Learning to love yourself is not an easy thing to do. It may be one of the tougher things, if not the toughest, you do in your whole life. We put ourselves at the bottom of the list almost every time. When things are piling up, we sacrifice so others don’t have to go without — we eat poorly, we stay up too late, we run ourselves ragged — and this seems to be a reflection of how we feel about ourselves as compared to how we feel about others around us.
Last night, in sharing some wisdom with my beautiful niece, I recalled the first moment (after my self-esteem tanked in middle school) that I realized that maybe I was not 100% disgusting/ugly/fat/bound to be rejected for the rest of my life. It was 10th grade. But first, let me give you some context.
I grew up with teeth that I inherited directly from my father.
I’d call them quite “gappy” and on top of it all, I sucked my middle two fingers until I was 12 or something absurd like that…
So, I had a gap. I was very sensitive about this gap and I don’t know why. I can’t actually recall anyone making fun of it. But many of the pictures I looked through show me with a closed mouth smile — even today that’s my go to smile. Anyway… I digress. By the time my 12 year molars started coming in, the gap started closing – as you can see in the 2nd picture. But in my mind my teeth were still a train wreck, until that day in the 10th grade.
I was sitting in geography class beside this guy who I thought was super hot. He had braces and said something about how much he hated them. I made a comment that he was lucky to have them (because my mom could never have afforded braces for me) and that I wished I had braces. He looked shocked and said back to me “your teeth are perfect!”
Then I was the one who was shocked. You mean to tell me that other people can look at me and see something pleasant or perfect even? Even if it’s just my teeth… That’s somewhere I could start. So I began gently, by finding what I liked about myself. It’s hard. It’s almost excruciating to sit down and make a list of what you love about yourself. But do it anyway. I started with the fact that I liked my cute little nose and my pretty feet. Then I grew to find qualities about myself that I liked — I am kind, I am funny, I am loving.
As I acknowledged these things about myself, it became easier and easier to find other things about myself that I liked. Eventually, I began to believe my whole face was pretty. Not just my teeth and my nose. Recently, I have been able to feel like my entire body is beautiful (thanks to the others in the body positive movement).
Last night, I told my niece I loved her out loud. Then I told my mom. Then I told myself. Out loud. So other people could hear… that I loved me. It was a little funny but super important. And powerful. And it felt really good!!! Have you ever said that to yourself? “[Your name here], I love you!” Try it.
It’s not an easy process. It’s a long process. It’s been 23 years since the 10th grade… wow. But I’m here. And I love me. And if I can get here, so can you! Start with a list of just few things you like about yourself. Maybe you’ll struggle to find even one… but find it. Then look in the mirror everyday and acknowledge that you like it. Then listen to the people that love you and acknowledge in yourself what they acknowledge in you. Start praising those parts of yourself too. Eventually, you will start seeing more of what you love about you than what you don’t love about you. And eventually, you will start treating yourself as if you actually love yourself like you love those around you.