Once a week, usually on Sunday afternoons, my sister and I do something together. We’ve gone to painting classes, we’re going zip lining, this coming weekend we are going for a drive to Pigeon Forge to white water raft on the Ocoee River, we go eat every weekend and, most of all, we shop. We spent five hours recently at Opry Mills. We haunt bookstores and thrift shops like Goodwill. On Black Friday, we shopped for a consecutive (meaning “without stopping”) 32 hours. Shopping with my sister is like running a marathon. She can shop all day long, go home with nothing and be happy about the fact she spent numerous hours shopping without getting anything. She will walk into a store and then proceed to physically touch and examine nearly every piece of clothing in the place. She’ll try on dozens, and I try hard to keep her away from certain areas because, if I wasn’t there to drag her away from them, she’d never leave. Me, on the other hand, me, I attack shopping like it’s a fly in my way. I usually “shop” from home and then, if I can’t find what I want, or if I’m not sure, I’ll reluctantly go to the store, speed walk to the relevant section, quickly grab the coolest thing I see and hightail it out of the place. I do not “browse.”. So my sister’s method used to drive me insane. Not only did it feel like a waste of valuable time but it was physically exhausting. I could not see what the heck the big deal was.

Until recently.

Recently, I had a revelation, one for which Mandi will be very happy. As I was looking at things I knew I would not buy, and being talked into trying them on by my sister, it dawned on me that clothes matter. You see, I may have cute clothes but I don’t see them as such. I see them as articles of warmth. I see them as psychologically helpful as I have no desire to parade around naked. Basically, I buy clothes because I have to have them. I don’t think about what style jeans I’m buying—flare, low rise, boot cut—I mean, as long as they fit and look kind of neat, I’m good. I couldn’t care less what an A-line dress is or how it will fall on my body. If it catches my eye, and I –need– a new dress, I’ll try it on to make sure it isn’t hideous. I don’t map out what type of clothes look “best” on me and then look specifically for that type of clothing. I only buy new clothes for myself, like, once every five years so, I mean, really, why put too much thought into it? Me and Wheeza, from “Steel Magnolias” probably have similar views on clothes. I want to look ok, sure, but I don’t want to spend my time staring at shirts that, except for the colors, all look the same. For thirty one years, I’ve managed to get by alright. Unfortunately, my sister designs clothes in her sleep. Shopping is fun to her. And I like my sister, so I agreed to shop with her.

Eventually, this bought about the startling revelation that shopping for clothes isn’t really about shopping at all. It’s about feeling good about yourself. You see, if I put on an outfit that I can’t stand…. The whole day just got off to the wrong start. I work at home, and only go outside to play. Staying in comfy pjs makes perfect sense to me. Except that, if I do it enough, slowly, day by day, I start to FEEL inferior to other women. I start to feel simple and plain, and… Well, ugly. I get dressed every day not because I’m necessarily going to leave the house, or have visitors. I get dressed every day because doing so makes me feel better about being me. Until fairly recently, I loved dressing up for no reason. I’d wear “dress up” pants instead of jeans every day. I’d fix my hair every day. I’d never be caught dead outside without foundation on. Dressy clothes made me feel pretty, made it easier to fool myself. Slowly, jeans became more common because it really isn’t easy to crawl through tunnels in skirts or dressy pants. I was too occupied with playing, I didn’t have time to care about clothes.

It’s easy to forget myself. But shopping can be a gentle reminder of what it’s like, and of how important it is, to give ourselves permission to feel pretty, feminine, all that. Sometimes, my sister and I would see really nice dresses and try them on, even though we knew we weren’t spending “that kind of money” that day. Still, I’d try on a fancy dress, walk out into the dressing area to view the three way mirrors and twirl, feeling my heart do a funny little leap at the mirror’s reflection. It wasn’t that I was so beautiful–and yet it was. I mean, honestly…. What little girl has never longed to slide her foot into a glass slipper? What teenage girl has never dreamt of finding a magical dress for prom? What bride doesn’t want the perfect dress, the one that makes her feel deep inside that, yes, today IS her time to shine? On a smaller scale, the clothes we adorn ourselves in do the same thing every day. We want to “look our best” because it helps us to “feel our best.” It gives us a small measure of extra confidence.

The truth is we are more than moms. We are more than wives. We are more than executives. We are more than waitresses. We are more than college students. We are women, human beings. And like all human beings, we struggle to maintain a piece of that childhood confidence that assured us we were princesses and queens. The flaws that we are all too aware of, criticism and heartbreak… They all scratch at that confidence every day. Bits of it chip away until we’re weary, and it’s easier to begin avoiding mirrors and “give up trying”. We think we have to “accept who we are” but, really, what we’e accepting is a lie. We’re accepting the lie that says ten, or twenty, pounds matters. We’re accepting the lie that says a $100 dollar hairstyle is better than old fashioned curlers. We accept the lie that whispers beautiful means model. We accept the lie that says we’re plain, and that’s the way it is. We start to believe that make-up, curlers and dresses are a waste of time because they won’t transform us into our idea of beautiful. Sweat pants and tee shirts replace jeans and Old Navy shirts.

All of that is a lie.

We are princesses in sweat pants and unbrushed hair. We are beautiful princesses without a lick of make up. No amount of lipstick can make our smile any more precious, any more beautiful or bright. It does not matter whether our purse is Gucci or Wal-Mart. Materialistic things come and they go. We are made in the image of a beautiful, powerful and perfect God who has never and will never make a single mistake. But. We have to give ourselves daily reminders of our royal heritage. We have to remember to care for our fragile self esteem and confidence just as we would fiercely protect the confidence of our children. We have to be gentle with ourselves. And, sometimes, the best reminder is a tangible piece of clothing that we see as beautiful and luxurious. Sometimes putting make up on is something we do not because it really makes us look that much better but because it makes us FEEL prettier. We can tell ourselves affirmations every day, and they help us believe in ourselves, but, sometimes, we need something more. A magical, idyllic date, the look in someone’s eyes as he gazes a us, the feel of soft fabric as it dances around us. Clothes don’t make us shine, they don’t make us beautiful—but they can give us that gentle nudge, they can act as a reminder to share and be proud of all the inner beauty that marks us just as royal as Miss America. We shine the brightest, we effortlessly share our best self with others when we feel good about ourselves.

It’s easy to overlook ourselves. It’s easy to get so caught up in giving that you forget to give to yourself. It’s easy to forget that we’re princesses. But my doctor told me that there is no point to pain… It is, she said, a physiological reaction that is designed to tell us that something is wrong and we need to do something to fix it. If we “solider through” the pain, if we allow ourselves to drown in the pain of the fatigue, in the stress, we don’t gain anything, we don’t prove anything–instead, we merely prolong the pain, make ourselves weaker and weaker, make it harder and harder for our real beauty, that which makes us who we are, to shine.

Princesses take care of themselves — they know that giving to themselves every now and then helps them be stronger and sweeter, helps them shine brighter and longer than when they lose themselves in service. It isn’t selfish to give heed to the whisper that wants us to light candles and take a bubble bath, or to spend three hours looking at lovely things. It isn’t selfish to find something that makes us smile even though no one else sees… It’s protecting the light that shines inside, the light that enables us to give hundreds of piggy back rides, read a thousand stories or host a dozen sleepovers. It protects the light that allows us to lead, allows us to worship joyfully, allows us to believe in hope and mankind. If taking care of themselves means to write, then they need to write regularly. If it means dancing, they need to dance. And if it means looking at clothes they find lovely without buying a single item, then they need to shop. Real beauty starts on the inside and bursts through our smiles, the twinkle in our eyes, the embraces we give and the work our hands do. Real beauty needs to be taken care of, protected, and we do that when we rest, when we take time to remember what used to fire our passions, drive our motivations and color our dreams. Those around us are precious. Their needs, desires, talents and sorrows matter. They are princes and princesses too, and our first goal should always be to reach our hand out to them. But once our responsibilities are met, once our children are happy and safe.. We need to find a mirror and care for the one whose beautiful reflection we see staring back at us for she, too, is a princess of immeasurable worth.