I was 17 years old crossing the road in town with one of my favourite cousins when I inadvertently caught a glimpse of my reflection on a shop window. My reaction to what I saw was intensely negative. So sharp and negative, I actually almost threw up. I quickly shelved that memory as deeply as I could down within me. A few years later I was travelling on an almost empty train when I again caught my reflection unexpectedly. I quickly averted my eyes. Again, like I always did. I quickly buried that memory in a place never to be found again (hopefully).
Come to think of it. I don’t have too many childhood photographs. In fact I can count them on one hand. There is one of me just a few months old, maybe 3 months. I didn’t have any hair at all 🙂 . I always thought I looked like a boy in that picture. I also remember two other pictures taken when I was around the age of 5 and that’s about it. As I grew older and started living alone, I never owned any mirrors. I actively avoided my reflection like a plague.
My appallingly low opinion of myself affected me greatly, how I interacted with the world, the relationships I ended up in etc. I met this one girl at university who was determined to be my friend. I couldn’t understand why such a pretty girl would want to be friends with an ugly person like me. So I never worked too hard at creating and developing friendships. She pursued me relentlessly, I could never shake her off! Years later we are now really good friends and I am thankful she never gave up on me! I eventually told her last year why I avoided her all those years ago and it really broke her heart.
I was around 21 or so when I sat down and became brave enough to confront and think this through. It was the beginning of a very long journey of learning to love myself. Here are a few things I did:
1) Commit to being honest with yourself – stop hiding
I am good at hiding things from myself. I am good at burying uncomfortable feelings away and pretending life is ok when it isn’t. That day I chose to be honest with myself no matter how uncomfortable or painful it becomes. I came face to face with the idea that I actually hated myself. I acknowledged that I felt and thought I was not just ugly but too ugly to even be looked at by me. At the same time, I had to be honest with how that made me feel and affected how I interact with the world. I didn’t like it, and decided to make some changes.
2) Bust some myths
I lived for 2 decades of my life without a clear idea of what I actually looked like, yet I thought I was the ugliest human being to ever live on this earth. I questioned the confidence I had in accepting that I was ugly when I didn’t even look like. So I picked up a mirror and really looked at myself. My thoughts about my looks were faced with the reality of how I actually looked. Reality prevailed.
3) Commit to long-term self-love
I wish I could say looking at the mirror sent all my self-esteem packing. Nope. I also committed to telling myself I was beautiful on a daily basis. The geek in me created a spreadsheet with all the synonyms of ‘beautiful’ with a register so I marked it at least twice a day. It felt super corny the first few times, but I persisted until I believed it. If I could make myself I was ugly, damnit I could make myself believe that I am beautiful!
I am glad to say that today I have a couple of mirrors at home and I don’t shy away from pictures anymore (heck I have an Instagram account!). I don’t hate what I look like nor do I hate myself. Whenever I don’t like what I see in the mirror I do something about it. If I choose to not act on it, then I have no one to blame but myself. But I don’t have the right to look down on myself, I deserve better!