I looked at the mirrored wall at the gym as I moved through the tai chi motions and had the most surprising thought. I never knew I was so beautiful.

Let me explain. I may have been a pretty baby, but I realized as soon as I hit kindergarten that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in my class. “Pretty” meant blonde or shiny black hair, and mine was a pale brown. “Pretty” was big blue or dark brown eyes, and mine were smallish, greenish ones. “Pretty” was dimples and a glittering smile, and mine was always a bit crooked. So I knew from a young age that I would never stand out for my beauty.

As I matured, I understood that there was something called “inner beauty.” Nice people looked nice. Mean people, even if they were physically attractive, lost something in the way of real beauty. No matter how perfect their hair or their features or their body, if they were unkind, it often showed in their faces. I decided I would try really hard to stand out for having inner beauty. I would try to be kind. I would try not to lose my temper. I would try to be loving and giving. I would not be mean.

But even so, I never felt beautiful. So I really was surprised with the thought.

Maybe it was looking at myself in the full-length mirrored wall from a distance. Maybe it was finally learning the slow, graceful movements of tai chi. Maybe it was just removing judgment and seeing myself as others might see me. But in that moment, I saw myself as beautiful, and it had been a very long time since I’d thought of myself that way.

I wasn’t trying to look beautiful. I wasn’t comparing myself to others in the room. I was just enjoying myself, enjoying the quiet music and the sway of my body, the freedom and sense of accomplishment I felt as I mastered something new. But if there was one thing I learned from the thought, it was that I wished I had allowed myself to feel this way earlier on in life. I wish I’d never compared or critiqued or judged myself. I wish I’d spent more time enjoying the music and being grateful that I had a body that could move with it. I wish I’d spent more time challenging myself to do something that made me feel beautiful.

Maybe I saw myself as God saw me in that moment, an older woman feeling youthful, a woman feeling the joy of discovery and the freedom of learning, a child of God, grateful for her life and another day to praise Him.