Imagine you are in a fun house in the hall of mirrors.
What’s reflected in front of you are all the distorted views and lies you believe about yourself. The reflections are relentless and rude and spew out all kinds of negative self-talk.
Instead of running away and hiding, a fire starts to burn. You realize that every single reflection is a straight-up lie so far from the actual truth of who you are. That fire inside burns so hot and so bright with rage that it gives you the power to shatter every single mirror and every single untruth.
What’s left is the real “you”—the most worthy version of you that exists. You leave behind all the negativity. Forget about the gap between you and your higher self; you realize you are your higher self. You were never the bullsh*t lies you had on replay.
That’s power. When I came to this, I realized I had the power to change the narratives I believed about myself.
I didn’t always believe I was that powerful.
When I was around seven, I started to become hyperaware that my body didn’t look a lot like my friends’—I was definitely rounder. I started to realize from my environment that having a rounder body wasn’t necessarily “good” or “desirable.” From that young age, I had my first introduction to diet culture that consumed me for the greater part of the next 20 years. This was when I started to align my self-worth to how “fat” or “skinny” I felt and to weight loss in general. Can you relate?
I always felt like I was fat and became self-conscious about my appearance. I was uber focused on what I could or should not wear, that I didn’t look good, and spent the day at school in a jacket to cover myself. I didn’t want anyone to see me, and I wanted to just disappear. I never felt beautiful and felt like I was a foreign intruder in my body: uncomfortable, undesirable, unlovable, and that everyone was secretly making fun of me. Certainly not beautiful: I never once truly felt that with any neuron of my existence.
These feelings plagued me through high school and college. I was constantly working out and restricting myself. I even avoided falling in a trust fall at a sorority retreat because I felt larger than the rest of the girls. In addition, how could they possibly catch someone like me?
I started to solidify my worthiness in what others thought of me: if men wanted to date me, if people found me attractive, if I was in a relationship or not. I became obsessed with this “perfection” state, which continued through my 20s. I was caught up believing that when “x” happens, “y” will definitely follow.
What a trap. When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be able to wear that cute miniskirt I bought and feel amazing about it. When my stomach is flat, when my body looks like a perfect hourglass, when I achieve the complete vision of femininity, then and only then, will I be happy with myself, truly love myself, find a partner, and achieve success in life.
There have been numerous times in my life when I’ve felt like I deserved to reach a “beauty” point—especially after finishing a diet where I restricted everything under the sun, but it would never last. I still never felt a deep beauty or love for myself. At my core, I was riddled with self-doubt, terrible thoughts, self-hatred, and never believed I was all the way worthy.
Then, in the second half of my 20s, what I believed to be the absolute worst thing happened to me. Six months into what I thought was a committed partnership, I was diagnosed with herpes. To say I was devastated is an understatement.
This was my negative thought spiral:
“How could this have happened to me?”
“My life is over.”
“I’m going to be a pariah now. (f*ck, this is definitely what leprosy must have felt like in medieval times)”
“My sex life is over.”
“It would be better if I was told I had cancer. (yes, I actually thought that.)”
“I’m stained now and ruined.”
All of the self-hatred I had ever felt about my body came bubbling back to the surface with a vengeance. Herpes is so stigmatized in the United States that it just cements every negative thought or self-doubt you’ve ever had about yourself. I felt so alone.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship because I didn’t feel worthy of better, and the shame I felt for my body was compounded. All I could think about was how I would now be perceived as a human with herpes, let alone the devastation that happened to me physically and mentally.
“If I thought I was undesirable before, woah, I sure am now.”
For the next three years of my life, herpes was a dark cloud looming over me. Even if I finally felt like I (and others) accepted it, there was always that unknown risk of rejection or judgment. And that’s f*cking terrifying. Even though it was a nonexistent reality, I was playing that rejection and judgement on rerun in my head, and it was still f*cking terrifying.
Herpes…how humiliating. I tried to bury it and only told people when absolutely necessary, and even kept it a secret from some of my most trusted girlfriends.
When the pandemic started this year, my favorite pastime of negative self-talk made room for itself more than ever. Especially being single during a pandemic, all I had was time with myself. The voices in my head would not stop, “How was I supposed to find someone organically to love me now? When is this going to end, and when will I be able to hang out with friends or meet potential partners? F*ck, I’m definitely going to continue to be single for the foreseeable future; there goes my hope of meeting a partner this year.”
I always tried to work on my self-love and body acceptance, but it was always an uphill battle. With the negative voices circling my mind during quarantine, I knew I needed to do something to make them stop. I started meditating more regularly and tried to create space and acceptance in my mind.
Then, one day, in early April, as I was listening to a guided meditation, I had a breakthrough. While meditating, I visualized being on a stage in front of every single person I know. What is the one thing that would make me cringe if the crowd knew about me? What is my big secret, which I don’t want to come to the surface? The one and only word that popped in my mind was “herpes.”
Something clicked for me. I decided that something needed to change. I could no longer give any mental power to herpes. I can’t hate or humiliate myself anymore. I’ve been mentally sabotaging myself for a skin rash? I wished cancer on myself for something that doesn’t affect my overall health or day-to-day life?
That put things in perspective for me. I didn’t want to live in self-hatred land. Herpes isn’t a consequence—it’s an inevitability of the human experience, and I wanted to live it fully and not be consumed by my thoughts.
I took control of my narrative and rewrote my story. Herpes no longer owns me—I own it now.
I’m not wearing a proverbial mask of perfection anymore. The perfect me does not exist, and I’m done making deals with myself to get to that unattainable state. Saying that again: the perfect me doesn’t exist.
When I let the ruse of perfection go, I let all of the negative self-talk go, too. I finally started to feel what it’s like to love myself, and I’ve been living in that state of self-worship for the past few months. I deserve that after 30 years on this planet. Do you yearn to know what full deservingness feels like?
This is when shattering, drop-kicking, and punching all of those mirrors of lies I believed about myself became so powerful. Instead of immediately reverting to saying bad things to myself, it’s so much easier for me to insert praise now and to be grateful for my body.
This is my positive thought spiral now:
“I’m f*cking beautiful.”
“My body allows me to do hard things like aerial dance and climb mountains.”
“My ass is literally everything.”
“I love my body and who I am.”
“I’m amazing and have desires for myself in this lifetime.”
“I’m the owner of this body, and I have the power to live it the way I want.”
“I’m right where I need to be.”
I’m sharing my journey in hopes it helps break down how we see the beauty in ourselves and to destigmatize herpes. We all deserve to rewrite the narratives we’ve been telling ourselves and start self-worshipping because we are that amazing. Because we deserve it.
The only important thing is the way we hold beauty for ourselves, not in the way we allow others to hold it for us.