In the junior high cafeteria, I sat alone every lunch period. I knew no one and no one seemed interested in getting to know me. I had braces, no fashion sense, and a body that was all out of proportion. I ate my lunch as fast as I could without making eye contact, then stuck my face in a book. A few weeks later I learned we could go to the library during our lunch periods and after I ate, I’d get out of that cafeteria as fast as I could. The next semester when the guidance counselor asked if I’d mind not having a lunch period so I could take the classes I had to take, I said that was no problem at all. Inside, I jumped for joy.
Fast forward twenty three years. As I walked up Merrimon Avenue yesterday, a man at a stop light leaned out his window and said, “Girl, you’re looking good today!” I smiled. “Thank you.” There was a time I didn’t appreciate men yelling anything to me in public. Actually, if it was complimentary I assumed they must not be talking to me anyway. It’s still not my preferred method of receiving compliments, but at least now I can appreciate some kind words – even if they are tossed out from a car window. As I continued my walk, I smiled thinking back to those teenage years when I wouldn’t have dreamed anyone would ever tell me I looked good.
High school wasn’t much better than junior high – but at least I had people to sit with at lunch. My fashion sense may have improved a little (thanks to secretly “borrowing” my little sister Liz’s clothes), but I still had braces all four years and a body I hated.
Now the braces are gone. I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for this body I’ve been blessed with – it did, after all, get me through a 500 mile walk across Spain. My fashion sense: well, I know what looks good on me. That doesn’t stop me from showing up to holiday family gatherings, looking around, and thinking I should hire my three sisters to redo my wardrobe.
I walked into a bar a few weeks ago to meet a friend. He flooded me with compliments on my appearance and over the course of the conversation said some more wonderful things about me to some of the friends to whom he introduced me. The next day, in a conversation with another friend, I said how this has happened quite a few times since I’ve moved here – men here seem to be pretty good at giving compliments. (I am still learning how to be good at receiving them.) “Is it Asheville?” I asked him, wondering if men were just more forthcoming with compliments here. “Well, you are smoking hot,” he said. He continued on, but I didn’t hear anything after that. Smoking hot? What? I know I’m not the timid, body-conscious kid I was in junior high. But “smoking hot”? Me?
I tell my students all the time to give themselves credit for the progress they’ve made before telling me all that they didn’t accomplish. I often find myself giving the advice I most need to hear .
So today I’m going to give myself some credit. After trying on seven different tops and four different pairs of jeans, I finally looked in the mirror and told myself I looked good. But smoking hot? I think that’s pushing it.