Something in me has finally snapped. My brain has been either overloaded with more useful thoughts, or has finally rejected the nagging sense of self-loathing that has plagued me as far back as I can remember. I have wasted too many years feeling ugly and unloveable. Seriously, FAR too many years. It is not so unusual to have bouts of self-doubt, and even self-hatred, during one's teen years. In fact, it almost amounts to a cliché. For me, however, I have memories of my 4-year-old self looking into the mirror and speaking aloud to my reflection, "Nobody likes you. You are too tall and you are fat, and people don't like that." In addition to walking, speaking, and reading early, it seems I also got an early jump on insecurity.
Where could this possibly have come from? The easy answer would be to say that it was from my parents, and that's definately a huge contributer. A quick anecdote: When I was little, I had a pink ruffled bathing suit that I adored. I loved the way the ruffles floated on top of the water, and when wet, the shiny magenta material practically sparkled in the sunlight. It appealed to every sprout of girly sensibility taking root in my young mind. One day, my parents and I were going to the beach, and while they scurried around the house gathering the final supplies for a day of fun in the sun, I lay sprawled on the floor watching cartoons in my much-loved bathing suit, waiting to go. Suddenly, my dad walked up behind me and said, "Why the fuck do you wear that thing? You look like a beached whale. I'm embarassed to be seen with you, go put shorts on." I looked down at myself, and saw the expanse of my white, pudgy legs, and nodded in agreement. I went into my room and put on shorts, and a t-shirt for good measure, and refused to take them off all day. Mom heard about what he said later, and in an attempt to comfort me, she said, "Don't listen to him, that bathing suit is actually slimming on you. But it might be a good idea if you didn't eat so many sweets." Bear in mind, these things were being said to a 4-year-old!
That little story illustrates the dynamic between me and my parents throughout the course of my life. Dad insulted me, and I accepted it, because he always said that he loved me and wanted to be honest. Mom didn't like that he said and did cruel things to me, but she always put the burden on me to either repair my relationship with him myself, or to change myself into something he wouldn't want to make fun of. I could go on and on with examples of this, but frankly, I am sick to death of talking about it. I spent enough time and money in therapy rehashing all this to someone who just nodded, wrote a few notes, and told me that I needed to "love myself" (Gee, thanks for telling me something any Hallmark card could have told me). In regards to self-image, my parents pretty much set me up for failure from the start. The incessant bullying throughout my school years from other girls AND from boys (some of which became rather violence and once instance involved dead animals, but that's a story for another day), and our culture's impossible standards of beauty and subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages towards women that we are never quite good enough without this make-up, that dress, this cream, that powder, and so on, were the final nails in the coffin. Therapy did a lot to help me recognize how all this played out throughout my childhood and early adulthood, and how it formed my perceptions of myself, but did just about nothing to show me how to move past it. How do you form a new opinion of yourself after the majority of messages you have received from every arena of life have been that you are fat, ugly, unattractive, and that any good qualities you may have just don't make up for these defects? Even those that have tried to be supportive have usually framed their support around the notion that ,yes, I am ugly, but I have a "great personality." Even the most supportive people in my life have made it clear that I have some sort of defect. My husband is literally the only person who has ever told me that I am beautiful with no qualifications, no "you have such a pretty face, now if you could only drop a few pounds," or "you are unconventionally beautiful" (anyone with an IQ higher than a tomato's knows that this is condescending and does not make anyone feel better about themselves). To him, I am simply beautiful, no ifs, ands, or buts. I appreciate that everyday, but if that were the reason why I have given up on hating myself and seeing myself as ugly, then it would have happened a long time ago rather than today. For some reason or another, I am over hating my looks. I am done with basing my opinion of myself on how others see me.
But, what caused this? Truly, I do not know, but it has happened. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror this morning and I paused for a moment. I looked at myself and spoke aloud, just as I did when I was little. "Fuck them all," I said, "I am beautiful, and no one else's words will ever change that." This is something I have been told to say in front of the mirror by quite a few well-meaning people, but it never had any effect before now. I feel beautiful. I feel worthy. Could it have been the spontanaity of the moment? Could it be that all the therapy and friendly advice finally sunk in after a long delay? Could it be that I have finally outgrown some sort of 28-year awkward phase, and I am now indeed a good-looking human being? Truly, I do not know. All I know is that I am done with this bullshit self-loathing. It has been lifted out of me and I feel lighter, more free. I don't think this is a religious experience, but I imagine this is how Christians feel when they are "saved," or when shamans enter into a different plane of existence in a state of ecstasy and receive some sort of wisdom from beyond. Something dirty and defiling has been removed from me, and has been replaced with a deep awareness of myself as a unique human being, possessing beauty purely by virtue of existing. I refuse to let this feeling go away, even after the inevitable happens and I am snickered at in the grocery store, or unabashedly pointed at on the street. I don't know where this newfound appreciation of myself has come from, but my sheer will and determination is going to keep it around.