I finished my 1600 meter race, sweaty and tired, I was called beautiful.

I woke up everyday for school, put my mascara and eyeliner on, I was called beautiful.

I saw family I hadn’t seen in too long, I was called beautiful.

I took my senior pictures, and did as the photographer told. I was called beautiful.

I cried and cried of heartache, wiped off my makeup, reapplied it, and went to back to school. I was called beautiful.

I was walking to school and honked at , I was called beautiful. I giggled and blew it off.

I cringed when my friend asked, “aren't you going to put on makeup?” Later, she called me beautiful.

I went to a party. I wasn’t called beautiful, but the words were all the same to me.

I was called strong when I finished my 13 mile race, I wasn’t called brave for sharing my deepest fears to my friend, I wasnt called independent for going to school. Instead many men in my life simply called me beautiful.

I was called beautiful.

I was called beautiful.

I was only ever called beautiful.

So why is it so hard to call myself beautiful and own it?

Beautiful has defined me and limited me. Without it, I disappeared into the the nothingness of life. With it, I held tightly to the false notion of worth.

Do you see me? Do you see past my skin that holds all my doubts and questions? Can you hear my cries of desperation, of someone to tell me something I am, other than beautiful?

Do you know how a song can make me cry and feel things most people deny? Do you know my anxiety and the thoughts in my heart when I must speak in public? Or how about when I laugh so hard I can’t breathe. Do you know why I’m laughing? Do you know how the mountains and pine trees, big sweaters and chili make me feel most at home? How I listen to understand? How I can’t cook chicken to save my life, but I can chat for hours to my best friend about love and loss?

You know my body, but you don’t know me. You would rather not see more than what you want to see.

Love yourself, you are beautiful, they say . I cannot escape the word. It is my worst demon and my highest saint. I try and I try and I try to escape it, burn it, bury it deep. It’s never far, it’s wrapped around my chest, clenching my heart tightly. I decide to search, who holds the other end?

I wander. I question. I scream. I cry. I keep searching. It is not me who holds the end. It is the boy who told me I was not his girlfriend If I didn’t wear makeup. It was the man who looked me up and down, telling me he could show me a good time. It was my friend telling me that everything was okay , I needed to stop crying, and be a strong lady. It was everyone but me.They took the word beautiful and soaked it with self doubt.

I am forever fighting my insecurities and struggles, but beautiful is no longer theirs to use. It is mine. It is mine.

I am not strong because I am beautiful. I am not successful because I’m beautiful. I am not resilient because I am beautiful.

I am beautiful because I am all of these things.

I am beautiful because I am strong. I am resilient. I am compassionate and loving and hopeful and insightful and all of these things are what make me beautiful.

I can stand strong and brave knowing that I am beautiful, too many, that is all I will ever be, but I am so much more to those who know me.My mom calls me beautiful because I am inside my heart. My love calls me beautiful because I make him laugh and put him at ease. God calls me beautiful because I am his child. I am loved.

It has taken me 23 years, but I finally love myself for exactly who I am and that, is beautiful.