There is one family story that seems to keep coming back into my mind. See, when I was a peanut, my mom used to tell me how beautiful I was. (The fact that she continued to do so even during the times when I dressed and styled myself is pretty remarkable, honestly.) Whenever she said this to me around my grandmother, good ole’ Denyce would respond, “Lisa, you need to stop telling her that. If you keep saying things like that to her she’s going to BELIEVE THEM.” My mom tells me this story, because her mother was the complete opposite of herself, always sure to point out all of her flaws whether they were existent or not.
At the end of the day, for better or worse, Denyce was right. I grew up believing that I was beautiful! I can’t think of a single second of my childhood through pubescence that I doubted it. I was constantly the tallest girl in my class, sometimes the tallest kid. It never crossed my mind that it might be something to be embarrassed about. I wore the most ridiculous outfits, channeling Molly Ringwald’s boss in Pretty in Pink. I dressed to fit a persona every day. One day I’d be in cheerleading warm-ups with a big bow in my hair, the next I wore a red-plaid skirt and black knee high socks, another day I strutted out of the house in my My Chemical Romance t-shirt. I had never been more confident in my ability to express myself as I felt I was, and feel beautiful in doing so. To know I was beautiful in doing so. I had never been concerned in the slightest with my appearance, my face, or my body.
This effortlessness didn’t last forever, I really think the change happened throughout high school. I started to realize that things could be “wrong” with my body. I started to feel weird about this soft little bump of flesh that has since lived just below my belly button, the only thing keeping me from a “flat stomach.” When I realized that attention from boys depended on more than just liking the same bands or having the same friend groups (ohhhh jr. high). My eyes were no longer the only things I needed to approve of my appearance.
High school was also the time when my height became more of a topic of discussion. This was certainly not hindered by the fact that my two best friends stood not only below average height, but literally an entire foot below my own height. Having that effortless confidence about something that people constantly brought attention to in a way that was intended to make me feel like I shouldn’t be confident about it became extremely difficult.
My height continued to be a talking point amongst peers throughout college but remained more of a bother than an upset. It was more about Do I want to be told I’m tall all night? No. Okay, I’ll wear flats than an issue of actually disliking myself.
I went from thinking I am beautiful, to thinking I am beautiful, but would be more beautiful if I could chop this pooch of the front of my tummy and squeeze my thighs to give me that “hot tall girl” thigh gap.
I’ve since come to a point of contentment. I feel good about my body now, in an “I’ve taken my hands off the wheel” kind of way. But after thinking about it, I also realize that this peace may have resulted from having a partner who is in constant awe and pleasure at the sight of me – and lets me know it. I knew I was “beautiful” in the way my mother would say when I was a small girl. But I didn’t know I “was put together so perfectly,” in a way that could only be seen by a partner.
I don’t think there was an exact moment that I learned to dislike any part of my physical self, but I do think there were certain points in time when I was more influenced by outside forces, and that I let them win. Even at certain times when I had taken a strong liking to exercise and clean eating, when I was at my physical healthiest, I think I was at my mental unhealthiest. I realize now that even girls that I would consider “perfect” or who don’t have the flaws I see on myself have things about themselves they wish they could change. It’s mind-boggling.
I have learned a lot from reflecting on the different ways I’ve viewed my physical self. I learned that everything I dislike about my body was taught to me by outside forces, which is honestly one of the most disturbing things I have ever realized. I think the most important lesson being that I feel best when I feel content with my body. I hope to be able to find that contentment through my own eyes only, without needing to consider the opinions of others, and I intend to make it a priority moving forward.