This isn't a tale about romance. It's about love.
I hated myself growing up. There's no other way to say it. After years and years of being mocked by other children for my features; criticized over my weight; hearing certain family members reminisce about how "pretty" I was when I was younger and that no longer being the case, I had reached a dangerous pinnacle of self-hatred and complete lack of self-esteem. Sometimes I would gaze in the mirror and sadly, wish I wasn't around. In college, things certainly took a turn. My growing anxiety about being judged by my peers over my body culminated into wearing a jacket year-round in an effort to disappear and/or hide myself. I have two distinct memories. Memory 1: Once, while the summer heat blazed around us, I was walking across campus in a giant jacket. A classmate approached me and appraised my jacket with curious eyes. "Aren't you hot?" he asked. I shook my head and merely smiled. The heat was killing me. But I didn't want anyone to see me. Memory 2: I entered a Psychology class one day and took my seat. Moments later, I looked up to find my professor observing me. "You wear that jacket every day. Must be your favorite," she remarked. I nodded. "It is." (It's a bit ironic that a Psychology professor noticed, isn't it?) Those toxic feelings about myself continued. It didn't matter if friends and family reassured me of my talents, my abilities, my features--I certainly didn't believe them, for one thing, and would destroy all their kind words with my own self-criticism. I went through my twenties this way, unable to find happiness for myself.
And then one day, things changed. Notably, I had turned 30 a few days earlier.
I woke up one morning and began my morning rituals of getting ready for the day. At one point, I stood in the bathroom and studied myself in the mirror. You look nice. Slightly startled, I slowly realized that the voice telling me that I looked nice was my own. I stood there, planted on my feet, stunned, and stared long at my face. Admittedly, I may have been waiting to see if it was a fluke, to see if my usual extreme self-critique would drown out that "You look nice" statement. Nothing like that happened. I simply stared at myself and realized that I was a pretty girl. It may seem rudimentary, but when you've been at the bottom for so, so long, a simplistic declaration of something positive, something you've never told yourself or have even believed, means so much. Little did I know that this surprising moment would be significant and was only the beginning.
My life began to take an interesting turn. I learned to stop using self-deprecating humor. I refused to use myself as a punchline. This change may surprise you: I even decided to stop wearing shapewear. No offense to those tight, breath-stealing things, but I had been consistently wearing shapewear since my mid-20s so that I could control what my body looked like to other people. (Meaning: to look thinner in my clothes.) Again, perhaps that seemed like an elementary thing to do, but it was a step to removing the massive power I had been giving to the outside world for so long. Leaving the house no longer became an exercise in fear over what folks would think of me or whether I would be mercilessly judged. I just stopped thinking about other people. I started studying my belly and jiggles and this imperfect body and it became easier and easier to be at peace with what I saw. Please take this literally: I danced, I twirled, and I moved in front of the mirror, all the while appreciating the wonder of this temple that belonged to me. I readjusted my thoughts when it came to how I viewed myself, learning to affirm and validate myself. You are valuable. You are beautiful. You are worthy. I started smiling more. Compliments given to me received this simple reply: Thank You. (No more trying to explain it away or diminish myself because of the attention.)
Essentially, I was falling in love with myself.
As the inside grew toward self-acceptance, it began to show on the outside. Confidence, a quality that I had never possessed, began to take root. A close friend once mentioned to a beloved relative of mine that I seemed so confident, something my relative later revealed to me. Honestly, it blew my mind. It truly did. But I was reminded of an important fact: I had truly come a long way. Here's the thing: we all have flaws and imperfections. Falling in love with myself meant that I learned to accept those flaws and imperfections without diminishing all the other components of me: a person, a woman, capable, and happy.
If you're pulling yourself down, look up.
If the words of others are bruising your heart, replace their voices with your own.
Fall in love with who you are, refocusing away from what you're not.
You, me, all of us: we deserve it.