Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Learning to Like Yourself

Having a low opinion of yourself is not "modesty". It's self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not "egotism". It's a necessary precondition to happiness and success. ~ Bobbe Sommer

In the past few years, I have finally come to terms with the way I look. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with my self-esteem, and I have always been very wary of my physical appearance. I think we can all say that, at some point or another, we have disliked ourselves. Even if you’re a confident person, we all have days where we wish we could look like, or just be, someone else. We have to spend every day with ourselves: every day looking in the mirror, every day with our own thoughts. So somewhere along the line, we are bound to notice things we dislike; things that other people probably don’t even notice.

I think I am finally able to talk about my issues with my appearance because I am finally at a point where I don’t actually hate the way I look or the person I am. Last year, I made a post similar to this one, but I think that I have come even further since then. On nights out, I am the first one to reach for the camera and to piss all my friends off by insisting we take multiple group photos. I’m also one of them irritating people who takes ‘selfies’ on Instagram and posts them to every social networking site I have an account on. But this is my argument: a few years ago, I hated my appearance so much that whenever somebody tried to take a photo of me, I would cover my face. I hated pictures being taken where I had no control over the angle, or the tweaking before it was put on the internet. For a little while it was known amongst friends as the ‘Rosy-pose’. I can joke about it now, but I can also see it as a huge indication of how self-conscious I was at the time. So, pardon me if my continual photos of myself and my friends get on your nerves, but I’d much rather be one of ‘those’ people annoying you, than be that person who was hideously paranoid every time somebody took a snap and my hand wasn’t plastered across my face, cringing and close to tears when I was tagged in a slightly unflattering photo. I’m annoying, but I’m happy.

I’m comfortable with myself now, but it has taken me a long time to get to this point. As a teenager I was very aware of my appearance (as all teenagers are), but I think, for me, it began in the last couple of years of primary school. I was made fun of for having sticky-out ears and, during some trivial disagreement, I remember a couple of boys commenting on how I was a “disgusting skinny rat”. Slowly, the older I got, the more I started to hate almost everything about the way I looked – my pale skin, my freckles, my nose, my height (I was grateful that at least I could cover my ears up with my hair). I was the smallest in my group of friends, I was the palest and I definitely felt like the ugliest. From the age of 14-17/18 I was a mess of fake tan, hair extensions and far too much make-up. I seriously considered a nose job - I looked into how it was done, I researched different surgeries, I even picked a nose I liked (something similar to Jennifer Aniston, FYI) and I decided to start saving up. Every time I had a slight dip in confidence over something or other, I would change my hair – I dyed it, I had it cut short, I tried to grow it, I went back to wearing extensions, I dyed it a different colour. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Again, like I’m sure we all are at some point or another, I was conscious of my weight and my size, too. It wasn’t so bad when I was in school, because I was pretty much flat everywhere and I was naturally quite skinny too, and it wasn’t really something I ever thought about. But when I hit about 17/18, I suddenly developed, and it terrified me. It was kind of nice to have boobs after being one of the most flat-chested teenagers around, but everything else made me feel hideous. My weight has always been very up and down since I left school. I’ve always been very aware of the food I eat, and it’s only recently that I’ve embraced my natural pear-shape and just accepted that that is how I am. I LOVE food – I’m a carb-addict and a cheese worshipper – but my relationship with it always used to be something of a problem. As I went through phases of wanting to be stick thin and wanting to be curvy, I would obsessively weigh myself, I'd eat nothing and then when I felt like I was too skinny (i.e. my boobs got smaller) I'd eat everything. I would never go so far as to claim that I had an eating disorder, because that is something much, much bigger than anything I have ever experienced, but my relationship with food is always something I've been very conscious of. It annoys me because, realistically, I am a clever person and I have always understood that food is just fuel for your body. When I first came to university, the responsibility of choosing and buying my own food almost overwhelmed me, and I was constantly thinking about it – my next meal, what I would eat next week, my shopping list. I would over-eat, and sometimes I wouldn’t eat enough. I have a much healthier relationship with food now, and I understand that I will get back what I put in when it comes to healthy-eating and exercise. I don’t worry about it so much anymore, and I’ve just accepted that I am something of a pear-shape, and that not being stick-thin is not a bad thing.

In the last year and a half or so, I've finally just accepted the way I look. There's nothing wrong with the pale and freckly look. There's nothing wrong with having a round head shape or slightly sticky-out ears. There’s not really anything wrong with any of the things that I used to worry about. Looking back, I'm so glad I didn't go through with getting a nose job. I'd have ended up looking like a completely different person. What's wrong with having an unbutton-like nose anyway? Who wants to look like every other person on the planet? I've finally found a hair colour that suits me and that I actually like (ironically, it's my natural hair colour with blonde at the end, so all that dying and bleaching and damaging my hair turned out to be a massive waste of time) and I’m just sticking with it and leaving my poor hair the fuck alone.

My weight has taken me a bit longer to come to terms with. I gained a bit of weight last year for various reasons, but I’m pretty much back to my normal, natural weight now, and I’m comfortable with it. I am not a stick-thin person, but I'm not the whale I once imagined I was, either. I can't eat what I want any more without consequences. I am not a natural size 6 like I tried so hard to be at one point. I will always be a size 10 top and 10/12 on the bottom. Pear-shapes are fine. So are hour-glasses and columns and apples and every other type of shape out there. Any body shape can be beautiful if you dress for it, so I try my hardest to dress for my size and not convince myself that I'm still a size 6.

I think being at university has had a big and very positive impact on my self-esteem. At first I was very aware of how pretty all the girls around me are, and there was that feeling of "How on earth will I ever compete?" and feeling like an unattractive potato around the other girls. When I first met my friend Sarah, the first thing I was aware of is how she is pretty much everything I would have liked to be - tall, slim, naturally pretty. I will fully admit that I was a bit threatened by her, and some of the other girls I met. However, they are all so lovely, and we are all so different, that it slowly made me realize that perhaps I'm not so bad after all. One of the things I actually love about my friends is how different we all look when we go out - we've all openly said that we probably couldn't get away with clothes that the others wear, but I think being so different (and them being lovely people who don’t make me feel like shit) has helped me see that I don't have to compete with them in any way or to try and outdo anybody on nights out. I’m envious of certain aspects of my friends appearances, of course, but they’ve also told me that there’s certain things about me that they are envious of too – something I never would have imagined people would have said to me when I was at my lowest points. I have definitely grown up a lot in the past few years, and I think it also gave me an opportunity to cut people out of my life who only ever made me feel worse about myself.

The strangest thing about it is that when I look back through pictures where I felt my ugliest, biggest and most self-conscious, I actually realize that I didn't look bad at all. I think the best thing I've done that has given me a more positive body-image is to stop comparing myself to my friends and just accept that I'm different to them, they're different to me, and different doesn't necessarily equal bad. Some are bigger than me, and some are smaller than me - and that's great. They're all lovely people, we all have different styles and looks and they always look beautiful. I'm under no illusions that I'm the prettiest girl in the world - but I'm not an unattractive person either. I look how I look, I will only ever have one face and body, and I may as well make the most of what I do have instead of wasting time and money wishing, and trying, to look like somebody else.

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