If you are born female, and you’re lucky, you grow up knowing that you’re beautiful, from your curly hair all the way down to your precious baby feet. You know this because your parents tell you so and because little girls, at least below a certain age, are nice to each other. Some of your friends have freckles, and some are chubby, and some have blue eyes, but you all help each other put on the fake makeup that smells like baby powder, and then you go play on the zipline outside, wearing scarves and cut-down dresses.
There is almost inevitably a day where you discover that you are not actually beautiful. Maybe it’s when your mother, who you think is the most gorgeous person in the world, sighs about how much weight she’s gained. Or when you look through beauty magazines and find tips on how to conceal big hips or remove facial hair. You will not consciously decide that you are not beautiful, but once you have decided, you won’t remember ever thinking otherwise.
There will be a lot of fuss, most of which you won’t pay attention to, about whether or not we should call little girls beautiful at all. There will be talk of internalized misogyny and the socio-political implications of wearing lipstick. You will not understand any of this, at least not for a while. You will only understand that your mother will not let you go on a diet and your father will not let you wear nail polish. You may do these things anyway. You may turn your attention to other things, and get better at sports, or school, or the arts.
Most likely, you will enter puberty, and gain 40 pounds seemingly overnight. It will take you at least a decade to get used to the new dimensions of your body, to its new functions and capabilities. If you enter puberty early, everyone else in your fifth-grade class will whisper behind your back. You will, for the first time, compare yourself to the other girls, and even though the doctor tells you normal you will tell yourself fat.
If you are very lucky, there will be a day when you decide you are beautiful after all. Maybe it will be when you are watching yourself on a recording for a class, or maybe it will be when you see a picture of yourself with friends, glowing with happiness. You will not be the kind of beautiful you wanted to be when you were ten, all bones and blue eyes and pink lips. You will be the kind of beautiful your parents knew you were, talented and persevering and stubborn. You will remember a quote (was it Steinbeck?): And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
It will be a difficult lesson to internalize, but you will learn that beauty isn’t something you earn; it’s something you’ve had all along.