Several weeks ago I shared why I love What Not to Wear. And I do.
And I hope others will watch the show, ‘cause it sends a great message to women, about self-acceptance.
But this week it’s time to get a little more personal.
(After a long time of being a wuss and sharing absolutely nothing at all.)
If I’m ever going to grow into the woman I want to become I have to start somewhere.
And this seems small and silly. But it is still a start.
This is my start.
I have never had great self-image, like ever.
I have never had a lot of self-confidence in general. But I’ve always been particularly insecure about my looks.
Since the tender age of ten or so, I’ve been self-conscious and awkward in my own skin.
I’ve been quick to pinpoint every perceived flaw, and dwell on it. With vigor.
I’ve also been extremely slow to find the beauty with my own body, this flesh vessel I’ve been given, (the only one I’ll get).
Instead of trying to make the most of it, I’ve taken it for granted or full-out-loathed it for much of my life.
I’ve longed to be different, thinner, prettier. (Which is unfortunately pretty common I think.)
What I haven’t done is accept myself for who I am.
Or, take steps toward overall health, instead of unreasonable expectations.
I’m a perfectionist by nature, a trait that’s served me well at school and work.
But this same trait that’s driven me to do my best in many aspects of life, has been completely debilitating in other areas.
It makes it hard for me to tackle any project or goal I think I might fail at, for example.
Worse, it makes it hard for me to accept any imperfections, most especially when it comes to myself.
From admitting I needed glasses (thick ones I might add) in first grade, to realizing I would never be able to achieve Victoria Secret-esque cleavage, or squeeze my hips into a size 5...
I have always felt like I fell short of the standard, the ideal of beauty, be it the prettiest girl in school or the models seeming to mock me from the pages of Seventeen.
By sophomore year of high school I was as thin as my frame would permit (thanks to keeping busy with things like basketball and tennis).
But even then I wasn’t happy with my body.
My hips were too big, my boobs too small.
Thus began (really continued) the negative self-image story of my life.
I also started dressing better that year (meaning not in oversized sweatshirts clad with cartoon characters). But I still felt slobby and unstylish, especially compared to my designer-wearing peers.
Even wearing makeup, (Bonne Bell lipgloss and the like) did little to improve how I felt about myself.
Not only were my blemishes still apparent. My flaws were pretty much all I saw, when I looked in the mirror.
I felt plain on my good days.
And downright ugly on my worst days.
What I never felt, and desperately desired to, was beautiful.
I wanted to believe I was beautiful.
But I didn't.
Instead I tortured myself with "ifs."
I would be cute IF I lost ten pounds, or IF I could find a true miracle bra.
I would be pretty IF I found a better foundation. BUT still not as beautiful as my best friend, or Britney Spears.
I just wanted to be beatiful. Period. Without any qualifiers.
I wanted to hear that. But I needed to feel that.
Instead, I was my own worst critic, scrutinizing everything about myself I wished was different. (And turning down any compliments that came my way.)
It's a wonder I don't look like Eyeore in all of my yearbook pictures, as hard on myself and void of hope as I was.
I just couldn’t see anything in myself worth paying attention to, anything that would cause a boy to turn his head, or my peers to want to put a crown on mine.
And really, that perception of my outside reflected the fact that inside I didn’t feel much better about myself.
Because I wasn't perfect, whatever perfect looked like at the time (probably Jennifer Aniston as Rachel on Friends, but a devout Christian who knew the New Testament by heart, wore a purity ring, and more modest clothing).
Because I didn't fit that bill, I didn’t feel like there was much about me worth noticing, much less admiring.
And because of that, I started to feel like I didn't have a lot to give the world.
(I felt like that for a very long time.)
Because I was disappointed with what I saw in the mirror, but also fearful of trying to improve my looks and still falling short of anything less than perfection, I wasn’t apt to try too hard at improving my appearance.
Why bother, I figured.
The only thing worse than being unattractive, is looking like you're trying not to be, I reasoned.
In fact, trying, in my mind, was almost synonymous with failing.
So in a lot of ways, my formative years, were about teaching myself to give up.
I wanted desperately to be noticed, to be deemed beautiful. But I was also terrified of being found out.
If anyone looked too closely I was convinced they’d see all the ugly imperfections I saw.
So I resisted the urge to stand out, to make any real attempts at feeling beautiful.
And instead I resolved myself to live in the background, to be content with hiding out in the shadows (or the ill-lit halls of my high school at least).
If people did pay attention to me, I tried my best to keep them at arm's distant. I didn't want them looking close enough to see all the flaws I focused on daily.
If someone paid me a compliment, I prepared myself to be the butt of a cruel joke, or bet (see every Teen Movie made in the 90's).
And because I felt alone with those feelings, and because I thought things would never get better, I developed methods of coping with my insecurities (instead of digging to the root of them, the way I should have done).
I learned to be funny (or to try to be funny anyways). I found people were grateful for my attempts at good humor.
I learned to be sweet, soft-spoken and low-maintenance. Since I knew I’d never be the pretty friend, I figured I could at least be the one with the “good personality.”
Mostly, though, I learned to hide.
I hid first under layers of clothing, and then makeup, and then busyness.
I hid by being quiet, or telling jokes.
I hid by being adaptable, always letting other people take the lead.
And in teaching myself how to hide, I learned, sadly, to be less of myself.
Less secure. Less opinionated. Even less confident (which I wouldn't have thought possible).
I learned to fade into the background, which was what I had wanted.
I thought I would feel safe there.
But becoming nearly invisible didn't accomplish what I had hoped.
I didn't feel any safer or happier in the hiding, than I had in the open.
I only felt even more alone. Even more unworthy. Even less lovable, than I had before.
This is where I would LOVE to tell you I woke up one morning, at 20, or even 28, and resolved to think differently.
I would love to tell you that I’m currently living happily ever after, and that I only have positive, self-assuring thoughts when I gaze in a mirror.
I’d love to end the story saying it turns out I was a beautiful swan all along, and that I haven’t had a bout with insecurity since then.
I'd love to tell you I'm actually writing from a castle, or a studio in Hollywood, right now. And that I'm featured on hair commercials late at night.
I'd love to tell you I found some Pinterest secret to flawless skin. Or a miracle fruit that made me shed all kinds of pounds.
Or that a talk-show host inspired me to love my curves, once and for all. And that I'm now a plus-sized model in constant demand. Who speaks to teens on the side, about how to love themselves like I do now.
But that’s not the truth.
It’s not even close to the truth.
The unfortunate inconvenient truth is I'm 29 years old, and I still struggle, on a daily basis, with how I see myself.
I’m still tempted, most every day, to focus on my flaws instead of looking for the positives.
I still don't LOVE my body, or my blotchy skin.
I still don't LOVE what I see in the mirror most days.
But, what does make this a happy-ish “ending” to this post, (and a positive start to a new chapter) is that I am finally starting to make a change.
And I’m not doing it by starting some fad diet. Or taking experimental meds to improve my skin.
I'm starting by completely rethinking the way I see myself.
By painstakingly destroying all the misconceptions I've believed for so long.
I'm starting this journey to beauty, not with new mascara, but by retraining my brain.
By learning to be kinder. More accepting. More patient. And more realistic.
Instead of being my own worst critic, focusing only on the things I like least about myself, I'm learning to dwell on stuff that matters more.
I’m reminding myself that I am not defined by what is reflected in the mirror. Or the number on my pants’ tag. Or the way I measure up against the airbrushed faces in magazines.
I am reminding myself that I am greater than the sum of my body parts, and that my worth and lovability don’t fluctuate like the numbers on a scale.
I'm reminding myself that my looks pale in comparison to what really matters.
Which is my heart. My hope. And the unique traits I bring to this world.
I'm starting by looking in the mirror and smiling at myself. Knowing I have beauty and purpose, just as I am.
I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to recover from my pesky perfectionism.
But it’s so nice to know I’m not alone on this journey.
I think sharing our stories is such a helpful step to take; one I wish someone would have showed me when I was at the tender age of seventeen.
It’s also nice to know that the finish line for this particular journey isn’t a dress size or the result of a perfect facial.
The finish line is accepting myself, loving myself, as I am, each step of the way.
And because acceptance, even appreciation for this journey, is the ultimate goal, failure isn’t all the things I once feared.
Failure isn’t getting there slowly, or even in dead last place.
Failure isn’t getting there covered in sweat, or dirt, or bloodied knees from falling along the way.
Failure isn't getting there with acne scars and stretchmarks, crow’s feet and grey hair.
The only failure in this journey is giving up completely when things get hard.
Failure is stopping altogether, instead of continuing (even limping) on.
Failure is quitting, anywhere before the finish line, that moving target that keeps beckoning me to grow and change and learn with each breath I take.
Failure isn’t an option.
That's the truth I see now, as I train myself to smile at the face staring back at me in the mirror.
This post is a response to the Love Yourself linkup started by Anne the Adventurer.
The entire series is filled with brave women's thoughts on true beauty and how we can become more confident, bolder versions of ourselves, namely by being kinder to our bodies and our brains.