Have you ever seen mean girls? (I’m sure you have). Well, you know the scene where all the girls are looking in the mirror and taking turns naming what they hate about themselves?
“My pores are huge.” “My nail beds suck.” ”I have really bad breath in the morning.”
This scene is funny for a reason- because girls everywhere can resonate with it. We all know what it’s like to feel discontent with something (or many things) about ourselves.
What’s even worse is how suddenly it sneaks up on you. One minute you’re playing on the jungle gym without a care in the world, and the next you’re reapplying mascara every chance you get and asking your friends if your jeans make you look fat.
I think this started for me around the time I reached middle school, or maybe a little before. I suddenly became painfully aware of my body–and in it, every flaw, every abnormality, every discriminatory factor that stood between me and the woman I wanted to be. They all became magnified in my eyes and- I assumed- everyone else’s.
When I suddenly developed stretch marks at age 14, I thought my world was falling apart. They ran across my inner thighs as a result of rapid (and unnecessary) weight loss. I was humiliated and ashamed.
Of course, given a history of poor body image, I was afraid of the stigma that comes alongside stretch marks. I believed that others would see them and think I had gained weight (which in my mind was a negative thing). Whenever I put on a bathing suit or wore shorts, I would cringe. I did everything in my power to hide my “stripes.”
I would try to cover them with makeup. I bought every scar cream and cocoa butter available. But they were still there. Trying to conceal them did not make me any happier and it definitely did not make them go away. All it did was make me more insecure.
None of the stretch mark solutions that I researched worked for me. I came to realize that they weren’t disappearing anytime soon. The thought of having to hide them forever pained me.
It was only through my own personal journey to self-acceptance that I began to look at my flaws in a new light. Although I talked about “loving myself,” I still desired to modify what I could for a very long time. Thankfully I finally made a decision to be happy- which primarily involved surrendering to my defects.
My first step was to look for silver linings. Whenever body anxiety starts to creep in, I combat it with a simple change in perspective. My life once involved waking every morning and feeling uncomfortable in my skin. I hated my legs the most. But every morning I would say a blessing of gratitude over my legs. They took me where I needed to go. They worked perfectly fine. They endured all I put them through- from gruesome workouts to miles walked to everything else. An alternate way of thinking was- and still is- my first attempt at sanity when I start to tear myself apart. I am fortunate in so many ways and often fail to see that because I’m too concerned with my own vanity.
That being said, I’ve also had to accept that there may not always be a silver lining. There are going to be times where I won’t truly be able to embrace an “imperfection” no matter how hard I try- and that’s okay. I don’t always need to find some magical reason why my demons are actually perks. What I do need is to stop thinking about them. It takes up too much precious time, energy, and brain space. Part of self-acceptance is welcoming any and all parts of yourself, not just those that you can look at favorably.
All in all, I’ve stopped trying to fix myself. All over the media you see tips and tricks for how to conceal or eliminate flaws- rarely do you find information on embracing them. But this is what will lead to freedom. Even if I were able to eradicate these things, I would move right on to the next problem I felt I had to tackle. Constantly trying to fix yourself is no way to live, because you will never ever be satisfied.
And most importantly, I’ve realized that nobody cares! I’m hyperaware of my own flaws, as is everyone. So much so that they are not even thinking about me. Most of the facets of myself that I worry so much about go unnoticed by those around me. That’s always a friendly reminder when I find myself worrying way too much about what people think. The less I worry, the more I am able to love myself (and vice-versa). It’s a win-win situation. Plus, those who really love me shouldn’t care about my scars anyway. I don’t judge my loved ones based on physical imperfections and I have learned to apply this standard to myself.
Yes, I still have stretch marks, but I no longer curse them. I now see these pale, white scars are beautiful. Not because society has told me they are, but because I have chosen to believe that. I appreciate them for what they are- a reminder of my struggles and a symbol of my strength. To see them as anything else feels like blasphemy.
Loving my imperfections is an ongoing process. It is a learning process. But it is a movement towards happiness and I am not looking back.
Related: The Importance of Forgiving Yourself
Image: Wikimedia Commons (artist unknown)