The main ingredient to any healthy relationship is respect. And how can we respect our partner until we respect ourselves? How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value? This is something I still struggle with, almost on a daily basis. I grew up not really seeing myself as skinny or ugly, but my environment and my surroundings were a constant reminder of how different I was.
We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality.
A classmate in grade school called me “anorexic girl”. A boy at my lunch table told me I looked like a beaver because of my buckteeth. A girl at my bus stop told me I looked like a starving Ethiopian child. A boy I had a crush on told me if I were fatter I would be so sexy. These idiotic comments continued well into my adulthood, growing on my mind like a malignant tumor. It seemed that every day was a struggle to accept myself.
It is actually quite miraculous that any of us make it out of adolescence moderately sane. The media is perpetually throwing images of perfectly proportioned models with perfect skin and perfect figures. We are force-fed these depictions of ideal beauty until our perception of reality has been so drastically altered that we are no longer content with our actual reality. So no wonder we feel it is normal to have a “loved” one point out these flaws. No wonder we are so accustomed to having our self-esteem continually torn down. And no wonder we have so much trouble loving and respecting ourselves.
So how do we learn to love ourselves after all the garbage and nonsense the world has thrown at us? Forget everything you learned as a kid. Forget the disproportionate Barbie dolls, the airbrushed images of pristine models, the Disney princesses with their perfect hair, impossibly tiny waists, and big boobs. Forget the hateful comments your classmates may have tossed at you. Forget your own feelings of inadequacy and doubt as you watched your body morph throughout puberty.
Now who are you? What are your passions? Your goals? Your life pursuits? What makes life worth living in your own world? No one but you can answer these questions and no one but you have control over everything that defines you. But how do you convince yourself of this after living a life of lies? How do you get past the criticisms of parents, teachers, peers, boyfriends, girlfriends, or you?
Start small and start simple. Find a quiet place, at least for a few minutes everyday. Take those moments to either meditate, pray, self-reflect, or simply sit back and close your eyes. You may find that your mind becomes clear and you immediately relax. There is an actual science to improving yourself through self-reflection. Maintaining a healthy level of self-awareness is vital to setting realistic goals. How can you set goals if you are unsure of what you want out of your life? How can you learn to maintain your individualism in a relationship if you don’t know who you are?
We all need something to work toward, otherwise we decay or remain stagnant. After years of self-medicating with “retail therapy”, I had built up an overwhelming amount of credit card debt. I’ll never forget the feeling of absolute helplessness that swept over me as I looked at one of my card statements. It stated that if I continued to pay only the minimum payment due I would have paid off that balance in 105 years. 105 years! I could live for maybe another 60 years and I couldn’t afford to pay more than the minimum at the time, while still using the card to help buy groceries and public transportation passes.
So I set a small goal for myself. I planned to pay off my credit cards one by one, starting with the smallest. That way, I could see the progress. I now have manageable debt that I am still slowly chipping away, piece by piece. My credit score is actually quite good and I now have a desirable credit history. I could have thrown that statement away in disgust and said to myself that I would never be able to pay it off. Instead, I did my research and sought out professional advice and made a plan to better myself. So whatever your goal may be, set a plan, set specific deadlines, and don’t feel bad if you have to extend those deadlines. These goals can be small, like learn how to paint, exercise more, eat healthier, or travel more. Most importantly, make these goals obtainable. You want to build up your esteem, not tear it down by continually setting yourself up for failure.
How can we know how we should be treated until we appreciate our own worth and value?
Notice how these two simple things do not include changing who you are. Self-reflection and goal setting is merely a way to get to know yourself better, to know what you are truly capable of and how you interact with the world around you. Never let anyone try to convince you that you need to change. Never let anyone try to shame you into thinking you need to alter your looks, your personality, or your life pursuits. You can, however, allow others to influence you. You can allow others to motivate you. You can allow others to educate and inspire you. Once you discover who you are and what you want out of life, then everything else should fall into place. Do not let others dictate your future. We want to challenge you to take control of your own life today. Start small and start simple. Love all that makes you, you.