Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I have never been conventionally beautiful, and in middle school, like so many of my peers, I reached maximum ugly duckling status.
My hygiene was good (thank god), but I slept on my wet hair, barely brushed it, and never wore makeup.
It just didn't occur to me.
My mom is this naturally beautiful tomboy type. For most of my childhood, she had this tremendously thick chestnut mane that ran to her waist.
Her perfect green eyes shone, and a spatter of freckles across her nose only highlighted the fact that she was a woman who loved being outdoors, loved playing sports.
In short, we are total opposites.
My mom didn't like makeup or hairstyles.
She STILL has the set of curlers that she got to do her hair for her wedding.
For church on Sundays, she would wear Chanel number five and maybe lipstick.
I never asked for makeup or thought about it, because in our home it just wasn't important.
Or so I thought.
One morning before school I was sitting at the table, hunched over like a monster, shoveling cereal into my mouth, my skin covered in acne and a sheen of oil.
I looked up to find my dad looking at me in abject disgust.
A few days later he gave me a strange, rousing pep talk about taking pride in one's appearance.
"For godsakes iron your clothes and brush your hair! Get it out of your face!"
It was jarring, but I did what he said.
I didn't listen because he's my dad and that's what you do, I listened because if my dad was talking about physical appearance mattering, then it must.
Not just because he was my dad.
My dad was born with cerebral palsy. It has affected his speech and movement. He's been judged for how he looks his entire life.
So if THIS guy was telling me I needed to get my act together, I felt like there might be something to it.
A week or so later he presented me with a gift.
It was a small brown bag, and inside it was a Maybeline great lash mascara, Almay blue eye shadow and a Vitamin E stick for my lips.
Because my mom didn't really buy makeup, my dad's little shopping expedition was clearly informed by his own 70 plus year old mother.
I didn't know this at the time. What I did know was that the mascara made my eyes look bigger, and the Vitamin E stick soothed my perpetually chapped lips.
I began to play with makeup.
I began to play with what made me feel better to use on my face, and what didn't.
My confidence, as a result, skyrocketed.
It's funny when I tell the story now, to see people's eyebrows go up to their foreheads.
They're expecting it to end with an indictment of my father, forcing the chains of proscribed female behavior onto me.
But it wasn't that way at all.
My father saw me, his beautiful daughter, neglecting herself.
He saw my unbrushed hair and greasy skin and wasn't thinking "Christ, what a mess."
Instead, he was thinking "My beautiful daughter is losing her confidence."
And he was right. I was.
It was just blue eye shadow, but to me it was everything.
It made me think about the way my father took care of his own physical appearance.
He's dark blonde and blue eyed like me, and like me, he wears oversized spectacles and smiles too widely.
Like me, he's found a way of dressing (a dapper suit, a pocket square) that makes me feel comfortable and happy in the world.
My dad wasn't trying to pigeonhole me into being one kind of woman, he was letting me know that he saw my beauty and he wanted me to be able to see it too.
This was a true gift. It's one I still carry with me.
My dad gave me the ability to see how transforming the way I look can transform the way I feel.
Strangely, it's given me another gift, one he probably didn't expect.
That gift was learning that while appearances matter, they aren't everything.
The idea didn't scare me the way it might scare other women, because I knew that makeup was just one way of feeling at home in my skin.
There are a million others, and being happy and kind to myself? That's a tool that's just as powerful.