Growing up, I was never really too down on myself. Because I was convinced make up, hair dye, following trends, and the like were all pointless (maybe even bad), I had to be content with myself the way I was. Of course I still had insecurities, but for the most part I just knew I was different and that I had to be genuine about myself. I didn’t really focus on my appearance that much.
The past year or so, I’ve grown in terms of how I view myself. I dyed my hair to a color I loved and learned how to take care of it; I collected a few little make up items and liked what they could do; I started dressing a bit more like a grown up version of myself (which is still pretty colorful and wild, let’s be real). Because I was starting to actually view myself as an adult, I was learning that I was in charge of myself, and that there were new worlds I could explore. I’ve been enjoying these worlds a lot, for the most part.
I’ve never really been concerned with being more relevant. But lately… I have.
I wonder if it’s because I entered these new worlds, worlds that encourage self-improvement and high standards I’d never sought to meet before. Without make up/hair dye/whatever, if you aren’t keen on how you look, you can’t really do anything about it. So you learn to accept it and live with your focus placed elsewhere. With those things, however, you can change a lot about what you don’t like. It’s really nice. But if you use them and still don’t feel great about yourself, it stings more. Because you tried to hide the insecure places, and they still peek out and bother you… maybe even make you feel inferior to those who do what you’re doing but seem successful at it.
I feel similarly about exercise. I wasn’t regularly exercising until about six months ago, and now I feel like it’s a hugely important duty for me to maintain my body, or even to make it better. Because exercising has improved my shape a little, and a few people have even noticed. Sometimes I notice, and get excited about it. But now I have this fear of not being able to keep it up. I started exercising purely because I wanted to get a better grip on my struggles with anxiety; I didn’t expect any of this to come with it.
I didn’t really deal with these feelings and fears before. But now I do. And something else has come with it, something that is devastating me: comparison.
I find myself looking at old photos and getting annoyed or even mad at my past self for her weight, which was never really noticeably bad. But worse than that: I look at other women and see things I wish I had… and things that I’ll judge them for having. Because I’m more self-conscious than I was before, I am now more apt to see issues in others and be a more harsh, judgmental person. I compare myself to them, wanting what they have, and I compare them to me, thinking they should want what I have. I hate seeing this in me, and I hate letting you see it; it’s embarrassing and painfully vulnerable. But it fully convinces me that judgmental, cruel people truly are just insecure people who want to feel better inside. People always say that, but I never saw the reality of it before it became my reality.
Part of me wonders if I started a lot of this because I fell for someone who seemed to live in such a glittering world, and I wanted to measure up. I didn’t want to be invisible or unsightly or subpar; I wanted to be beautiful and noticeable… to be good enough for his world. And maybe I began tearing down other women in my head because I didn’t want to compete with them, because I had no hope in winning against them. What stupid games we play, thinking anything in life is a competition we have to beat others in. Thinking love is something we win from people.
Yesterday, I liked how I looked, so I took a few photos. Then I saw photos of other gorgeous women, and I didn’t like mine anymore. I met the reality of another platitude– comparison took joy from me.
I think I’m sharing these things with you just to show you how true those platitudes are. Because I’ve heard them my whole life, but I’m just now seeing them manifest. And wow… damage happens when you don’t see or truly believe in something that’s happening inside you.
When I’m alone, just focusing on enjoying what I have and being grateful, I like myself. It’s when comparison and standards come in that I begin to doubt and get anxious and defensive. I have to focus on gratitude. Gratitude for this body I have to live in; for a lifestyle that really works for me; for fun ways to explore expressing myself; for the beauty other women possess; for the unique images all of us get to carry that are a piece of the image of God; for the worthiness of the individual; for people who build others up; for the ability to compliment instead of compete. It is in gratitude that contentment will live and thrive.
So, thank you, Father, for all of those things. And that you like us even when we can’t like ourselves.