I’ve spent many years trying to avoid myself.
I grew up with a number of critical people in my life. For the longest time I thought I was ugly, stupid, and had no worth. I was simply waiting for the day that a bus would take me out of this mortal world. I never actively tried to attempt suicide, but I hoped something would end my life without me having to put in much effort.
You know what often happens when someone is constantly criticized and bullied? They tend to start criticizing themselves first. Looking for any flaws that they can try to fix before someone points them out.
So I became my worst critic. I had to be perfect. I needed to get perfect grades and I went through the IB Program in high school. Think AP classes, but more difficult.
I would berate myself because I was always too hungry to be anorexic. I constantly ate food I shouldn’t, like chocolate and ice cream, to avoid my feeling of worthlessness. I gained a lot of weight, and I hated myself for that, because buying plus-sized clothing is hard, no matter who you are. The clothes rarely fit right. It’s like the fashion industry just adds inches to the clothing without thinking about the actual fit. Or they use some of the most glaring prints possible, as if to point how fat I am to everyone around.
I shaved my arms, because I had issues with hair. I was bullied in grade school and middle school for how hairy I was. Once I was allowed to shave in high school, I started shaving almost everything all the time.
I eventually came to the realization that being a perfectionist was killing me, eating me up inside. My anxiety was through the roof, I hated myself, and I thought I would never amount to much. What did I need to do to fix this? I needed to learn maitri.
What is Maitri?
Maitri means benevolence, loving-kindness, and friendliness. This is not just toward other people, but should especially be used with ourselves. Kind of like the idea that we need to take care of ourselves to take care of others, but I believe they aren’t mutually exclusive. One can be loving to themselves and others at the same time.
But what does it mean to be loving toward ourselves? Does that mean telling ourselves “I love you,” when looking in a mirror? Maybe. Does it mean eating a strict diet? Maybe, if it makes us feel better. Does it mean going and getting our nails done or our haircut? Maybe, if it makes us feel good about ourselves.
However, some of these things can be used against us. A strict diet can be detrimental to our health. Hello anorexia. Going and doing things to make us feel better like a spa day might mean we are avoiding this problem.
Only we truly know what is going on and if we are being loving to ourselves.
What did maitri look like for me?
I learned to eat smaller food portions and if I wanted to indulge in something, I needed to account for that. I lost about 50 pounds. I started to love working out and how I felt afterward. I was and am stronger and more powerful than ever before. I maintain my weight by doing things I like and recognizing that eating too much makes me feel sick and gives me a lot of gas.
I became a recovering perfectionist. I constantly tell myself that sometimes good enough is perfectly fine. Sometimes I just have to let things go. I also tell myself to start the project already. No more waiting for the perfect time.
I’m a work in progress. I’m still working on loving this body I’m in.
Recently I decided to join an Instagram challenge. This one is about different types of lip color. Each day I post a picture of a different lip color I own. It’s something a friend started doing, and I decided to join in. It forces me to look at myself at least for a few seconds. I’ve started to see the beauty in my face. How much love I have to offer in a smile. How my asymmetrical features make me unique. My eyebrows are at slightly different levels and my smile is a little crooked. How many different faces I can make with all these muscles I never think about.
I believe maitri is a journey, not a destination. The act of loving oneself and being kind to oneself is never ending.