For those new to my musings: I have a script tattoo on my wrist. Let me preface, though, by saying that the word drawn there is not the first word ever to be carved into my flesh. I wear scars now that run deeper than any physical ones could go, but I didn't get them by paying someone to mark me.
Sounds dramatic, but it wasn't until about a year ago that I was able to finally look back and realize just how much of my life I've spent believing that something was wrong with me at the core. Not only did I believe something was wrong, but I truly hated myself. I hated my body, my voice, my laugh, my everything. What's more, I was great at fooling people into thinking I didn't by acting silly, smiling extra hard, and laughing loud and long to cover up all the chaos and pain inside.
I have vivid memories of sitting in front of a mirror in middle school and high school, analyzing myself. I'd pinch the extra flesh on my stomach and thighs, and wish I could cut it off. In fact, I would dissect myself every time I looked in the mirror: a thick pile of hair that was the color of dirty dishwater, gorilla nose, broad man shoulders, feet that were bigger than any girls' in my classes, a body so large and awkward it was ogre-ish.
My insides weren't immune to this criticism either. After being severely bullied between the 4th and 6th grades, I have to admit that my skin was paper-thin and any small comments would reopen old wounds far later in life. Even to this day, I have to struggle not to take off-hand remarks personally. Some things stick, though. Some things, such as "white noise."
Calling someone white noise in a teasing way doesn't sound altogether harmful or lasting, right? But what if it's said to someone who was told for years to shut up by a bunch of nasty kids? What if it's said to someone who already feels like their very presence is a burden? White noise means that your very voice is a buzz in their ears, that your words are meaningless, that you are nothing but a bother in the background they can't wait to tune out and switch to something more interesting. I began to disappear inside.
In addition to this verbal onslaught (and believe me, most of the names carved into my heart are far worse than white noise), in high school, I was just beginning to deal with the after-effects of years of sexual abuse at the hand of an older cousin. I'm not going into detail for the purposes of this blog, but what I will say now is that this supplied multiple reasons for me to hate my body, and made it a source of deep shame.
SO, how does one learn to love oneself, after going through so much garbage?
There is no hard and fast answer, because I can't pinpoint the exact moment I decided to stop tearing myself down and instead, build myself back up. I can say that it started after I made one of the scariest decisions of my life, to skip college in favor of a gap year, and move to Savannah where I knew no one except for my big sister and her husband.
Then, there were a couple of vastly different romantic entanglements I got myself into, between late 2014-2015, and again from late 2015-2016, which also gave me a massive push. In the span of these two relationships, I got to see myself through two completely different men's eyes. While my inner feminist is screaming at me not to care about any man's opinion, the truth is they were just stepping stones in this winding path, and it was helpful to have a bit of affirmation for once.
To one, my spirit was beautiful; he loved my laugh, the things I thought and said, even the silly, whimsical, downright goofy way I saw the world. He taught me that I had good things to say, and they weren't boring or off-putting, but engaging. To the other, my body that I'd hated for so long was a thing of beauty. My smile wasn't too toothy for him, my eyes were just bright enough. I'll never forget that once, he said, "You literally look like a piece of art," and the thought still makes my heart pound like crazy. I was as much a princess in his eyes as I'd always wanted to be, nothing ogreish about it, and for once my body seemed just right.
Then, there came a day where I looked in the mirror and smiled. I started to hike when I could, do zumba and go running. I started taking yoga, and fell in love with my body, not for any narcissistic reasons, but because of the things it could do. I could feel the length of my spine, feel the muscles contract and extend as I moved, and know that my body is so much more beneath the skin than the too-pale, often-pudgy exterior. Karate showed me that my body can be a weapon, something to defend myself and get out frustration—something to protect me, so I couldn't be used again.
I moved back to Savannah this past summer, and grew up more than ever before. My eyes were opened to things I'd never considered before, like the fact that I could wear whatever I wished and there are no concrete rules about fashion for big girls. Just because I had the shoulders and build of an Amazonian warrior didn't mean I couldn't wear flowery girly dresses. Before, I dressed in whatever way might serve to minimize my appearance, shoulders hunched and head down. After this summer, I walk with my head up high, wearing whatever the hell I want. And I love it.
I began to treat myself with respect and kindness. I started letting myself rest when I needed it, and started to reach out to my friends and family instead of shutting myself down and away. Basically, I afforded myself the same courtesy and love that I gave to every other human being out there.
Learning to love myself has only really kicked in the past couple of years, and I'm sure a triple loop is scheduled soon on this rollercoaster of a life, but I think I'm ready for it this time. So if you need me, I'll be drinking a cup of earl grey and reading an old favorite before finals hit. I suggest you all do the same.