My 3 year old daughter loves to put on make up and have her toenails painted. She wears dresses around the house and runs for exercise with a full array of jewelry hanging from her neck and wrists. She regularly asks, “Do I look pretty?”

I showed up to an 80 year old client’s house last week to clean for her. She had just found out that her husband is gravely ill; she is about to lose her life partner. However, she still greeted me in a pink sweater and pink and silver hoop earrings. She had just come from the salon, and her hair was perfect. She was lovely, pretty in pink.

All women, from 3 to 80, want to feel pretty.

I can’t remember what it’s like to feel pretty.

Most days I don’t even try to tame the beast of my appearance.  I wear work jeans and an old T-shirt and don’t bother to put any make up on.  I rarely do my hair but instead just let my natural curl shoot out in any direction it chooses.   I don’t see the point in bothering with the fuss.  It seems like such a waste of time in my busy day.

When I was young I primped and preened and loved to be looked at.  I loved to attract attention.  There were moments I looked in the mirror and thought, “Ooh, girl, you look good!”

My pride has now been demolished though by years of ridicule and mocking.  I’m afraid to even try.  I remember trying after one of my babies was born.  I had worked out daily and denied myself the food I love in order to get back into a special pair of pants for a special day out with my husband.  He was near the car, waiting for me.  I stepped outside, hair done, make up on, wearing a bright top and my white pants with high heels.  My white pants.  I hadn’t worn them since before the baby.  I stood in the grass, waiting for the reaction, waiting to take his breath away.  Instead, he turned and looked at me, shrugged and turned away, then looked back over his shoulder and asked, “You aren’t really gonna wear those pants out in public, are you?  They make you look fat cuz they’re still too tight.”

There was the long stretch in between babies when I knew I turned heads in the grocery store.  I saw men look at me.  Yet, at home in my bikini my husband stood beside me in the pool, beer in his hand, belly protruding onto the air mattress I was lying on, rubbing the back of my thighs in an effort to “rub out the cellulite.”

My cellulite was always a problem.  I had been forbidden to eat or drink dairy products, even during my pregnancies, because “dairy causes cellulite, and you already have too much of a problem with cellulite.”  I craved milk to such a degree when I was pregnant that I even tried hiding it in an ice chest outside to sneak and drink while he was gone.  I was skin and bones and my baby had persistent failure to thrive, but I was still too fat.

Shortly before he left me he brought home a T-shirt from the company for whom he worked.  It was a junior cut, kinda cute; they’d had one done up for each of the wives.  He asked me to try it on.  We had not been intimate in over a year.  He had not seen me in any state of undress in all that time.  This was the first time in over a year that he sat and watched me as I took off my top.  I felt nervous, like a young girl.  The T-shirt fit perfectly, and I smiled at him.  He looked concerned, worried.  I didn’t know what might be going through his head.  After a moment he asked, “Do you think you might be going through menopause?  You aren’t fat anywhere else, just around the belly.  You carry a lot of fat around your belly, like women who are going through menopause.  Do you think you could be?”

I’ve tried once in awhile.  I’ve dressed up for church and my children’s college graduations.  But, I’ve felt like a clown with all that make up on.  I remember when I was very young people saying, “You could make a gunny sack look good.”  Now, I can put on my nicest knit maxi skirt, a tunic tank top, and a flowing short sleeved sweater, all in matching shades of amethyst, and I can make them look like a gunny sack.

Yes, I’m older now.  Yes, I’m heavier now.  But, I see much older women who still look incredibly sexy.  And, I see women who are more than just 15 pounds overweight who still look very beautiful.  It’s that thing on the inside that I’ve lost.  That belief that it is possible for me to look pretty with just the right dress.  That belief that some man will look at me and find everything he has ever longed for hidden in my eyes, waiting just for him.  I feel like an it.  A beast.  I feel like a brute beast feeding in a pasture.  I don’t feel feminine anymore, no matter what I wear.