Today I got it. I looked at a photo of myself and saw it.
I am beautiful.
I never really saw it before. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand. Those are words I simply don’t say to myself.
I’m far quicker to point out all of the things I don’t like: all of the aspects I want to change, those parts that I see as faults or inadequacies. I’ve been doing it so long that it feels instinctual.
I’m not totally immune to recognizing my good qualities. There have always been certain things I’ve owned.
I am smart and athletic. I am strong. I am sensitive and empathetic. I have beautiful hair and beautiful eyes. And I am a really good dancer. But the criticisms far outweigh the praises, and acknowledging beauty has always straddled the line of the impossible.
As women, too much of our energy is placed on the things we don’t like about ourselves.
I don’t know what it’s like for men. I presume that men also have their insecurities and doubts, but because I’m not a man, I can’t speak for them. And while I can’t speak for all women either, I think I have a pretty good idea of what we go through—the hardship, the nonsensical struggle it is to be okay with ourselves.
We are never good enough. There’s always some area in which we are lacking. If not physical, then emotional or mental or social. There is always some self-perceived flaw to highlight, always an area in which we’re failing, some space we can’t seem to find a way to enter.
It is so personal and personalized, the self-condemnation so perfectly attuned to the specific insecurities we each assume.
It’s as if we’ve learned to accept that it’s inevitable to be unsatisfied with who we are.
I hear it all the time: walking down streets or hallways, listening to women talking, comparing, joining in on the different aspects of themselves they believe need to be fixed—a plummeting, spiraling, devolving rampage of disregard, or worse, contempt.
When I hear it, I physically ache, feel my body cringe against the toxicity of the words and the sentiments that underlie them. But I also close my eyes with a tint of sorrow, and a silent acquiescence to the understanding that what truly pains me is the reminder that I too say many of the same things to myself throughout each and every day.
This tendency is pervasive. It’s subsumed itself so deeply into the intrinsic fabric of our culture and the society in which we live that somehow, it’s become the natural, predominant, almost expected system of self-talk.
We have become so unable to recognize and acknowledge our wonderful qualities, that we don’t even know how to accept a compliment when we receive one.
When someone tells me my hair looks good, I quickly follow up with, “Thanks, I finally washed it,” or some other intentionally flippant, hopefully seemingly casual remark—a pointed deflection to prevent myself from facing whatever discomfort lies beneath my inability to welcome in those words.
I know that feeling beautiful isn’t everything—there are many other characteristics we are told we should emphasize instead—but it is something. And we don’t do this solely with our appearances. We do it with everything: lessening our accomplishments, undervaluing our talents, saying that whatever we did, or have, isn’t a big deal, or it really wasn’t so hard to achieve.
Loving ourselves really shouldn’t be so hard.
When I was a freshman in college, I took a course called “Sociology of the Body.” During the last class of the semester, our professor, who exuded nothing but this spacious softness and kindness, said that he didn’t start loving his body until he was in his 60s, and that his biggest wish for us, was that we wouldn’t have to wait that long to love our own. I remember tears filling my eyes, because I desperately wanted that too, and I didn’t know how.
I still don’t really know how.
But I do have the tender wish that it is possible and now I experienced the slightest taste of what that could feel like.
When I first saw that photo I took of myself, I was awestruck because, for just a moment, all I saw was my beauty. Everything else disappeared.
A soft, tender energy filled me when my self-judgments dissolved; when the harshness literally ceased existing within the framework of my consciousness.
The awareness was transient, but delectably expansive.
It’s like that moment in meditation when the noise ceases and our thoughts stop scrolling, and, for just the briefest of moments, we are resting in that luscious silence.
Though I don’t have it all figured out, I’m willing to try.
This afternoon I took a photo of myself and realized that I was beautiful.
That’s a start.