I once heard a story about Marilyn Monroe walking with a dear friend in New York City. The two had been walking a few blocks when the friend turned to Marilyn, perplexed.
About what Honey, said Marilyn.
You’re Marilyn Monroe and not a single person has even seemed to notice you.
Oh, you want people to notice me?
Within seconds heads turned, people asked for autographs, car windows rolled down to gape, the two women didn’t have another second alone.
So what happened? She didn’t run home to change her clothes. She didn’t fix her hair or add more makeup. She didn’t even say a single thing. So what was it? What changed?
* * *
I passed that way every day for almost a month. But this day was different. And only partly because I had just woken up from a forbiddenly decadent siesta in my dreamy little Mexican town. That was only the start of it.
I breathed in the scent of freshly baked muffins mixed with the salty sand and sea just as a friend waved to me from inside the café.
Hey, Brynne! There’s someone I want you to meet!
I snuck around the low cement wall to see her sitting across from a man with happy, sparkling eyes.
Hi Brynne. Marcelo. His hand outstretched to meet mine.
Now I think its fair to say I didn’t exactly see sparks but I did feel an enormous smile open up somewhere deep inside me, and so big that it could have swallowed someone whole if they got too close.
Hola Marcelo. Nice to meet you. I beamed.
And that was that. The connection was born and I was forever changed.
Life was good. Better than good. We explored secret ocean coves, ate glorious meals, sang songs, danced and cried and laughed our hearts out. For years.
But after awhile I began to start to feel bad about the fact that Marcelo never told me I was beautiful. Now this may seem trivial to some, but to me it wasn’t. I was used to men telling me I was beautiful. Not many, but at least the few I had dated. And especially if I had gotten dressed up for a nice dinner, they always complimented me with a nice adjective. But Marcelo, not once. So finally one night when I was home alone, I had had enough. I wanted to feel beautiful and realized I was never going to hear it from the man I loved. I crumbled into a heap on the bed.
It was then it dawned on me.
All my life I had let others tell me about myself. And not just tell me, but define me. If someone told me I was beautiful, I was. If someone told me I was funny or smart or thoughtful, I was. If they told me I was mean or rude or impossible, well then, I was probably those things, too. So then, since Marcelo had never told me I was beautiful, did that mean I wasn’t? Wasn’t I acting that way? How ridiculous!
The very thing I had struggled with for so long was suddenly an opportunity for me to see myself more clearly. So right then and there I decided I was beautiful. Not when someone else told me so, but when I told myself. And as far as I was concerned, that was going to be every day from there on out.
* * *
Do you ever think I’m beautiful?
Of course I do. All the time.
Well, next time you do, could you tell me so?
But his words, when I finally did hear them, the words I had even ached for, didn’t define me. They were just a delightful bonus—the icing on a cake I had already made for myself.
* * *
We seem to forget that we define ourselves. We are who we believe ourselves to be, which means that we each have our own incredible power. Like Marilyn, we can decide to be seen or not seen. Like me, beautiful or not beautiful. Contrary to how it may feel sometimes, no one else decides these things for us. We decide them for ourselves. When we see others who have mastered this—like Marilyn—it may seem like magic. And in a way it is. But it’s a magic we all possess. We just forget to use it.