There have been plenty of times I’ve woken up, groggily walked myself to the bathroom and, upon first look in the mirror, thought, “I hate the way you look.” Granted, unless you are the star of a far-fetched rom-com with access to a makeup team and excellent lighting, no one really looks that great less than five minutes out of bed. Your hair is awful, your face is puffy and creased, and somehow your clothing has managed to turn itself completely backwards on your body. This is expected. My level of self-hate at times went far deeper than that, though, as I stood there and picked apart everything about my body, constantly reminding myself that there is no outfit or makeup choice that will make what I see better.
Everyone has their moments. Everyone has their insecurities. And some days you just wake up with a vengeance against yourself. But for me these days have been known to carry into the next day, then throughout the week, and sometimes into the better part of the month. I would turtle into myself, becoming quiet and self-conscious, confident only in the fact that everyone else saw how disgusting I was and was merely lying to me. And yes, more than once I have used the term “disgusting” to describe myself.
I could blame a lot of things for this warped self image. I could blame being pummeled throughout my formative teenage years by imagery of what society told me was perfection. I could blame the sexualized, dehumanized women that graced my magazines and television. I could think back to the moments where I would realize with shame that I would never be Britney Spears (too tall, too curvy, too uncoordinated) and I firmly believed that being a size six was shameful.
I could also blame every boy who ever made me feel less than, from the ones who cheated on me to the ones who outright told me they were embarrassed to fall for me (they never elaborated on this point but I can only assume it was because I was a) smart and b) not a size zero). I could blame them for my feelings of inadequacy and for never feeling like what I had to offer was enough.
Or I could blame myself. I’ve spent a lot of time blaming myself for a lot of things. Some of these were warranted, others were not. I am harder on myself than anyone else could be, possibly to shield myself from others, knowing that no matter what they do to me, it will never be as rough as what I could do. What I have never, ever blamed myself for, however, was how I felt about myself.
It is only recently that I have started to retrain my brain, to teach it to say positive things about myself. It is only recently that when I hear myself say, “You look awful, you are disgusting, you are fat, you are ugly”, I try to put a stop to it as quickly as possible. I allowed myself for years to tear me down, to make me believe that what I am is not enough and never will be. In all my talk about standing up for myself and being strong and independent, I never once stood up to my biggest bully: me.
I’ve started to show myself that self-love and acceptance are not just handed to you. I have to teach them to myself the way I would any other subject (and I was damn good in school so I have high hopes for my final results). Every day I am learning that when I see a woman who is thinner than I am, who I feel is more beautiful, it’s not her fault she is like that and I am not – she probably works out a lot more and likely has some genetics that I simply do not. Every day I am learning to look in the mirror and say something positive to myself even if it’s as simple as, “Your hair doesn’t look like a squirrel slept in it last night, good job, you!”
I still have moments of cripplingly low self-esteem. With every workout I do and every change I see happening to my body, I still look at myself and think I am not enough. I know that I am smart, I am funny, I am worth something, but I still have to spend a lot of time reminding myself of these things. I have told my boyfriend again and again that I wish I could see myself the way he sees me, or the way that anyone else sees me, but instead I have to learn to do it on my own.
Every day is a struggle for a lot of people, boys and girls, when it comes to self-worth. It is true that we are taught what we should be, shown what we should aspire to, and we feel like we have failed when we aren’t those things. I spent too much of my life feeling like I wasn’t good enough for reasons that never mattered to anyone else but me and I see that now.
We have to learn to be our biggest champions, our loudest cheerleaders. There is a lot of shit that we hear every day and our own voice will always drown it out. We have to make sure that voice is a positive one.