Last month I began talking about my own personal self love journey by showing you guys some photos from high school and talking about being named best dressed. I mentioned at the end of the post that though I had a lot of confidence in my style in my teenage years, underneath it all trouble was brewing.
Maybe it was all of the fashion magazines I was consuming, perhaps the runway shows I ogled over online, or the general mood of society and its pressures on young women, but whatever the cause, at age 17 I thought I was too "fat" to be considered pretty. I was a size 6/8 my senior year of high school, and after a rough first year of college I was an 8/10. I felt awful. I was really truly miserable in my own skin by the beginning of my freshman year of college. I thought there was really only one way to be considered beautiful, and that since I didn't fit that ideal, something was wrong with me. It wasn't about how other people viewed me on an individual level, it was my awareness that seemingly only thin girls made it to the top and that's where I wanted to be. I never compared myself to other girls or celebrities, I compared myself to the invisible perfect version of myself in my head. If only I could lose 30 pounds, then I could really be "somebody".
I was angry with myself for having too little self control, if I only stuck to my diet, or learned to love exercise, I could be where I wanted to be (or rather, look how I wanted to look). I started hating my favorite holiday Halloween because I felt I couldn't wear cute or sexy costumes, feeling myself too overweight to pull them off. Then I hated all holidays, even my birthday, because they represented milestones of "another year I didn't get my shit together" and "another year where I was still fat". I felt disgusting, and my inner monologue was terribly mean. No one else had ever been as mean to me, as demeaning about my body, as I was to myself. I thought that if I couldn't look like the "dream me", the thin version of myself who had it all figured out, there wasn't much point in anything at all. If I couldn't be great, thin, successful, why bother being at all?
These are damaging thoughts. Thank goodness I had other things going on to distract me from how much I was beginning to hate myself. I had school, which was a two fold distraction in that it also gave me a fake deadline for me to "get my act together" and get thin. I had to lose the weight before junior year, then before I left for study abroad, then before senior year. Cycles of telling myself "you are not good enough". At least I was kind enough to believe I had potential, under many many conditions I could perhaps love myself again.
This was no way to live, constantly punishing myself for being human. I would never have allowed someone else to speak to me the way I did to myself. Eventually, after years of hating my body, after years of never letting anyone take pictures of me, after regular nights of crying myself to sleep, I had enough. I couldn't go on hating myself forever, something had to change.
It was a combination of things that made me snap out of the destructive cycle of hurtful thoughts. For one, I was finally beginning to understand that perhaps I would move through this life and never become noteworthy or famous for anything and that was okay. I think I had absorbed some of America's media fueled idea that you have to be really successful, as young as possible, and be "somebody" worth remembering. I thought I could never do that in the body I hated. It is a common existential crisis, wanting to be remembered, to make a mark on the world at large. The problem is, even if we remember how beautiful and kind Audrey Hepburn was still today, one day (millions of years from now I grant you) the world will end and no one will be alive to remember Audrey Hepburn. There is no such thing as forever, and realizing that it didn't matter whether or not I ever reached that level of success (so I should stop beating myself up about it) was helpful for me moving forward.
Another part of breaking free was just maturing, I went from 17 to 21 hating my body and in turn, often myself. Once I entered my twenties I had been through a lot of different things, bad roommates in college that made my life hell, moving across the country and back, living in a different country altogether on my own for five months. I had grown stronger and was ready to tell the part of me that was being so awful to shut the hell up.
The summer I turned 21, I was alone in Paris on my birthday. I was in the middle of some study abroad classes (all in French!) and I had been away from home for six months at that point. It was another birthday where I was feeling like a failure. I had failed myself another year. I was sitting alone in my hotel room (instead of going out any enjoying Paris!) feeling sorry for myself. I quickly decided it was the last year I would feel that way.
There are a few things that really helped me break out of the cycle of being horrible to myself. A major help, as odd as it may be, was starting to watch the Vlogbrothers on YouTube. For those of you who don't know, the Vlogbrothers is a YouTube channel run by John and Hank Green. They started making video blogs to keep in touch with one another and accidentally started a huge following and community on YouTube. For some reason, their videos, and especially John's own struggle with wanting to be remembered, really helped me realize that my mind mattered so much more than what size I was. Its hard to say just how, I can't seem to really articulate it. I watched the huge backlog of their videos over the next year while I was finishing college.
It was not an overnight change. I couldn't go from hating myself to suddenly being alright. I gradually learned to value myself for more than whatever a size tag sewn into a garment said about me. I learned to celebrate my successes again, to look at what I had achieved and not what I had failed at.
Why am I telling you all this? Because someone out there might still be in the cycle of being horribly mean to themselves on a daily basis. You are your one confirmed ally out there in the world, or at least you should be. Be kind to yourself! Be kind to yourself! Seriously, you would never say such rude and awful things to someone else, don't say them to yourself! Have your own back out there in the world, it is hard enough wading through without adding to the madness.
It isn't always easy, but recognizing that you are doing it is a good place to start. Next time you are beating yourself up about not resisting that chocolate chip cookie in the break-room, or saying something awkward, or skipping the gym, remember to be kind to yourself. You have to break down that toxic environment in your mind, to start replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.
Self love is certainly a journey, and I still have bad days sometimes editing outfit photos and trying to unsee what I still view as faults. The fact that I can even take outfit photos now is a huge (HUGE) step forward for me from where I was a few years ago. I used to hate photos of myself, and banned everyone around me from taking any. I have learned to stop hating the girl I saw in photos, and in the mirror. I hope others out there can too.
And....I'm done being sappy for the day, happy Wednesday everyone!
For a lighthearted video of tips about starting to love yourself again, check out this super great video from awesome lady Lex Croucher on YouTube.