Dear lady I met when I was 12 and unsure of myself and my body, you cupped your hand under my chin and said "Well, you look like you'll be pretty enough someday, maybe when you're in your late teens. You'll probably get a boyfriend."
You were a stranger holding my self worth on the tips of your fingers, you could have covered it in honey (they say it heals wounds) but instead you took a little girl and made her feel that everything depended on her body.
You may have felt you had given a compliment, maybe you thought that this fact was important. Maybe the man who was leaving you made you feel that all that was important was your looks, and you thought you had to tell me. But oh stranger, do you know?
For nights I stayed up worrying about how much I needed someone. How my skin felt too big for my age, how I could never shop in the girls section and my clothes were stretched and tight.
Stranger, do you know?
For weeks I couldn't look in the mirror and my hair was in shambles and I wasn't eating right. I heard your words when I closed my eyes and they sounded angry and slowly turned into my own. And they said "you're not good enough now, how will you be then?"
(Oh baby, you're good. You're good now and you'll be good then.)
And I hid my tears and blamed my red eyes on allergies and said I just wasn't feeling too well, but inside I was crawling, and I tore myself to shreds and when I couldn't fight anymore I wished myself dead.
Stranger, did you know how your words would touch me? Did you think when you stood there and demanded respect, that you were giving me some gift like a scented oil touching my brow?
Did you know when you baptized me with that flood of poison words that I'd cry to my mother.
And I'd say
I hate myself
And I'd stare into my reflection and it didn't seem right and I'd wish that I wasn't myself. I'd wish that I was someone else.
It didn't matter any more that my daddy would hold my hand and smile and say "baby, you're so beautiful. You're turning into a wonderful young lady." because all I would hear was your voice in his mouth and I'd think, "he's lying, or he can't see the truth."
Dear stranger, to tell the truth you weren't the first. Nor the second or the last. But your words stuck to me and I couldn't shake them off and it was the last time I even saw you.
Dear stranger, but I want to know, I love myself. I love my body, I love my smile and my hair and eyes. I love my feet because they take me places. I love my legs because they make me run. I love my tummy because it's strong and I even love the wrinkles it has. I love my hands because of the other hands I can hold with them. And my arms and shoulders so I can hold and nurture and cherish. I love my neck because it helps me look up at the great night sky, dotted with stars that my eyes can't count and my mind can not begin to fathom. Stranger, the Venn Diagram of things I love about myself is a circle. And if I ever see you again, I'll take your hand and say "You're beautiful, you have been since day one, and nothing has ever changed, and nothing ever will."
Because stranger, anyone who would tell that to a child, when she's growing up and trying to fit in with expectations for everything shackling her feet, doesn't love themselves and maybe they never have. Their eyes are clouded in anger and hurt and hatred but you can change. It's not too late.
It wasn't for me.
Oh, and by the way.
I'm almost 18 and graduating. I'm starting college in the fall. That 'someday I'll probably be pretty' never happened. I always was and I'm not waiting for anyone to see that.
“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won't discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.” ― Geneen Roth