I’ve been reflecting on this for a few reasons and events that have happened recently.
The first was when I woke up in a bit of frenzy, and as I was getting ready for work, I forgot to draw my eyebrows on. I didn’t notice my eyebrows weren’t there for my entire commute to my job; I boarded the bus, walked by guests, and interacted with customers with the same pep and enthusiasm as if my eyebrows were painted on perfectly. I’ll explain – I have something called trichotillomania, a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) where I compulsively pick my own hair, leaving me, essentially, eyebrow-less. Needless to say, I was embarrassed when I finally saw myself in the locker room mirror, since I hadn’t brought an eyebrow pencil with me and I couldn’t find a pen that would make a convincing mark on my skin. I asked to leave work early, but I’ll never forget the sheer fact that for a good hour, when I wasn’t focused on my appearance, I was happy, confident, and ready to face the day.
The second was when I was in the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s car, taking selfies of myself. I had put on makeup that day, which for me, was a rarity. I had straightened my hair, and believe me, I was looking good. As I was perfecting the angle on my phone to capture the light that hit me best, my boyfriend comments, “Those girls in the car next to us saw you taking pictures of yourself and they started laughing.” My initial response: who gives a shit? Did they not see how great I looked? I finally replied, “It took me a long time to feel this good about myself.” I know that even as millennials we tear down each other for taking constant selfies, but in that moment, I wanted to capture my love for myself and remember it for a future time when I wasn’t feeling beautiful. That revelation was one I wasn’t about to let go.
The third was when I found out that someone I considered a close friend had been saying negative things about me to another friend. The act of gossiping is something I’m not unfamiliar with, and I’ve been a part of rumors from all sides. Finding out that this friend was making unflattering comments about me in the first place wasn’t the part that most surprised me, but instead what she was saying about me did. This friend had made jokes and nasty comments on my fashion choices, style, and appearance – and that is what truly shocked me. This was because, up until that moment, I hadn’t been focusing on how my appearance came across to other people. So many other challenges and problems had arisen in my life, so my personal style was pushed, mostly, to the back-burner.
I started to wonder, as I scrolled through my recent Instagram posts and focused on the clothes I was wearing – what do my fashion choices really say about me as a person? I thought I had made some cute outfits, sometimes…hadn’t I? Was I completely unattractive? Were my friends embarrassed to be around me, seen with me, take pictures with me?
And then I thought of one last question –
When was the last time I had felt this way – this crippling, anxiety-ridden lack of self-confidence?
This constant struggle – between our desire for the acceptance of others and the self-confidence we feel in ourselves – was one I faced when I was much, much younger than I am now. In elementary school, at the peak of my self-confidence, I wore strangely coordinating outfits based on holidays, animals, and themes. The crazier, the tackier, and the more unique the clothes, the more it fit my style. My mom always praised me for my outfits, and I proudly wore them outside and to class, thinking, wow – I’m fashionable!
Exhibit A: Two loose braids on either side of my head, two clips holding them…in place, maybe? Elvis glasses? This picture is tame, believe me. I just can’t wrap my head around this one in particular.
Looking back on these hideous tween outfits I’d parade around in (and that my mom took way too many pictures of as proof), I realize now that, obviously, my mother wasn’t praising my fashion sense that was obviously underdeveloped for my age. When my mom would tell me I was cute or that my themed outfit was perfect for school that day, her intent was to build my confidence in my sense of self. My quirky outfits definitely stood out, and helped me for the better: it weeded out my peers that cared about appearance over personality, and allowed me to make supportive friendships that only continued to build my love for myself.
Middle school, for all of us, is probably the fall of our self-confidence. Acne exploded not only on my face, but over my entire body. My glasses were straight out of Harry Potter, and my braces seemed to be permanently affixed to my teeth. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup to school, but I still gave myself those tell-tale, emo raccoon eyes. I was experimenting with clothes, style, and life – but my confidence wasn’t exactly sky-high during this intense time of transition.
I’m not sure what’s happening here, but I found this in an old picture album entitled “im effing awesome”. I hope you’re appreciating both that very high MySpace angle I achieved, as well as the fact this picture is still on my hard drive.
I’d like to say my style matured in high school, but it was more an act of convenience. I bounced between school, home, theater rehearsals, and choir performances. I was changing from costume to outfit to pajamas constantly, so the aspect of comfort almost always won out when it came to more fashionable items in my closet. Sweatpants, basic v-neck t-shirts, and dresses (basically a long-ass shirt that passes as a complete outfit, and is, in my opinion, one of the laziest choices we girls have at our disposal) were my typical pick. I didn’t have time to slather on makeup, because I’d just have to wash it off and put on stage makeup that same night. I didn’t have time to complete a whole outfit when I was barely squeezing in homework in the hours I wasn’t practicing lines, rehearsing my harmonies, or spending time with my family.
This selfie is called the “smile-and-casually-pose-as-if-someone-else-is-taking-it-for-you-when-really-you-were-taking-it-yourself-alone-in-the-living-room”.
Sweatpants turned to leggings when I graduated and moved on to college, because they literally go with everything. E-ver-y-thing. I will fight someone on this. Comfort above fashion, people. I don’t think I’ve worn jeans for more than a day in a row, purposefully, since probably my freshman year of college. I went to college for almost five years. I’m serious about leggings. Seriously.
All things considered, since those anxiety-ridden middle school days, the confidence in my body and appearance was slowly growing into a state of contentment. I began to love parts of my body – my hair, my stomach, my eyes, my smile – until there was barely anything I hadn’t grown to love about myself.
But how did I get to this state of comfort, not only with my clothes, but with showing my vulnerable and quirky side to complete strangers through my outfits and my attitude?
Your thoughts about your body and yourself can be influenced by a lot of external factors: your family, your friends, the media, your significant other. But these thoughts all become internal. How you feel about your weight, your style, your hair – it’s all in your mind. To begin loving yourself, you have to see yourself in a new light. I can tell you all day that thinking positively can have real life positive effects, and in our worst moments, seeing ourselves as beautiful is the hardest thing to do. Remember that you have a lot of hidden strength within that mind of yours, and changing your perspective in small ways can have an enormous impact on building your self-worth. So don’t wait until you’re feeling your crappiest to tell yourself you’re beautiful. Change your perspective right now. Take a good selfie of yourself, look at yourself in the mirror, or just look down at your body as it is. Focus on each body part and think something positive – maybe your legs are just shaved and are super smooth, or maybe your hair smells fresh right out of the shower. If you get stuck on an element of yourself that you don’t like, take a moment to appreciate that it exists, and that you love yourself regardless of these elements that make you uncomfortable. Slowly begin to see your body as a unique, loved whole instead of separate parts that you either like or hate.
Now that you’ve spent all that time focusing on yourself, another big step you can make in loving yourself is turning your attention to your life goals. These could be daily, weekly, yearly, or even future goals, but take some time out of your life to pursue what makes you happy. Diving into hobbies, activities, exercise, or socializing takes you out of your negative, inner feelings and thrusts you into what’s happening in your life. I’ve found that I’m the most confident in myself, my weight, my body, my appearance, and well, my everything, when I’m busy actively participating in things that I know I enjoy.
This is one simple thing you can do, at all times. Smile more, and show your teeth! I realized that when I was younger, I’d make these “fake smiles” for pictures, because I thought I looked prettier when I didn’t show my teeth. Then I focused on the pictures where I was smiling candidly without thinking – I’m sure you can guess that in the latter, I looked so much more beautiful, because my smile was genuine and happy. Smiling often as big as you can is a rule that shouldn’t apply only to pictures! Don’t hesitate to laugh, smile, and enjoy moments when they happen. Smile when you lock eyes with a friendly stranger, and smile when you’re with your best friends and family. Relish in your happy moments, and remember these times when you’re not feeling your best.
You can still love yourself even on a day when everything goes wrong. Your outfit was ridiculed by your friends, or your makeup was ruined, or you gained weight or you lost it or you just feel like every part of your body is working against you – these crappy days are going to happen. Let them happen. Wallow in your crappy feelings for a bit, cry it out, call a friend, whatever you need to do to feel a little better. Take some deep breaths. You’re going to have moments when you really don’t feel like loving yourself. Remember that you have the strength to get through every bad day, and that strength came from inside of you. That, in itself, is one of the most beautiful things about you. Accept that not every part of you is going to live up to others or even your expectations. I promise these moments will only make you stronger.
I can’t guarantee that any of this advice will stop you from caring about what other people think of you, because it sure hasn’t done that for me. Loving myself, though, has given me the resilience to better handle the weird stares or trash talk that come my way from strangers, family, and even close friends. I truly feel though that once you start loving yourself, life will be more beautiful, and others will gravitate towards your radiant energy.
P.S. Did you love those few embarrassing pictures? I’d love to see your favorite tween, angsty selfies. Maybe that’ll be the subject of another blog post…because these sure weren’t my craziest selfies that are still on my laptop years later…