Gentle Reader,

I stopped by the grocery store a little bit ago to pick up some ice cream bars for tonight. Summer has certainly arrived here in the Northwest, and so I’m decked out in my summer uniform of tank top, cuffed jeans and flip-flops. (I’m not really a shorts kind of girl most of the time.) It was quite obvious that, like me, everyone in the store was trying to dress for ultimate comfort.

While debating between Snickers and Drumstick ice cream bars (I ended up with both,) a family came walking by me. They, too, were trying to decide what delectable sweet treat they wanted to take home. I glanced over at them, and immediately my jaw hit the floor. For there beside me stood two young girls, probably 16 or 17, clad in only string bikinis.

Immediately, I was taken back in time…

“Mom,” I cried one night in the third grade, “my clothes just aren’t cool enough. I don’t fit in!” Already, at eight years old, I was conscious of what was considered pretty and what wasn’t. My crooked teeth, thick glasses and thrift store clothes just didn’t work. (The irony here is I dress almost exclusively out of thrift stores and Ross today.) I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I simply wasn’t a beautiful girl.

Thus, the quest began. Eventually, without even thinking, I began to compare myself to others constantly. Middle school was an especially horrific time – there’s just no way to not feel awkward at 12 and 13 years old. By the time I was a junior in high school, braces had fixed my teeth and the unfashionable glasses had been replaced by contacts (again, ironic, since now I wear nothing but glasses.) Still, I knew that I wasn’t pretty. I began to skip lunch, indulging only in a soda and a candy bar. (I know, right? So healthy. And now I wonder why I battle caffeine and sugar addictions…)

At the time of my high school graduation, only 104 pounds covered by nearly 5’7″ frame. I look at pictures now, and my eyes seem too large in my gaunt face. I don’t look happy. I don’t look healthy. Yet there is part of me that would love to be a size 3 or 4 again, though now I am developing a much better relationship with food. Isn’t it strange, the way our minds work?

I was (an probably still am) a stereotypical girl. I wanted to be thin, gorgeous and have men falling all over me. Yet, no matter how thin I was, no matter how much department store make-up and name-brand clothing I spent my hard-earned money on, no matter how many boys I dated, I never felt pretty. I never felt worthy. I never felt loved.

All of this flashed through my mind in the brief second I glanced at those girls. I wonder if they were parading themselves around in their little bikinis because they thought all of those same things. I wonder if they felt bad for being interested in history, enjoying chemistry, loving algebra, or longing for books. I wonder when they began to believe that it was only their physical appearance that held any importance.

I ache for them, especially now. All of my close friends have gorgeous, funny, intelligent, fabulous little daughters. I pray that they never arrive at that dark place of wondering if anyone will love them just because their pants say size 10. I hope that they never feel beaten down by a few pimples. I desire for them to know that, no matter what is going on with their bodies, they are worthy and wonderful.

Why, ladies, do we not celebrate ourselves? Women’s lib and feminism was supposed to make us free, but are we really? Is it freedom to think that you’ve got to be as thin as a 10 year old and sleep around (even though you’ll be labeled a slut) and that it’s not “good enough” to want to be a wife and mother? Why can’t we see that we traded in one form of slavery for another? Trying to meet some stupid expectations of what a woman “should be” only leads to heartache.

There ought not to be either competitiveness with men or pandering to them. God created each of us uniquely and amazingly. We are each lovely. Is it important to be healthy? Yes, of course. But it’s also important to hold on to the truth and work hard to shut out the lies. What ought we model for our daughters, for the next generation? Dignity. Respect. Determination. Gentleness. Faith. Strength.

In short, all the things that women really are meant to be.

And it’s got nothing to do with clothing or skin.