I remember the first time I thought I was fat. I was 7, and caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, towering over and expanding beyond the reflections of my tiny second grade friends. I’d been called “fat” or “bigger” or “chubby” before, but since I had a supportive family and was outgoing enough to have a lot of friends, I hadn’t really thought of myself that way — and yet, that split second look in the mirror started a lifelong battle of similar mirrors and similarly tiny friends I would be sentenced to compare myself to.
These feelings and snide comments continued well through the rest of my elementary years, but subsided after my growth spurt or after I decided to not listen or because of a reason entirely outside myself like maybe the bullies had matured and learned to keep their crude comments to themselves. However, the feelings of being “less than” or “not as good as” did not go away as easily. And despite my conscious effort to alleviate myself of the pain any third-party comments or Venn Diagraming myself against what was universally recognize as beautiful, I am scarred with deep, painful moments of low self-esteem.
I like to think people that know me well don’t know this about me. I am otherwise totally and completely confident in who I am. I am mostly smart, and kind of funny, a great, loyal friend, and I’ve grown to accept most of my other flaws as well: I can be an insensitive jerk, I take my hilarious sarcastic quips perhaps a little bit too far, I can be lazy and unmotivated, I don’t read nearly as much as I should, and sometimes I forget to recycle — ok, I usually don’t recycle and I do feel really bad about that. I find it funny that it is so easy for me and maybe for other women as well to love these pieces of our personality and not love the one thing we have even less control over: our physical appearance. It’s not even that I think I’m some ugly duckling waiting to bloom—I’m satisfied enough with what I look like face-wise, it’s more that I get hung up on the shape my body takes. I am not skinny. I have never been skinny and based on my experience with various combinations of diet and exercise I will never be a size 0.
What’s most concerning to me about this is that these feelings have resurfaced after years of being dormant. I mean, sure, I had my moments of self-doubt during my middle-part and Bermuda shorts-wearing high school days, and briefly during college even though my choice of studying a fine art basically meant I would be surrounded by people not afraid to tell each other how much they are loved. However it was almost immediately upon entering the “Real World” that my first glance-in-the-mirror moment seemed to repeat itself on a near-daily basis. I realize this might be incredibly selfish to even pay attention to in a space beyond my own brain given the state of the world as whole right now, but I think what I’m experiencing is not unique to me.
Is it the fact that I’ve gained what I will now refer to as the Post Grad 15 that led to me to this point? Or is it the fact that I interact with a bigger portion of society than I ever have before, thus bearing witness to the average level of sexism and non-feminism that seems to dominant the collective adult-world conscious? Could it even be simply because I made the choice to move to the Hotness Capital of America, Los Angeles? The answer lies somewhere between “all of the above” and “none of this, actually.” I think the Group Thought of what we generally accept as “beautiful” is definitely at least a little bit to blame for how I see myself, but in an effort to not blame the world for my problems, I am willing to concede that my low self-esteem, or negative body image, or typical normal person feelings of not being thin or pretty enough starts and, hopefully, will end with me.
I’m not saying it only matters how you feel about yourself, but learning to accept and really, to love yourself for who you are makes it easier to accept others for how they look, how they feel, and who they are. I’m not totally guiltless in making judgments about other people’s appearances, and I don’t expect us all to suddenly hold hands and go around the room telling each other how beautiful we are while an Enya song plays in the background (on second thought, that sounds awesome, I’m available if anyone wants to actually do this). However, I know that on the days I am at my highest level of confidence, I am also most accepting and appreciative of others. I believe that the way we look at ourselves will positively influence the way we look at others, and these others that are being affected by our beams of warmth will build their own positivity and so on, until everyone’s low self-esteem days are merely blips on an otherwise sun-filled radar.
This is a perfect world I am imagining, and as mentioned before, I know we are far from a perfect world, but I’ve spent way too much time untagging myself on Facebook and cropping my Instagram photos at just the right ratio to know I’m done trying to manipulate the way I want others to see me. I’ve matured enough to realize there’s no point, and frankly, the years I’ve spent trying to fit into the stereotype of “beautiful” or “pretty enough” have been exhausting and I don’t have the energy anymore. The world will see me for who I am, for the best version of me I put forward, as long as I am always true to myself. If that’s not good enough for everyone else well, that’s too bad because there’s only one fact that matters: It’s good enough for me.