I’m fifteen, standing on a scale. I’m at the house of the two little girls I babysit at the end of every summer, but they’re absorbed in play, prancing around their My Little Ponies, so I take a moment to escape. I’ve ducked into the master bathroom so I can weigh myself. Just as I do every day, multiple times a day.
I’ve gained three more pounds. That’s it, I think. I will not let this number increase. I decide to skip eating for the rest of the day. My body doesn’t deserve calories.
I’m sixteen, staring into the mirror, analyzing every inch of my face and finding fault with all of it. My cheeks are too plump. My eyes are too small and my lips are too thin. I’m generic, forgettable. I wish I were more exotic looking, beautiful in the way the models that grace the covers of magazines at the grocery store are. I want darker hair. Greener eyes. Fuller lips. I’m not enough.
I’m seventeen, driving home from a sleepover where my friends and I, despite being seniors in high school, spent the night giggling and bingeing on Doritos with sour cream and frosting straight out of the can while watching our favorite movie, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. I feel a little sick and my stomach bulges out uncomfortably. I am fat. I feel miserable. The rest of my day is ruined as I am consumed with thoughts on how to fix myself.
I am in the bathroom of our favorite Mexican restaurant, emptying the contents of my stomach. I feel guilty and ashamed and terrified that someone will walk in and discover my secret.
It’s hard to share this. As I type this, the feelings come back–raw and real. I’m that teenage girl again, full of self-hatred as I analyze myself through the lens of what I didn’t realize was Body Dysmorphic Disorder–an incredibly common affliction among women (and men). I never, ever thought I could like myself–much less love myself.
But I do.
I never thought I could be satisfied with who I am–my flaws and foibles, my strengths and weaknesses, my talents (or lack thereof).
But I can honestly say that I am. And I am so proud of that.
As of this moment, I can truly say that I like myself. I like who I am, I like the way I look, I like the direction my life is heading. I’m okay with my stretch marks and wrinkly stomach skin. I’m okay that my now-deflated breasts are past their glory days. I love my hair and my eyes. I spent years comparing myself to other women, anguished that I didn’t look like them, wasn’t as beautiful as they are. But–as trite as it sounds–I don’t need to be look like someone else to be pretty. I am me, and that is enough.
My transformation from self-loathing to self-love wasn’t swift. It didn’t happen over the course of a couple months or even a couple years. It took a while. Of course I still have insecurities–it’s part of being human. But I can finally be alone with myself and not feel like I’m abiding with the enemy.
We’ve all heard that you can’t really love anyone else until you love yourself. Maybe it’s because when you are dissatisfied with yourself, your love comes from a place of insecurity, of need–the need for someone to complete you, to validate you. The need to be saved. And that’s a heavy burden to place on someone else.
Or maybe you put up walls, protecting yourself, never allowing yourself to be really open or vulnerable. You can’t give your whole self to someone else–after all, if you can find all of these inadequacies, how could someone else possibly overlook them? How could anyone else really love you?
But when you can be completely comfortable on your own, and like what you see in the mirror, you’re in a place where you can let someone else in. Let’s be real–vulnerability is hard no matter how self-assured you are. It’s scary, terrifying even–but also necessary if you want to form deeper connections.
And interestingly, I’ve found that only after I decided to just accept myself as I am, right now–not thinner or stronger or smarter or more disciplined–only after I could do that could I start to make lasting changes.
And sometimes, I’ve found, you don’t need to change at all.