"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
March 12, 2015
Big Feet
by Hannah Bird

On Wednesday nights, I wait at ballet while my daughters take technique class. Ballet may conjure up visions of glamorous dancers in tutus and little girls in pink leotards with their first pair of slippers. For me, ballet looks like Wednesday night.

The outfits are not glamorous. The tights are holey. The pointe shoes are battered. There are no ruffled tutus. The girls are red-faced and sweaty. Hair is yanked back in hasty buns that wilt under the heat and damp.

The will do the same leap again and again. They will pick it apart and do it better. They will try and fail. Then, they will line up to do it again.

I have known some of these girls for many years. I get sweaty hugs when I enter the studio. Their red faces shine. The white-knuckled determination that makes them try over and over erupts into ecstatic bouncing when their brain and body and their art all come together and they finally succeed.

Every Wednesday I want to say, “Look. Look and see how beautiful you are.” But if I did they would look and see the muscled thighs that they wish were thinner. They will see the fallen hair and the blotchy face. They will see knobby knees and the anxieties of being a girl.

They will not understand that at that moment, no woman in the world is more beautiful than they are.

I remember a bit of a kerfuffle at one of my high schools. A girl had decided to ask a popular boy to a girls’ choice dance. He was handsome and smart. He had the right clothes. He was from the right neighborhood.

She was the opposite. She did not have any of the attributes that were the definition of “pretty.”  She had the wrong shape, the wrong hair, the wrong complexion. Her clothes were wrong.

It was a bit of a drama. How, the chatter went, how could she think that she could ask him out?

He was saved by a pretty, popular girl who hurried and asked him before anyone could be embarrassed. Social order was restored.

If it was a movie, Plain Jane would have shown up at the dance transformed. She would have become a stunning beauty. He would have seen her true beauty along with her newly acquired conventional beauty. He would be smitten.

But it was high school. So everyone returned to their carefully constructed social circles and stayed there.

I thought that was just what being a teenager was.

As we judged her, we judged ourselves. Being me was just awful. I didn’t look right. One needed a tan to be lovely in the eighties and the best I could muster was Casper white with a generous array of fat freckles.

My hair was neither straight nor curly. Fashion dictated that is should be straight and silky or a giant kooshball perm. But my hair was vaguely fuzzy and didn’t perm well. My clothes weren’t right either. When I finally figured out the right clothes I was informed I had gotten them from the wrong store.

I had big feet. They were much too big to fit in mother’s coveted buffalo sandals from Israel. I couldn’t wear her vintage cowboy boots. I had the biggest feet of my hostile little social circle. One wouldn’t exactly call them friends. In truth, I was a half size bigger than what I wore but cramming my feet in shoes that didn’t fit was better than admitting how grotesque I actually was.

Mostly I was just mean and sad and awkward. I felt bad about how I looked. I was sure I felt bad because of how I looked.

My third daughter will be 15 this spring. She has the kind of breezy grace that comes with being beautiful and fully aware of it. She is unaffected by style. She has developed her own elegant blend of vintage clothes and sparse lines. Her polish and grace are reflected in her clothing.

She doesn’t bother with makeup. She will put on lip balm if I nag about chapping. But mostly she is just she. She is beautiful.

I think sometimes that it must be nice to be “that girl.” We tease her about it a little.

She got her complexion from me. She has the same fair sensitive skin besmirched by the same fat freckles. Her hair is not straight or curly. She wears it in soft waves that fall to her waist.

She has the biggest feet I have ever seen on a girl. We cannot buy her shoes in a store. Her street shoes must be ordered online. She needs custom made pointe shoes. Her hands are bigger than her daddy’s.

She prefers to collect her clothes from thrift stores and odd lot sales. She likes weird things. I did too. I just didn’t know that it was ok.

It turns out that being sad or happy about yourself has less to do with who you are than you might think. I could have felt just fine when I was 15. She could feel awkward now. I didn’t and she doesn’t. But the fact remains we get to decide to be ashamed. We also get to decide to be stunning with rare grace and ease. Beauty is a fickle birthright. But grace and elegance are not subject to features or fashion.

I could have chosen to be perfectly happy with myself.

I suppose I still can. You can too.  

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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