I’m not one to speak on this subject, really. I’m my own worst critic and an expert self-bully. I’ve spent years and years perfecting the art of belittling myself. What a shitty thing to be good at.
I caught myself doing something yesterday that I do almost every time I look in the mirror – and decided it had to stop. As I stood in front of the bathroom mirror at work, I ran through a mental list of my physical flaws. It’s a quick and compulsive response to seeing my own reflection. The entire process takes about 20 seconds, which, oddly enough, happens to be the exact amount of time needed to destroy my self-confidence. I walk away feeling something between numbness and hopelessness.
On this occasion, I actually said aloud, “Wow, you look horrible” to myself (before double-checking that I was alone). Here’s what the rest sounded like in my head:
“Yep, those deep, dark circles are still under your eyes – worse than ever. You need to go to bed earlier. Your hair is a mess. Why can’t you get your shit together? This shirt doesn’t suit you. It makes you look pregnant. What were you thinking this morning? Your hips are huge! You need to workout more.”
Now, I will admit that if another person had said that to me, I would be outraged and angry. I would be hurt and immediately remove them from my life. I can’t even imagine saying just one of those things to someone I love, or even a stranger. So, why is it OK for us to say these things to ourselves? Why is it OK for us to objectify ourselves?
These poisonous sentiments have become my mantra. Negative, horrible words I throw at my own disappointed face every day without thinking. No wonder I lack confidence and conviction. No wonder my voice sometimes comes out in little more than a whisper. No wonder my head is full of self-doubt and anxiety. I treat myself as though I have little value, and as if my value is derived from my physical attributes.
The condensed version: I’m a bully.
I wasn’t born with these beliefs about myself. As a young child, you don’t notice the differences; you embrace all people. Hate (even directed at yourself) is learned.
I learned cruelty from other children, growing up as a chubby kid. I learned failure from all of the diet plans I tried. I learned embarrassment from looking like a stuffed sausage when I tried on my skinny friends’ clothes in high school. I learned self-doubt by always watching the confident girls and never really taking the lead. I learned self-criticism from watching other girls in front of the mirror at school, most likely emulating their mothers or what they saw in the movies (see “Mean Girls”). I learned the impossible standard of beauty as it is portrayed in the media as “normal” on TV and in movies and magazines. When I was older, men reassured me through their actions that they agreed that my value was indeed connected to the physical.
My insecurity is the perfect outcome for the media. Their advertisers have the solutions to all the problems I’m eager to fix: weight loss, anti-aging, hiding all my “wobbly bits,” and cleaning my kitchen with little effort. It makes you wonder if it’s all some grand design… Maybe that voice in my head is just some old, male advertising executive.
All of these pieces blend together to paint a picture of the person I “should” be, but never possibly could be. And, why would I want to, anyway? In our society, the perfect woman is one that has been carefully crafted to be pleasing to a man. To quote one outspoken lady I admire, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
We tell young girls to stand up for themselves, but, then, let them watch us criticize ourselves in the mirror. It’s time to stand up to ourselves, showing nothing but kindness. The voice in your head should be your biggest cheerleader, not your biggest critic.
I realize now that the “perfection” I grew up trying to attain is just some Hollywood magic; it doesn’t exist. I’d rather look at myself as a work-in-progress. There will always be something about myself that I will want to work on and some way that I will want to grow as a person. That’s the way it should be.
You are who you are, not who someone else wants you to be. So, the next time you look in the mirror, see only how beautiful you are.