A lesson learned in self-love
I have this friend. She’s aesthetically stunning. One of those girls who walks into a bar and every male head turns to look. She could’ve been a model. On a deeper level, she’s intelligent. Well-travelled. A fantastic conversationalist. Warm. Loyal. You get the idea. A real catch.
The problem is she’s had her heart broken. The love of her life trampled all over it. Then when he was done shattering it into a thousand pieces, he reversed back, spat on the remnants, and sped off.
The other day, we were discussing how difficult it is to find a good man. Classic single girl chat, when she hit for a 6. She’d decided her best days were behind her. She was no longer young and beautiful like she once was. Therefore the only reasonable conclusion is that she will never find someone who wants to date her.
“In some ways my upcoming birthday is good, because I can use it as a milestone to just accept that love wasn’t for me and totally let it go.”
I was floored. Despite her many redeeming qualities, she couldn’t see herself for the person she was. Her self-esteem had been shot. She believed the stories he told her. She isn’t enough. If she was, he wouldn’t have left.
How could such a beautiful, special soul, give up on herself so easily because one man couldn’t see her worth?
Easily, it turns out. Because I’d done the exact same thing. After giving her some advice about the importance of loving herself, and reminding her of how special and amazing she is, that familiar little voice piped up.
“Hypocrite,” it scoffed.
“Excuse me?” I responded.
“All you do is beat yourself up. Day in. Day out. It’s your body’s fault he walked out on you because it didn't lose its baby weight quickly enough. It’s your stomach’s fault for looking flabbier than it did when you first met him. It’s your face’s fault for not being as beautiful the other girls you catch him looking at. It’s your fault he left. You were just never enough. How can you possibly be giving her advice, when you’re just as bad, if not worse?”
It was true. Berating myself was my new favourite sport. The aim of the game was to finish the day a thousand times worse than it started. Bonus points for tears. Triple score for hitting a whole new low by crawling back to him in the hope he’d spit out some comforting words to take the pain away. The more powerless I felt, the better I’d played it. He was the only one with the power to make me feel better about myself. I was like an addict looking for my next hit. But the thing is, the hits had become weaker, lasted half as long, and the quality was rapidly declining. Then, when a new day dawned, the same routine would play out until I was a shell of a woman by the time my head hit the pillow that night. Game over.
Reading that back now, I can’t believe my fingers ever typed those sentences out. It’s taken a hell of a lot of work, but thankfully I don’t recognise that girl. I couldn’t be further from her.
I practice self-love and gratitude every single day, even when my skin has broken out, my belly is bloated, and my hair just wont quite sit. I love myself more than ever, and sadly that’s a brave and bold statement to make in a society that teaches women to be beautiful, but you shouldn't know it. To be confident, but not a show off. To be present and lively, but don’t make too much noise.
Imagine if we taught the next generation of women that it’s cooler to love and respect themselves, rather than put themselves down? Imagine a world where women discussed the attributes we cherished about ourselves, rather than bonded over the width of our thighs? Can you imagine how many industries would go out of business if we all decided to wake up tomorrow and love ourselves the way we are?
A few years ago, my morning routine was to wake up, remind myself of everything I'd consumed the day before, then beat myself up over every little slip up. I thought I was fat – I was a size 8. I can’t tell you how much time and energy I used to spend hating my legs for not being as tall and slender as my friends, lamenting my butt because it was bigger than everyone else’s, punishing myself for gaining a kilogram when I was supposed to be drinking green smoothies, measuring my worth on the amount of men who showed me attention on a night out. Nitpicking every photo taken of me until I hated the image staring back at me. Worrying about what people may or may think. Keeping my mouth shut for fear of judgement. For fear of offending someone. For fear of ruffling a few feathers. And where did that get me but a gradual disdain for my skin and bones and an unsettled rumble in my stomach that I wasn’t being true to myself?
It wasn’t until I was pregnant and witnessed how truly incredible the female body is in its ability to literally create, nourish, and give birth to life, that I realised how ridiculous it was that I ever treated my body with anything other than love and respect.
It wasn’t until my self-worth was whittled down to a toothpick after my fiancé left me, I realised if I won’t love myself, how can I expect anyone else to?
It wasn’t until I found my voice after having it taken away, I realised how important it was now more than ever to speak up.
Whenever I wonder whether I should just fade away, I’m encouraged by the emails I receive from women every week who’ve endured similar challenges, and take solace in the fact they’re not alone. It’s because of this, I will continue speaking up about what I’ve been through, championing a breed of stronger, more empowered women who won’t put up with poor treatment. It still astounds me when people call this blog “brave.” It’s not brave. It’s just honest. And I’m done with living a life of pretending everything is perfect, when it never, ever is. Why is speaking your truth, and being honest about your past, an example of bravery? When did it become uncool to be vulnerable, to show your honest self flaws and all?
That’s where I’m at right now. Not perfect. But totally fine with that. Finally happy in the skin I’m in and who I’ve become. I’ve learnt a harsh lesson that no one else can complete you, other than you. It all starts with you. In many ways, I wish I didn’t have to endure what I did to finally accept myself, so if I can get through to just one person who identified with the person I used to be, it's that you are enough. More than enough. Stop wasting energy by hating your stomach and start enriching your soul. You’re the one who has to live with yourself at the end of the day. May as well like the person you’re stuck with until your final breath.
P.S that beautiful friend I was speaking about? She finally saw what I saw, realised her worth, and met an amazing man as a result. They’re blissfully happy.
P.P.S anyone who deserves to be in your life won't care if you ate a pizza on Saturday night instead of a kale salad. Enjoy the pizza. Get over it. Enjoy your life. Go for a walk. Book a holiday. Donate to a worthy cause. Whatever. Just don't hate yourself anymore. Please. It's boring. You know what is exciting and attractive? A woman who glows with self-confidence. Be her.
Photography: Eliana Schoulal Photography