I began my self-love journey near the end of 2012, during my first semester of college. My amazing aunt is a life coach, and she presented to me the idea of a 21 day project in which I would improve my body image, happiness and quality of life. It worked.
I believe that much of our unhappiness or dissatisfaction with life stems from our inability to see and recognize our amazing qualities. In our society, it is frowned upon to praise oneself. Many people feel pressure to suppress any thoughts that could be considered self-righteous or allude to self-obsession. My aunt taught me that it is not only healthy, but vital to recognize and embrace your own amazing qualities.
I have never been one to take things lightly. I allow other people and their opinions to have a huge impact on how I view myself, and many of my body image and self-esteem issues have stemmed from this tendency. In 7th grade, a boy in my class told me that the new, popular boy in my class thought I had a double chin. It devastated me. I allowed it to lessen my sense of self-worth, and I assumed form that point on that anyone who encountered me stared at my double chin and was disgusted by it. In eighth grade, another boy told me that his friend, who had seen me only once in person, thought that I had an ugly face. Yet again, I was devastated and allowed a mean comment by someone who knew nothing about me to severely alter my self-image. These little comments stuck with me. I assumed that what anyone said about me was automatically true, but only the bad things. My friends and family reassured me that I was beautiful, loveable, funny…but I didn’t believe them. I allowed two boys’ trivial comments, first of all, to objectify myself and to see myself as separate body parts, not as a complete person. Second of all, their comments convinced me that I was anything but beautiful, loveable, or funny.
In high school, I continued my pattern of being highly affected by anything anybody said about me or to me. My self-esteem in general was horrible. I felt uncomfortable talking to boys or to people in general because I imagined they were thinking about how ugly I was. My moods depended on how fat I felt on any given day. I was hyper-aware of my body, and refused to wear tight clothing because I felt excruciatingly uncomfortable being exposed in any way. I was disgusted by pictures of myself, and I hated looking in mirrors. I compared myself to other girls and became more and more discouraged every time one of my friends got a date to a dance, or got a boyfriend. And it was not just my body that I was negative about. I put myself down for every mistake I made, and always thought of myself as a horrible person because of my imperfections. Any time I actually thought of something I liked about myself, I would turn it around and put myself down for being narcissistic.
Up until sophomore year, my athletic abilities had made up for some of the self-esteem I lost due to my negative body image and general self-image. I had been a basketball and volleyball star, and was confident in my athleticism. During my sophomore year, however, I was no longer one of the best volleyball players on my tram, and I did not make the varsity basketball team as I had hoped I would because I was not in good shape. It was brought to my attention that I had gained about 15 pounds, and that if I didn’t stop eating junk food, I would keep gaining weight and thus lose my athletic ability. My basketball coach warned me that if I did not get into good shape, I would have trouble making the team, let alone being the star like I used to be. After these conversations, I simply stopped eating junk food. I ate healthily, joined track and cross country, and lost 20 pounds, all so that I would make varsity basketball and be an important part of the team. All through track and cross-country season I received amazing feedback from my coaches, family, and friends. They told me I looked amazing and had that my hard work had paid off. I was generally pleased with my body, but I still did not love myself. I had high hopes for basketball season. My hopes were crushed when basketball season started and I was playing maybe three minutes a game. It felt as though all of my hard work had gone to waste. I lost any confidence I had left, and I became depressed. I stopped putting as much effort into being healthy, and I slowly began to gain back the weight I had lost.
If you have ever lost a significant amount of weight and then gained it back, you know how painful it can be. I felt like I was out of control of myself and of my eating. Every pound I gained took away from my self-esteem. The realistic thing to do would have been simply to eat healthily and maintain my weight; however, it’s impossible to do the realistic thing when you hate yourself and your body, and when you constantly think negative thoughts. So, I entered into an extremely unhealthy and unsuccessful cycle where I would deprive myself of certain foods for a week or so and workout intensely because it was a “fat” week, where I would look in the mirror a decide that I needed to lose weight NOW. The next week, I’d decide that I looked better, so I could eat whatever I wanted-a lot of whatever I wanted- and not work out. At the end of that week, the cycle started over because I felt fat again. This method of losing weight does not work, because at the very center of it is self-hatred and negativity. Even though I never made myself throw up or starved myself, there is no doubt in my mind that I had an eating disorder. My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy, and I obsessed over it. I was not working out and eating healthily because I loved myself and wanted to make myself feel good; I was doing it because I hated myself, and I realize now that you cannot be successful in anything if you do not love yourself.
My hatred of my body negatively affected every aspect of my life and made me delusional. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat, unworthy girl. I had anxiety because I didn’t want people to look at me and see how fat I’d gotten. Looking back at pictures of myself on days where I had been nervous to interact with anyone because I felt extremely fat, I can tell how delusional I was. First of all, I look like a healthy, happy girl–not fat even in the slightest. Second of all, I have amazing friends who would not judge me based on how much I weighed. I let my poor body image ruin my mood and happiness for entire days and weeks. This is not to say that I was never happy during these two or three years. There were plenty of times when I felt happy, but it was a temporary, shallow happiness derived from my surroundings, not from within. I convinced myself that I was unlovable and shy and awkward, and started to spend more and more time alone. It was easier. I didn’t have to worry about whether people were thinking about how fat I looked. I didn’t have to look at all of the people who were more beautiful, nicer, more honest, and better than I was. I think many of my friends and family members noticed that I had changed, but I never voiced exactly what I was going through. I was ashamed of myself for being ashamed of myself, and I hid all of my thoughts and feelings for fear of being rejected.
I carried this fear with me as I entered college (as if my freshman year of college needed to be any more intimidating or difficult). I went into the semester thinking that I would not make any friends, that everyone would think I was ugly, and that people would hate me. Ridiculous, right? But it was a very real fear for me. The power of thinking, either positive or negative, is unbelievably strong. All of my negative energy made me scared to talk to anyone or to expose my true self. I limited myself with my thoughts. I was very unhappy for a long time. I wanted to escape the unfamiliarity and the overwhelming vulnerability. My aunt noticed that I seemed very unhappy, and decided to introduce me to her life-coaching program. That, my friends, was the best moment of my life thus far.
I want to share how I have begun the process of choosing self-love and happiness over self-loathing. For about a month, I e-mailed my aunt everyday with five things I was grateful for, and 5 other statements either establishing what I chose to do on a certain day (ie, “Today I choose to take a nap because naps make me feel good”) or five things I loved about myself/was proud of myself for (ie “I am proud myself for doing my laundry and for being super awesome”). I wrote a “desire statement” about my body, and I repeated it to myself, and I began to recite, “I approve of myself” over and over throughout the day. Furthermore, I began to look myself in the eyes in front of the mirror and say a bunch of positive stuff (ie, “I love you, Meg, you’re my best friend and you make a mean grilled cheese”). Anytime I thought something negative about myself, I immediately blocked it out and replaced the negativity with something I love about myself. This stuff works. When you begin to think positively about yourself, everything else becomes positive as well. When you think about all that you are grateful for, your mind starts seeking out and acknowledging all of the good things in your life. When you love yourself fully, you are able to love others fully.
Choosing self-love has brought me to a place in my mind and in my life that a year ago seemed unfathomable. Now, rather than depriving myself of certain foods, I try to listen to my body, and to eat what it truly wants. And I can honestly say now that it does not want junk food all of the time. A lot of times, I find that I truly want a nutritious meal. And now, when I truly want something unhealthy, I eat it. Because it will make me happy. It is about balance. When you deprive yourself of the foods you love, you will inevitably breakdown and eat a lot of them at some point. However, if you always give yourself the option of having it, there is rarely the urge to binge-eat. The trick is to be gentle with yourself and to recognize that if you do overeat, it is not the end of the world. Eating is awesome, and it should be a source of happiness, not a source of self-hatred and regret. Additionally, I now find exercises that I love doing and I do them because they make my body feel great, not because I hate myself and want to lose weight. When all of your actions are motivated by self-love, they are much more fulfilling and successful. I now congratulate myself on even the smallest things I accomplish, and I constantly tell myself that I love myself. Of course, I fail sometimes and have to get back on track. But now that I love myself, it is so much easier to shift my thoughts to become positive and encouraging. I am amazing, beautiful, and loveable gosh darnit. And so are you.
I could not have reached this point without the support of the people around me. My aunt supported me throughout this entire process, responding to my e-mails daily with encouraging words and positivity, and being a model of self-love. My parents have consistently assured me that they love me no matter what, and that how I look or feel has no effect on their love for me; they also take such good care of themselves that they have encouraged me to do the same. My siblings have quietly assured me over the years that I am loveable, and my great friends have done the same. My teachers and coaches have supported me have helped me in amazing ways, and my roommates helped me immensely throughout this process without even knowing it, simply because of their positive energy and outright acceptance of everyone. Shoutout to all of you—you are amazing and I love you so much.
If you are struggling with self-acceptance and you want to go through this kind of self-love process with some support, I encourage you to reach out to me. I would be so happy to support you, or to put you in contact with someone who can support you. My e-mail is email@example.com. PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me if you’d like any kind of support or encouragement throughout your self-love journey, or if you want me to share some of the awesome quotes that have helped me during this process.
You are all amazing, beautiful, and worthy of all the love in the world.