The contrast between the women in the two videos could not have been starker.
The first woman kept her head down, talking lovingly to a baby in her lap, not looking up until addressed directly by the cameraman. And then, she looked pained, as if she found showing her face excruciating – for good reason. She was heavy – lumpish, her face shiny with oil and beet red with acne. Her hair was short, manly and dishwater blond. Her glasses were thick, large and unfashionable, as were her clothes.
The second woman is seen from a distance, singing to a crowded, buzzing concert hall. She’s wearing a low cut, body-hugging, cherry red dress revealing a shapely, lean figure. Her arms are flung wide to the well-dressed audience, face open and happy as she moves smoothly to the music on glittery black stilettos, accentuating muscled legs. Her fashionably cut, shoulder-length blond hair swings to the music – “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Both women are me. The first video was shot 23 years ago, when I was a mom in my 20s, the second, from a concert I recently performed while visiting relatives in Minnesota. Not long after that event, those same relatives and I viewed that first video of our kids … and a much different version of myself at 29 years of age.
I had not reckoned how viewing my younger, tortured self would feel. I had all but forgotten that girl. Viewing her, I felt the old shame and revulsion, but something more – deep compassion.
I wanted to reach into the screen and take her to a place of love and gentleness. I longed to undo the ridicule she received in middle school, free her from the cage of apparent security that conservative religion had provided, but most of all, show her the inherent beauty her body possessed, the tenderness in her blue-green eyes, uncover the radiant smile hidden for so long.
I felt desperate to rewind time and save her, but realized, with a jolt, that I already had. The massive changes that began shortly after that first video had transformed me and culminated with a most powerful metamorphosis; I finally accepted myself. I learned that the most important person to impart that love was me.
Secure in that love, I left a marriage that was long dead, built a new life, and created an exterior as beautiful as the interior I had always possessed. And, in a surreal reversal of fate, now publicly performed with exuberance, power and femininity – about as far from that 29-year-old as a housefly is from a phoenix.
I am not the insecure and critical girl I once was. The gentleness and patience granted personally is now given to everyone in my life. I walk into burning buildings of people’s misery and troubles, with a groundswell of warmth and empathy. The alchemy is complete.
But, sooner or later, age brings deterioration and illness. Looks are lost and talents may fade. Careers end, fortunes evaporate, loved ones die. What then? In making true peace with the awkward, unattractive girl I once was, I will return to that same bedrock of love and acceptance for the aged, diminished woman I will surely become. I deserve it – we all do. Then, now and forever.