Identity : I am not enough

Many women (and men!) compare themselves to the beauty standard represented in magazines and pop culture. We often idolize what seems to be effortless beauty or perfection. It's not all glitz and glam. There's a rough side to what goes on behind the scenes. This video really hit home and I'm glad this woman shared her story.

As an adolescent I often compared myself to the gorgeous women on the covers of magazines. I was compared to my two beautiful sisters, yet was never categorized as "beautiful" with them. I can still remember the pain of people going on about how my sisters were gorgeous - their beautiful blonde hair or the deep brown of their eyes, their tan skin, their athleticism. Even my brother was glorified for his curly blonde hair and I was constantly reminded by the females around me of how "hot" he was. When it came to me, it was always "Oh, your so-and-so's little sister, right?" or "Oh, you're related to them?" Already lacking self-value, these comments, and lack-there-of, stung.

I began to view the people around me and see how they compared to the cover models, the "standard" of beauty. I saw that they each had beautiful traits. Then, the moment I looked in the mirror, I would only see ugliness. I saw a fat, misshapen body with ghostly white skin, dirt brown eyes and nothing redeemable. I began to skip meals, only eating when I had to because I was under the watchful eyes of my parents. I'd make excuses, saying I wasn't hungry or I didn't like the way something tasted. My friends were concerned but I'm not sure I ever really reflected enough of the damage I was doing to myself because I was a multi-sport athlete who somehow still had enough energy to contribute to training. 

I remember the day I started using the scale as my mirror. I stopped looking into actual mirrors and was only satisfied when I had dropped several pounds in a few days - no matter what the starting number was. The euphoria I felt when I beat those couple of pounds was addictive. The "joy" would rush over my body - an adrenaline high. To make it worse, the first time I ever had anyone say that I was pretty was during the height of this stage of my eating disorder. Their compliments only served as fuel and reinforcement that I was doing something right. I made myself a slave to my own expectations of beauty and to needing the adoration of others. My beauty was my value.

After a while, I started looking in the mirror again. I had built up some confidence and I thought the way I saw myself would have changed. I thought that when I looked in the mirror, I would be different, that I'd look just as beautiful as my sisters or Sandra Bullock (who was on several covers when I was growing up and I idolized her beauty). When I looked in the mirror, I saw the same ugliness, just with a more defined jaw line and hip bones. I buried myself in food and began eating anything and everything I could, gaining weight so quickly that I grew hot red and purple stretch marks on my sides and legs. It was at that point I knew no one would ever think I was beautiful.

I've struggled with depression most of my life. My adolescent years were especially plagued. I held no value of myself. While there were other factors that contributed to the weight of my depression, including an undiagnosed hereditary mental illness, a large portion of my lack of self-value was due to never measuring up to people who were "good enough" or "smart" or "beautiful." 

I was lucky enough to have a few friends stick by my side through my horrendous ups and downs. They were loyal and always encouraged me. More importantly, they valued me for reasons other than my appearance and they constantly reminded me why they cared. One person in particular told me I was beautiful constantly. It never mattered to them how thin or thick I was, to them, I was always beautiful and they treated me like I was the most valuable person to them. They didn't just focus on how I looked, they loved me for my heart, my personality - who I was as a person. With the love and support of my friends, I started to see myself in a better light. I struggled still but, I was building value. 

Flash forward to now, because there are many stories in between that are meant for other days, and I can look at myself and know my value. I can appreciate my pale skin, my brown eyes that turn shades of green and amber, my honest smile and, yes, even my figure and the number on the scale. It's not all magically over though. I still have days I struggle to see my beauty. On those days, I have a wonderful husband who reminds me why he loves me and just how beautiful I am not him. On those days, I look at myself and I remind myself of where I've been. On those days, it make take a bit to get my mind back on track but I work until I get to where I need to be. I've defeated my eating disorders and most of my aesthetic self-hate.

My own journey has helped me appreciate those around me for not just how they look but the journey and the struggle it took to be who they are today. That's why, no matter your age, no matter your weight, no matter your pigmentation, background, or any physical attribute you might see as a "flaw" I know you are precious. I see that you are beautiful. It's ever so apparent because you have experienced life and are triumphing.

It is my sincerest hope that people, women specifically, can see their beauty and appreciate it. So much is affected by our physical perception of ourselves. Knowing you are beautiful, knowing you are loved, knowing you are valuable - there's no greater fuel in the world.  

Alyson LawtonComment