’s because I’ve recently reminded my figure skating students to embrace their individual quirks in a hope to build the fragile confidence of teenagers. Whatever it may be, Luke unknowingly helped me to embrace and love something that I formerly hated.
Growing up I was an energetic and bubbly kid, not lacking any drop of self-confidence, until I hit middle school. Even now at 26, just thinking back to my middle school years makes me cringe. Let’s be real though, we probably all do. You wander the halls with braces, blooming pimples, and a rearranging body. How do any of us even walk away? On one of those glorious, middle school mornings I experienced my first ounce of conscious self-doubt. For some reason in my science class we were filling out sheets about what we believed were positives and negatives about ourselves. One section discussed moles, birth marks, and other variations of the sort. All my life I’ve had a small mole on my lip, but on this day that mole was about as big my entire face. I immediately lifted a hand over my mouth to cover this hideous marking. I mean, why me? Why was this thing – this disgusting distraction right under my own nose – not somewhere less noticeable? I began thinking that people probably always talked about that mole and that most likely they didn’t even notice the rest of my face because it was all your eyes could focus on. I grew to hate it. I grew to think it should be hidden and I should feel embarrassed by it.
Around this time, Botox and different surgical procedures were prevalent in the news. I was so excited. This was it! I could get the mole removed and my face would be normal like everyone else. I started to throw in jabs at my mole through jests and jokes, but never let on that I was one hundred percent serious. A classic trait of mine is to use self deprecating humor to distract from what is bothering me, so I truly feel bad for my family and friends who have no choice but to navigate this minefield. This is why I turn to writing or dance and art to decipher and express what I really feel. It comes more natural than hearing the harsh sound of truth said out loud. Almost like when you quickly switch the lights on in a dark room. Everything is too bright, the pulsing as your eyes adjust too loud. Nevertheless, my family soon began to note the sudden shift in confidence that I had when it came to the tiny mole residing on my lip. After working hard with constant reasons why I should get it removed, though she was against it, I somehow managed to convince my mom to take me to the dermatologist to discuss what could be done.
There I was in horrifying embarrassment as the dermatologist laughed. She couldn’t believe I’d want to remove a mole so small, so unassuming. “It adds character”, she joked. Needless to say, she didn’t find any reason to remove the mole and really didn’t understand why I would go through the process. Walking out dejectedly, I began to imagine what life would be like when I started dating (insert auditory gulp of a middle schooler). When we arrived back home, I slumped on the couch with tears wetting the edges of my eyes and blurring the book I clutched pretending to read. I could hear my brother Luke asking my mom what had happened and I dutifully ignored the attempts he made to talk with me. Hearing the “you’re like Cindy Crawford” comments as one hears with headphones on; muffled and muted. One wobbly tear escaped and drew a salty path down my cheek, wetting the page I had opened. Just like that, I lost it. “I hate it! I hate everything about this mole! It makes me look ugly!” A heavy silence, interrupted only by my prominent sniffling, followed. “Well, I like it. I think you are beautiful.” Luke’s voice sounded steady through the unequal air. With that, he got up from the kitchen table and walked upstairs to his room.
This is a moment that changed my life. It was the first moment I felt truly comfortable with myself and really began to embrace any ‘flaw.’ I was happy to be me, to be in the skin I was growing up in, and I began to notice the unique features everyone has. These details made a person enthralling, and still does all these years later. What Luke taught me that day was the foundation for everything my body image is built upon. Middle school is a trying time for everyone, and young girls/boys are faced with a society that will encourage them to change. It will tell them they are too heavy, too skinny, too ugly, too pretty, etc, and these constantly changing ideals will not stop once middle school ends either. It will escalate. And if someone does not have a foundation strong enough to withstand every subliminal, frontal, and unexpected attack it will be a devastating hit. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that loved me and encouraged me to be who I am. I was lucky enough to have a brother step in when my confidence broke and remind me that I was beautiful, mole and all.
So maybe I don’t dislike the saying, “you’re beautiful the way you are” in itself. Maybe I loathe the fact that someone has to be told and reminded of the power and beauty they hold. Because every creature, every windblown hair, and every colorful mind is more than beautiful. It is exquisite, it is beyond words. It is what every writer, poet, artist, and musician have been trying to replicate. It is an essence. And it is a privilege to have these ‘flaws’, and I am thankful for all of mine.
Despite her barely existent mole, Kimmie Meissner went on to become a World and US Champion Figure Skater and represented the United States in the 2006 Olympics at the age of 16, the youngest US athlete at those games. She was the second women to land the triple axle in 2005 and is currently the last United States woman to win the World Championship. In the ten years since she has continued to skate professionally while graduating from college. She currently leads skating seminars and coaches young skaters as well as working at Johns Hopkins Hospital in physical therapy. She is also taking prerequisites to become a Physician’s Assistant. The mole is “still there” but is still barely visible.