I once walked into a friend’s room looking for the hairbrush she had mentioned—next to the door on her desk. As I walked over to borrow it, her mirror caught my eye. Not the mirror itself, but the big black writing that covered it…
“You’re fat and disgusting. Stop eating. Get to the gym. This is NOT okay!”
I stepped back in shock—almost running into the bedpost I didn’t realize was behind me. My eyes took in the words one more time as my stomach flipped over. I felt woozy with the assault of those hate-filled words she had written about herself: “You’re disgusting. This is NOT okay.”
We live in a world that values the perfection of self above almost anything else. If you go to a bookstore, you can get lost for hours in the aisles of publications that whisper loudly that you’re not good enough, that promise to make you “perfect”—a different version of yourself—better.
“Look better naked.”
“3 Minutes to flat abs.”
“Why losing your butt may mean losing your man.”
“The Girlfriend Habit he’ll love you more for.”
“Beauty tips to move your career forward.”
We can’t open our eyes without seeing the message plastered all around us, “you’re not good enough. This is not ok. You have to change.”
And these messages don’t just come from the outside. We start to adopt them as our inner monologue, repeating mantras and admonishments to ourselves like a broken record—skipping over and over. We think that maybe if we hold a “realistic” view of ourselves, we can beat our imperfect selves into submission. We start to believe that if we could be better, we’d be happy. Or if we looked different, he never would have left.
Instead of standing in solidarity with the body, mind, soul, and life we live inside, we face off against it, treating ourselves as the enemy—as the one standing in the way of our happiness. These external messages are devastating, leaving us feeling small and insignificant or huge and undesirable as we drag ourselves out of the bookstore, vowing to change.
But the internal messages are worse.
Once those words and ideas and the list of “failures” become part of our own inner monologue, we’ve started to believe them. It’s no longer external, an idea, something we can fight. It’s internal—we believe the black words scrawled across our tenderest parts and believe that they tell the truth about who we are.
My heart broke as I read that mirror, because I knew how she felt as she was writing them.
Earlier that year I sat in a Starbucks with a notebook—scratching out a love letter to myself through my tears—a love letter that I didn’t believe a word of. My mind was a scratched record, hissing lie after lie into my ears and my heart. The lies said I was ugly and fat and undesirable and annoying and way too sensitive. I wasn’t good enough and was far too much to handle, all in one breath. I wanted out. I wanted to distance myself from the person that felt so hated by the world around her. I agreed with them. I hated her too. But barring some really scary ideas, I couldn’t quit my own team.
“I’m stuck with you,” I thought at myself.
And so for lack of a better option, in one tiny, barely perceptible effort, I tried to rejoin her team. I tried to like her, to make a peace offering—waving a white flag and moving towards the person that I had wished would just disappear. And very slowly things began to change.
What feels like a million feels later, I’m firmly back on my own team. I love myself and know who I am, what I’m worth and why I matter—most of the time. But that doesn’t mean that the lies leave me alone. If my jeans are a little too tight, I’m tempted to berate my “fat” self. If I can’t get everything done in one day, I’m tempted to call myself a failure. If I have a moment of insecurity or doubt, I’m tempted to write myself off as needy and not worth the effort.
But just like that day in the Starbucks, I’m learning slowly to be kind—to treat myself like I’d treat a best friend, with love and respect and the benefit of the doubt. I’m not an exception to my kindness. I’m the one who sets the standard.