When I was younger, I always heard that there was a time in life when women ceased to care what people thought of them. Supposedly there was this magical age when others’ opinions weren’t quite as important anymore. Apparently during this time of life, women grew to love themselves and somehow came into a sort of self-acceptance.
I’ll be honest and say that I laughed it all off as craziness. As a people-pleasing, self-conscious, never-felt-good-enough kind of girl, I thought the idea was a fairy tale. There was no way I would see a day when I was comfortable in my own skin. There was no way the time would come when I wasn’t riddled with anxiety-inducing thoughts of what people thought of me. There was no way I would ever look at myself and think I was anything but a gigantic failure. That might happen for some women, but it would never happen for me.
I’m going to take a few minutes to be absolutely transparent. For anyone who knows me, you understand that being vulnerable is way outside of my comfort zone. I’m a fabulous listener. I’ll listen to your entire life story, but I talk very little about myself. I’ve spent my life hiding my feelings and trying to make people not see me. My goal for as long as I can remember was to be invisible. I’ve become a master at putting on a smile and showing the world that I have it all together, when the reality is that I’ve always felt anything but.
You see, my self-image has always been a problem for me. I’ve lived my whole life wishing I could change nearly every facet of myself. People always told me I was pretty and talented. The problem was, there was usually a “but” attached to those compliments. People complimented my hair, my eyes, my smile, but never my body. That was always second best, something that needed to be changed, and oh, how I longed to change it. I longed for it so much that I flirted with eating disorders for the majority of my teenage years. When I was younger, I was scouted by a modeling agency. The words, “you have such a pretty face… but you should lose a little weight” reverberated in my head for a long time. Words hurt. I lived my life basing my entire worth on words like those, and I always came up short.
Somehow I was convinced that I would be happier, that all of my issues would magically disappear when I lost those extra pounds. So I did that. The problem was, the voices were still there. Those extra pounds didn’t make a difference after all. The real problem was the way I saw myself. I slowly began to realize that my view of myself wasn’t necessarily the most accurate one. Maybe it wasn’t me that was flawed, maybe it was my perception of me.
I feel as if I’ve gone through some sort of transformation over the past couple of years. I’ve noticed that somewhere along the way the soundtrack in my brain changed from constantly hearing voices saying, “everyone is judging you” to “maybe you’re okay after all.” I’m not sure when it happened, but somehow the image in the mirror was no longer enough to reduce me to tears when no one was around. Somewhere along the way I looked in the mirror and heard the words, “you’re okay.” Somewhere along the way I figured out how to be accepting of the body and skin I’m in. Somewhere along the way I began to understand that I needed to look at myself through different eyes.
I haven’t banished those voices altogether. If I were to say that, it would be a lie. I’ve spent most of my life hating everything about myself, always convinced I could do better. Old habits die hard, as they say. That kind of mindset doesn’t go away overnight. It may never go away completely. But I can say that the narrative in my brain has changed. When negative thoughts begin to creep in, I work really hard to counteract them with positive ones. When I don’t like the way my body looks in something, I remind myself that my body has grown three human beings. I remind myself that parts of my body may be larger than I want them to be, but that my body works well and gets me around every day. My body may never be runway perfect, but it’s healthy and it’s strong, and it’s perfectly imperfect.
I was reminded today of those words I always heard about the time in your life when you finally accept yourself. It made me smile, because now I understand that it isn’t a fairy tale. Women really do reach that “magic age” where we realize that it’s time to let those negative thoughts go. It’s time to show ourselves some grace. It’s time to appreciate all of the amazing things we contribute to the world.
Maybe this time of our lives is a simple gift. Maybe it’s God smiling down on us, saying, “Good job, girl. You finally see yourself the way I’ve seen you all along.” I don’t know what the reason is. I can’t even pinpoint the moment it occurred, but I can say I’m glad it did. I’ve spent far too much time disliking myself. I’m ready to love myself now.