I traced the long pink trail down my arms with my finger. The welted skin etched it’s way down my arm. It was about an inch long. I thought it was a curse for being fat. I thought it was penance for imperfection. Never mind that I saw my tall, lanky friends with them. Mine was a mark, a brand that something was wrong with me. I always wore sweaters after that.
We take the messages that we hear and we carry them on our backs and shoulders, in our purses, on our minds, and in our dreams. We let them permeate every aspect of ourselves and never question why we welcomed them in the first place. Why? Why have we been conditioned to believe that any and all critiques should be accepted? Why have we been raised to believe that how we know ourselves is not the truth at all, that it has no permanence compared to the words of a passing stranger? If our bodies are temples why are the words of those who don’t know us treated as sacrosanct before our own?
I’ve always had this eerie sense of self. A comfortable understanding of who I was. Some call it being an old soul. Maybe it is. But the fact remained that growing up I never quite felt like this old soul had a place to rest. I was the odd kid who had too much against her. I was chubby, I was curly haired, I was too light for some and simultaneously too dark for others, I read too much, I spoke too much, the list goes on. I began to understand that I was too much and yet, still not enough. I figured that if I couldn’t get people’s acceptance I for damn sure could get their attention. I learned how to make people laugh and how to get them to notice me. Their attention replaced the affection I was actually looking for. But because I fed off the validation of others, I left myself vulnerable to their disdain.
Have you ever played those games that ask you what doesn’t fit or what is out of place? My whole life I felt like that was me. I so wanted to fit. I wanted to blend. I hated sticking out. I so desperately wanted to be the blonde white girl who fit. Who just made sense in her environment. In fourth grade my skin started to change. My lips were covered in black, crusted over blisters for an entire summer. I could barely open my mouth. Doctors looked at me with wonder and people looked at me like a sideshow. Stares and reactions ran the spectrum from sympathetic to disgusted. I didn’t like going out. The cocktail of medications made me stick out more as I ballooned in weight and the pigment in my skin blanched. I stuck out. No matter where I went, I stuck out. As I got older and the condition all but vanished I still carried that anxiety of standing out. I always saw that little girl in the mirror and knew others saw her too. I criticized everything about myself and continued what my bullies had started. I became my own bully. In high school, there were plenty of kids entering into a period of sexual development but I felt stunted in my own growth. I still feel that way to this day. I always feel like I’m alone and behind. Alone and behind. Purposefully separated and abandoned. It’s a hard cycle to break when you’ve become accustomed to only making yourself accessible to yourself. I give people slivers and glimpses into who I am but I never let them see the core. I never let them see me. I find it difficult to connect to people. I have friends, dear friends, but even from them I hide. My family jokes about my inconsistent communication and I laugh around them. They don’t know that I am that way because that little girl finds it difficult for anyone to find her life worth communicating about. She’s still battling her sense of inferiority. She’s still trying to unlearn hating herself.
Self- loathing isn’t something that we’re born with but something we’ll likely deal with for the majority of our lives. Hate exists in the spaces that we do because we allow it to. It breeds in those dark places that we are unwilling to confront and slowly starts to take over our minds. It captivates us in the worse way. We submit to something we’ve created. The irony is almost too much. How does it begin? Usually with a question. Most of our agony and torment happens to us within our childhoods. It’s the proverbial toolbox of pain. Unformed, unshaped, undeveloped, we aren’t usually confronted with the idea of self. We’re not worried about who we are but what’s around us. So when people insult us, we absorb it.
Well I never considered it before.
Hmmm…that person seems to think the same thing.
Well they can’t all be wrong. Maybe I am…Am I fat?
The question begs for an answer and the answer is usually supplied with the insults that were already provided. The scenario works the same for any situation, being weird, being gay, being a nerd, being anything that’s deemed different. It doesn’t have to be true because it’s not the words themselves that hurt — it’s what they carry. We go on to carry them for the rest of our lives.
I wore fat and weird as reminders that I was less than. I crowded my mind with the opinions of others and it completely covered what I knew to be true. I was different, yes, but I was not inferior. It can take a long time to untangle those wires. I’m still trying to untangle mine.
When I get dressed it takes me about an hour to find an outfit I feel comfortable in. It’s not my criteria I’m using to judge said comfort. I hear my mother’s innocently-intended comment about my dark skinned knees and pull down my dress. I’m reminded of my chubby thighs and reconsider lengths and hems of skirts. I worry that a cut may reveal too much of my chest. I search for a coordinated cardigan to cover the stretchmarks on by arms. I do all this for who exactly? I do it to put people at ease. I do it because that same little girl is trying to protect herself from being another target of another round of insults and taunts. I do it because deep down I still believe that others know what’s best for me better than myself.
This mentality obviously extends beyond the superficial. It can’t take root in anywhere but your mind so of course it affects other parts of your self-image. I’ve questioned my abilities more than a few times even when all I’ve received are compliments. I’ve been called brilliant, funny, a great writer, a good singer, and so on and so forth. For whatever reason my brain is only ever able to absorb the bad and completely disregard the good.
But there are also things you can’t blur the line on either. You very well may be fat, but that doesn’t make you worthless. You may be a nerd, but that doesn’t make you less than. You may be weird, but that doesn’t make you inferior. I’ve adopted the voices of my bullies for myself. I let that voice stop me from writing, from singing, from moving, from living really. I tell myself that this box is safe for me, to step outside of it would be suicide. To be unafraid would be suicide. I convince myself that I need this box and the voices that tell me stay within it. I convince myself that somehow not breathing is a better alternative to letting in the air. I convince myself that being miserable is the best option for me. It’s safe but it sure ain’t the best.
So how do you change it? If this way has become as insufferable as it’s become for me, how do you change your mind? It’s not easy and to be perfectly honest it’s not something I’m sure of yet. I just know that with every, “You’re going to wear that?!” I hear in my head, I counter with a “I sure the fuck am.” For every, “You’re worthless and your work is worthless,” I counter with a ”I am not and neither is my work.” For every, “you can’t” I tell myself that I can and I will.
So what about you loves? I know this is a heavy topic but a necessary one for all of us to talk about. How do you deal with self-loathing?
Remember, feel better, do better, and be better!
Special thanks to Doyin for inspiring me with her Bustle article, “17 Women Discuss The Physical Traits They’ve Grown to Embrace.” Follow her on twitter and check out her and Evelyn’s amazing project Austin While Black.