I was still a child the first time I thought I was ugly.
My friend and I were in the church bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, shirts lifted up, comparing our bellybuttons and laughing at how funny they looked. I remember noticing her shape – how the sides of her waist sloped in and then slightly out before joining her hips, and I had seen this feature exaggerated in cartoons in the curvy, beautiful, red-lipped women who slink by and make the eyes of wolves pop out of their heads. I quickly looked back at my body reflected in the mirror, more box-shaped, my non-curved sides that fell straight down from my ribs to my hips. And I experienced that first feeling of inadequacy and envy.
I have not even been alive for 30 years yet, but from that first memory until now, I have an entire catalog of body shame snapshots built up in my mind. Painful memories and terrible images like a box full of hate notes in the back of the closet.
The tan skin of that girl at the ice skating rink and how by contrast my skin looked translucent under the fluorescent lights. A photo of me with my cheerleader friends and their calves all being thinner than mine. Seeing my reflection in a window one summer in high school and being horrified to realize I had developed “love handles.” The petite waist of my co-worker. The sculpted arms of my classmate. The flawless skin of my friend.
The time I saw a commercial to support starving people, and I felt jealous of that malnourished woman’s thin ankles. You read that right. Jealous.
I’m grieved to say that of all the tragedies and terrors in this world, the thing that has caused me to cry the biggest tears is the slow, strategic development over many years of dissatisfaction and disgust with my own body. Ridiculous? Maybe. Selfish? Definitely. Unique? Not at all.
Along with that box of hate notes in my closet is a catalog of all the times I’ve watched another person dissatisfied and disgusted with herself. The number of people I know who struggle with self-hate compared to the people I know who don’t leads me to believe that if you are reading this, you probably fall into the first category. You probably have your own hate-note box. I’m so sorry.
I’m intelligent enough to know that years of damage can’t be undone with a bullet-pointed list and four steps to follow. But I’ve recently found some incredible new freedom in the world of self-image, and I want to offer to you some very practical, tangible things I have done that have helped. Things that you can do too, today even, to fight for yourself – to find yourself beautiful.
I practiced saying “thank you” to my body.
To try to make up for all the hours I’ve stood in front of the mirror criticizing myself, I began a new exercise of standing in the mirror and thanking myself. Out loud. Compliments only. No mean words permitted.
“Dear tummy. Thanks for making it so that when I eat food, I get to keep living. Torso, thank you for holding all of my important organs. Thanks for being the part of me that people squeeze when they hug. I love hugging. Dear legs. I see you there, and I’m really thankful that you help me stand up. You carry me to all of the places I love to go. You’ve spent a lot of hours helping me run around and play and have fun. Your joints all work properly, and I believe you’re going to keep serving me for a lot more years. Thanks for your service.” And so on.
Gratitude is a discipline, and you would be surprised at how quickly this one works to lift your mood about yourself.
I quit magazines. 100%. No exceptions.
I don’t even skim the covers at the check out line anymore. If a magazine shows up in my very own mailbox at my very own house, I treat it like one of those poisonous water-absorbing do-not-eat packets that come in purses and toys and electronics – right. into. the garbage. And then I wash my hands afterward. I’m not kidding.
We could convince ourselves that the pretty pictures “inspire” us or that the articles are interesting to read. Or instead we could admit that most of the pages we flip past are advertisements created by manufacturers and corporations with only one goal – to get your money. There is a market for you. They know they have like half a second to convince you that something about your current self is not quite right and they have a product that will make it better. So they are going to hit you with the biggest guns they have. Hey you. You suck. Give me your money so you won’t suck quite so bad. Is that really a voice you want to be listening to? I didn’t think so.
Also a quick note – This can apply to any external voice that is making you feel less-than – Instagram accounts, TV shows, email subscriptions. If it’s not giving you life, just get rid of it.
I unfriended the inner critic.
Let’s imagine you’re friends with someone who spends all her time pointing out things she doesn’t like about you. “I can’t believe you ate ALL that food for lunch. You must feel like a PIG! Wait, you haven’t worked out in how long? Hold on, could you just lift your shirt and turn sideways real quick? I want to see if your tummy is flatter or flabbier than my other friend I saw earlier today.” Um, no. You’d stop texting that girl back, like, yesterday.
We don’t hang out with people like that, but we let them hang out in our brains, and they talk to us with their mean comments all day long. You need to block her from your brain same as you’d block her from your house. When she shows up at the front door and says, “Hey girl, I’m here for your daily evaluation!” just tell her you’re busy right now and maybe you can get together some other time (but in your head, you’ll secretly know you never actually intend on hanging out with her again). It’ll take a whole bunch of tries, but eventually she’ll get the hint and stop coming around so often.
And another thing – you would never (I hope) talk to another person the way this girl talks to you. So stop talking to you that way. It’s mean. Kick the critic out and for heaven’s sake, stop being the critic.
I made Truth Cards and carried them around in my pockets.
This one takes a little bit more prep work, but it might be the most helpful one of all. In our heads, we have all these little lies swirling around, but often they are tethered to big huge Lies. My hair isn’t smooth enough, my arms aren’t toned enough, my clothes aren’t good enough all might be little sparks from the blazing fire of If I’m not perfect, no one will love me. Spend some time thinking, writing, praying, processing with a friend to discover what your Big Lies are.
One of my Big Lies is that there is an expiration date on my worth and that eventually everyone who currently knows me and loves me will realize how terrible and yucky I really am, and they’ll toss me out. The sparks sound like, “I’ll never write a meaningful song again. I hope he doesn’t notice the 8 pounds I’ve gained since the last time I saw him. She isn’t calling me back because she realized how annoying I can be.”
Figure out what some of your Big Lies are and then figure out (again, think, write, pray, process) what the Truth to fight that lie is. To make my Truth Card, I took a 3×5 index card and drew a line straight down the middle. On one side of the line, I wrote my Big Lie – “There is an expiration date on my worth.” On the other side, I wrote my Truth – “God never changes. He knows my deepest, darkest secrets and mistakes, and He loves me anyway. He will NEVER leave me or give up on me.” Every time one of the little sparks from my Big Lie flies up in my brain and stings my confidence a little, I pull out the Truth Card, and read the Truth to myself five times.
Chances are pretty good that your Lie has been running around in your brain for quite awhile, and like a wheelbarrow on a dirt road, it has dug a very deep rut. If you’re hoping to teach your brain a new line of thought, you’re to going to need to dig a different rut, and if you’re ever going to catch up to the progress that you’ve made on the Lie rut, you need to go over the Truth rut a whole bunch of times. That’s why for every 1 Lie, you read the Truth 5 times. Make as many cards as you need for the Big Lies you hear the most and then keep them with you all day long. Pull them out and read your Truth until the cards are ratty and the ink is worn off, and eventually that Truth rut will find its way.
One last thing. There is a verse in the Bible I just love that says, “Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Your feet are what carry you around, and where you go, the light and love of God can shine. That’s the beautiful part. Stop apologizing for the space you take up on this earth. You are filled with God, and you don’t need to fit into any sort of template. Carry that good news with you, and know that because of it, you are beautiful.
Photo by my dear friend Tia at Innate Images.