I first exchanged acquaintance with Alicia of Darling Duckie when I wrote an essay for their We are Women book, and I could write a book about all her great qualities: well spoken, honest, tender and of course intelligent, capable, important, talented, and unique.
Every night, after prayers and kisses goodnight, even after my husband has fallen asleep, I pull out my secret, little notebook and every so quietly work on my list. It’s a list of compliments that I give to myself. “Quite conceited and a tinge silly, my dear,” you may be thinking. But it is neither. I suffer from what we call low self-esteem. A few weeks ago I reached a low and felt it was time to take action. That notebook was born as a way to point out (to myself) what I do well and what I admire about myself. At the end of each entry I write the same thing: I am beautiful. I am intelligent. I am capable. I am important. I am talented. I am unique. Writing it out, I remind myself of what I once knew but have so easily forgotten.
I wouldn’t say that I have ever been particularly confident in myself; but this “low self-esteem” business didn’t start to be quite so consuming until about a month before our daughter was born. (Before I go on, I just have to say that I love my daughter and I would choose all of the crazy emotions and life changes any day because it means having her.) That is when those fateful stretch marks began wreaking havoc on this poor, unsuspecting belly of mine. And there was nothing I could do about it. After she was born, things continued to go downhill: a squishy middle that my shirts no longer covered or flattered, hips that had widened, and a chest that was much bigger than anything I had ever dealt with.
Strange to say it, but I began feeling ashamed of how I looked. When I was with my sisters with their flat, well-proportioned figures, or with friends who had four children and looked better than I did even before my pregnancy, I literally wanted to hide behind the couch so no one could see what had become of me. It was absurd and dramatic, but it was the unfortunate truth.
It was like a vine, taking hold of every part of me, growing and covering the different parts of my life. My confidence was so thickly covered by that vine that I could no longer see it. In fact, I wondered if it actually even existed. And it affected so much more than just how I felt physically. It began to nibble at my relationships and my marriage as I let the frustration expand. As I compared myself physically to everyone around me, I let my personality and talents jump into the equation. I no longer saw the good that was in me but I saw everything I was not: I was not skinny or smooth. I was not as good a writer as that person. I was not as outgoing or confident as those other people. I was not. I was not. I was not.
And I felt that I was the only one dealing with this chaos. It seemed that everyone around me had somehow gotten through childbearing without so much as a single stretch mark. Or others who had “once been self-conscious about their looks” had come to love those things that society told them were defects. I was the only one left in the neighborhood, in the blogging community, in the ENTIRE WORLD who was struggling to come to terms with these things.
The truth is, each of us struggles or has struggled in one way or another. Some of us have to speak about it to sort it out and deal with it, while others deal with it in the comfort of solitude. But we each must take the required journey to learn to love ourselves. And comparing? Comparing is useless. With so many different stories and experiences that shape our bodies and our hearts, how can we compare?
Will there ever be an end to this journey of learning to accept my body? Maybe. But probably not. Because my body is always changing. There will be pregnancies, health ups and health downs, aging, times when those cookies just need to be eaten and times when they won’t. My body will change in every new stage of life, and so this process of acceptance will have to be present too.
I know what makes me feel more confident: being active, eating healthy, getting myself ready in the morning, dressing in clothing that flatters, smiling at and serving those I come in contact with, and developing those interests and talents that I have come to love. But even doing those things, there is still that moment when I see that girl who just had a baby and looks fantastic. My stomach drops and that little voice in my head is telling me once again to hide or be humiliated.
But I refuse. Because…
I AM BEAUTIFUL. I AM INTELLIGENT. I AM CAPABLE. I AM IMPORTANT. I AM TALENTED. I AM UNIQUE.
I may have to remind myself of this every day. But the more I do, the more I believe it.
Feed me fashionably fresh