BY SADIE ROSE CASEY
In 11th grade I set off for boarding school, deep in the prairie lands of Colorado and nestled at the base of the mountains. There I experienced a unique coming-of-age—living with other girls in our adobe-style dormitories, plastering our walls with pages from Cosmo, and the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs. In those rooms we whispered many mythologies about sex (who had done it? Who hadn’t?) and we worshipped the unspoken laws of beauty. Those who did not subscribe risked ridicule and rejection. It was the only way many of us knew to understand the social structure; we based it on beauty, and we confused beauty with worth.
As an adult, I eventually realized we were not alone in this calculation (this misconception) nor were we necessarily at fault. This is the common way in our country. We are valued initially at face value, literally.
At my boarding school there was a girl named Lynn. She alone defied the laws of teenage gravity, and rose above the beauty standards and limitations. With pure love and radiant spirit, she cut through the shackles that bound us all to the ground. She wore whatever she wanted. She didn’t brush her hair, and it fell in long, tangled locks down her back. Her teeth were wildly crooked, it was one of the first things I noticed, and her wide face was set far outside of what we were taught was beautiful.
Lynn sang between classes, she danced barefoot in the grass (for real) and she smiled at everyone. In ceramics class, she brought the new Lauren Hill CD and played it for us, singing along with her soulful voice. That day, she told us she was in love with a boy named Stewart, who went to college in Oregon. “We’re in love,” she told us. I remember that moment so powerfully, I was stunned. I marveled at her confidence, at her ability to penetrate the elusive world of love. I knew at that moment that it was love I wanted to pursue—not beauty or brand names or the popular perfume that permeated our dorm rooms. This was, of course, at a time where I could not fathom how one would possibly meet college boys in Oregon, never mind fall in love with them.
In retrospect, Lynn was what many would have labeled “a hippie.” She went to Dave Matthews Band concerts and wore apron-shirts that revealed her entire back; she read books not included in the school’s curriculum, and she told us we should read them, too. She wrote poetry and read it aloud. Also in retrospect, Lynn is a hero. In a time and place where uniqueness was risky, she embraced it. By some grace of god, she had been gifted with the ability to be herself, even at age 16. And because she was able to be herself, she was able to love more freely and to see more clearly. I was awestruck by Lynn. I was confounded by the paradox that she embodied: she was not classically beautiful, yet she seemed to be the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was luminous, joyful … she was gorgeous—there was no denying it. Of all the people on that campus, Lynn was one of the few who could see through my costume of teenaged acne and weight gain. She gave me credit beyond that. She listened to me and looked at my spirit. She smiled at me, she gave me hope.
Simply by existing, Lynn taught me an invaluable lesson: beauty is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder, it is in the being of she who owns it. By being myself and by loving who I truly am, I, too, had the potential to be beautiful. In an era of awkward youth and desperation for acceptance, this was mind-boggling. But I had seen it in action, I had seen it succeed. I left that campus with my high school diploma, eternal love for the Colorado landscape, and radical knowledge on self-love and beauty. I knew these things:
I would write poetry.
I would sing.
I would fall in love with a boy in Oregon.
I would move my body however I wanted, I would walk barefoot in the grass, I would feel myself in my skin.
Through this, I would love myself. I would be beautiful.
About Sadie Rose Casey
Sadie Rose is a writer, designer, stylist and vintage clothier who lives in Northern California. When she is not writing, designing, styling, or trying to decide which project to start next, she enjoys reading excellent novels, drinking tea, and sitting in the sun. Above all, her greatest pastime (and accomplishment) is watching her 10-year-old son reveal to her the great mysteries of the universe. Read more at SadieRoseCasey.com.