And why I wish I did.
Lately, in quarantine, I’ve been liking the way I look.
Or rather, I’ve been more neutral about the way I look. I’m getting used to my face completely makeup-free. I’m wearing clothes I’m comfortable in every day. I’m moving in ways that are more intuitive. I’m drinking alcohol less, eating pretty well, and doing self-care (whether that’s an evening of Netflix binging or a long, hot shower and face masks).
If my belly is a little bit bloated, I notice it and move on. I don’t wallow in self-hate and go to the gym to sprint on the treadmill to try and flatten it down.
You could say, I’m becoming friends with myself. I’m learning to accept this body I was born with and, dare I say it, actually like it.
Is this what self-love looks like?
This weekend, I took a trip down memory lane, looking through old photographs of myself from a year ago, two years ago, and all the way back to high school, and younger. Every photograph made me smile, and then made me sad. In each picture, I remembered how unhappy I was. How badly I wished I looked differently, wished I was anyone but me.
And I remember, in all of these photos, I never felt beautiful.
For all my life, hating my appearance was just part of the narrative. Because god forbid, if I loved myself, what would that even look like?
Maybe I thought if I loved myself, that meant letting myself go. That I had to stay in hate to stay in control and focus on the goal: being beautiful.
And being beautiful, I thought, meant love, acceptance, success, belonging.
When I look back on these photos now, I wish I knew how beautiful I was—inside and out. I wish I knew how lucky someone would have been to be with me. I wish I’d known that all those years of hate wouldn’t get me any of the things I so desperately wanted.
I don’t remember when it even started. I don’t remember if there was a time when I felt beautiful and then I didn’t, or if I was taught I had to be beautiful the moment I began to understand what being a girl in this world meant.
I never felt beautiful because I didn’t fit society’s narrow standard of beauty. Because I wasn’t conventionally attractive as a kid, and I carried that feeling into young adulthood.
I never felt beautiful because of the comparison game. There was always someone prettier, someone skinnier, someone smarter, someone funnier. And if I wasn’t the most beautiful, the smartest, the funniest, the thinnest, then I couldn’t possibly be worthy of anything.
I never felt beautiful because of social media, television, movies, magazines. I knew intellectually what it was doing to me, but when it’s all you see everywhere, how can you ignore its message?
I never felt beautiful because I had a male friend once tell me I should “take notes” from my much smaller, more petite sister.
I never felt beautiful because a boy once asked me what happened to my face when I came back to school after one summer with acne.
I never felt beautiful because of Hyperhidrosis. Of months running to the bathroom during classes to dry my armpits under the dryer so no one would see the sweat marks. Because sweat and acne and imperfections “are not beautiful.”
I never felt beautiful because I was athletic. And girls couldn’t be beautiful and athletic; you had to be as slim as could be with just a little bit of fat in the right places.
I never felt beautiful because when a guy did go for me, he often only wanted one thing. And even if you think that would make you feel beautiful, it’s a whole different kind of ugly that makes you wish you didn’t look attractive to anybody.
I never felt beautiful because I had exes who were, for some reason, only friends with the model-types. And they flaunted the fact that they had beautiful friends like it was a token of their own f*ck-ability.
I never felt beautiful because I didn’t let anybody really see me. Because I worked hard to put an image out to the world that I knew would get me compliments, and when I got them, they didn’t feel real.
I think about these moments, and I don’t want to feel insecure anymore. I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and wish I’d appreciated these moments instead of counting how many hours I spent working out.
So, when do I feel beautiful?
Now, here. In the early morning with a coffee. Writing at my desk alone. No makeup, sweatpants, and hair up high in a scrunchie.
I feel beautiful doing vinyasas, in a comfy tank and leggings, when I move into a forward bend and feel a roll for the first time in my belly.
I feel beautiful the longer I can hold a pose. Or now that I can do Side Crow, and I feel strength building in my body.
I feel beautiful on a social distancing date in the park. It’s 4 p.m. and the sun is out and in my eyes and I’m telling a story that isn’t particularly funny but we are both laughing.
I feel beautiful with my best friend on FaceTime as we talk about recent shame spirals we both had, and we talk about how grateful we are to be able to hold space for each other like this.
I feel beautiful at night, reading This Naked Mind because I’m trying to learn about my own bad habits and understand them better. I’m trying to remember what life is like when I’m not just numbing away the experience.
I feel beautiful when I share my writing with the world. And connect. With a stranger, thousands of miles away from me who reads my words and says, Thank you. I feel this too.
And I want to go back to the girl in each and every one of these photos and tell her that she has been beautiful all along. On the days she didn’t feel it. On the days she thought she would never believe it. I want her to know:
Beauty isn’t something exercise and controlled eating will fix; it’s something we feel when our lives are rich and full, when we have people who know and see us as a whole person.
You may not feel it right away, but it happens, slowly. You wake up one morning after months of putting in the work, and you realize, there’s no one else you’d rather spend the rest of your life with.