Melissa Hogarty is sharing how she learned to accept she is beautiful whether she is dressed up or in sweatpants. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Meriç Dağlı on Unsplash
“You look cute!” my husband says with a smile, walking up beside me and wrapping one arm around my side.
I laugh uncomfortably as I look down to take myself in.
I am wearing shapeless, threadbare sweatpants tied around my hips with a drawstring and the same v-neck cotton t-shirt I wore yesterday. It is almost dinner time, but I am still in my pajamas. My long hair is scrambled together in a limp, greasy knot that has long since migrated from the crown of my head toward my left ear. I can’t see my face, but I remember that I am wearing day-old mascara and likely look like a raccoon.
He gives me a suggestive squeeze. I bump his side with my hip affectionately, but my internal monologue has little to do with the interest he is paying me.
How can he think I look nice right now? I wonder. I haven’t showered for two days…I probably smell terrible! I am a mess. I self-consciously stand up a little straighter and attempt to suck my stomach in.
I do not see what my husband sees. In fact, I’m fairly certain there is nothing attractive about me as I stand at the kitchen counter slicing mushrooms.
Why doesn’t he ever compliment me when I actually feel pretty? I fume, not for the first time. I grouse about his motives and consider telling him flat-out I’m not in the mood, that I feel as gross as I know I look. But instead, I twirl out of his grasp and move to place a saucepan on the stove, keeping my lips clamped shut.
Remember the movie My Fair Lady? (Or, if you were a child of the 90s, She’s All That.)
Let me give you a quick refresher: an unkempt, unloved girl gets swept into a scheme to raise her social status. The method? A makeover. No sooner does she transform into a stylish, well-mannered creature than everyone around her suddenly realizes she is worthwhile and competes to win her affections.
I didn’t understand for many years what a deep impression this narrative made on me—and what damage it had done. I thought of myself as poor Eliza (or Laney), but I was my own makeover artist, carefully conditioning myself to pay attention to the smallest details. I hammered my appearance without mercy.
Over the years, I have blazed with shame over minor crimes such as accidental muffin-top, spilling something on my shirt, chipped nail polish, or a stray eyebrow hair. I have been sure everyone was looking at me in judgment, seeing only the imperfections in my body and personal style. I knew the right image was the key to make everyone see how great I was. I thought I could win love, as Eliza did, if only I achieved beauty.
If you are thinking that doesn’t sound like love, then you are right.
I have been married for 11 years, and being married has forced me to unlearn most of what I thought I knew about beauty. Not because married love is perfect or unconditional—but because my specific husband is fairly immune to conventional charms.
He has the unique perspective that looks are immaterial and contentment is the most attractive feature of all.
He once literally told me he prefers for me to look “comfortable.” (News flash: in my quest to attain a higher beauty, comfort was never on my list of goals.) He has been known to shrug when I get dolled up with my hair pinned perfectly and my high heels on—not exactly the va-va-va-voom reaction I aim for. To him, made-up lips aren’t kissable; instead, he worries about somehow ingesting my lip gloss if he goes in for a smooch. In fact, I’m pretty sure he views a carefully planned outfit as a force field designed to keep him at bay, lest he ruin the illusion.
By contrast, when I am (in my own mind) grungy, he finds me approachable. He sidles up to me and admires my bulky sweatshirts and fuzzy socks. I am wearing them for warmth, but he is probably thinking about how best to get them off.
When my husband compliments me, I wonder what he’s really looking at. He is unable to notice whether I have spinach in my teeth (this is both a blessing and a curse), and he cannot accurately identify most of the colors I wear, but he can see beauty where I cannot.
I still do not understand why he is attracted to me when I don’t feel my best. We used to fight about it: I thought he didn’t appreciate me and he thought I was trying too hard.
But the truth is, I think God blessed me with marriage to this man so I would have to reexamine the reasons I care about appearance.
On a foggy Tuesday morning, he follows me outside to help load our kids into the car; I am already late for my MOPS meeting. Catching my eye across the seats, he smiles and says, “You look nice.” As part of growing toward each other, he has learned to see the effort I take with my appearance, while I have begun to keep it more casual at home. But days when I actually leave my house are a different story. Today I am wearing my favorite boots and non-kid-friendly earrings. The contours of my face are exaggerated, and my eyes pop beneath smoky shadow.
“Thanks!” I tell him enthusiastically. “Any excuse to get pretty.”
I finish tightening the straps of my daughter’s car seat and close the door. He comes around the car to give me a cautious kiss. When he pulls away, there are two glossy streaks on his own mouth. Out of habit, I reach up and smudge them away.
“You’re always pretty. But you get really dressed up for MOPS,” he observes as I slide into my seat. “Like you all have to impress each other.”
It’s as if he has shined a light into a corner I never noticed before—am I still trying to convince people to like me…with my appearance? I do pull out all the stops when I’m going to spend time with a group of women. Even on the days when I am running horribly behind, I cannot imagine leaving my house without consulting the mirror.
His words echo inside me for weeks.
When I finally make peace in my heart, it’s because I realize I never feel awkward if I’m overdressed. I like dressing up—and I don’t care what anyone else is wearing. I think it’s fun to practice updos, and I love the swish of a skirt around my legs. Scarves and earrings are as essential to me as brushing my teeth in the morning.
This is freedom, I surmise. Whether I dial it up to fancy or wear my pajamas until dinner time, my choice isn’t weighed down by the need to please anyone else. When I make the effort to look nice, I do it for me.
And when I don’t? It’s a blessing to know I can be beautiful even in my sweatpants.
Melissa Hogarty is a habitually overwhelmed mama who is learning to slow down and sometimes say no. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three kids, who regularly teach her that she has more to learn in the areas of grace, patience, and letting loose. She can often be found cuddled up with a good novel or pulling cookies out of the oven. Melissa is an editor and regular contributor at Kindred Mom and a member of the Exhale creative community. She enjoys singing with her church worship team and fellowshipping with other moms. She also writes a personal blog, Savored Grace, where you can find recipes as well as ideas about motherhood and faith.