I can’t remember the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I can’t recall the first time I judged myself and found I was lacking. I don’t know when I first gave myself the label of ‘not good enough’. But I do know how it has shaped my history.
I was a perfectionist who believed that if I could put on a faultless performance then maybe it would be okay. I had to be the best. I needed to get the best grades, be the best behaved, plan the best future for myself. I was desperately trying to convince the world that I deserved to be loved, trying to make up for the truth that deep down I didn’t love myself.
No matter what I achieved or how well I did, it didn’t seem to help. It didn’t change how I saw myself. The praise and affirmation of those around me never felt true. I knew the girl in the mirror intimately, and I hated her. The love and encouragement spoken by my friends and family didn’t match up, so I let their words fall through my fingers, like they could never belong to me. I thought I knew better.
Then inevitably, after years of striving and working hard, one day failure hit. I’d tried my best but it wasn’t good enough. I’d fallen short of perfect. The University of my dreams rejected me and I found myself unravelling. I slipped into the grip of Anorexia, as it waited for me with arms wide open. It pretended that it held all the answers. It gave me a feeling of control, teasing me with the lie that happiness was just one more dress size away. I clung onto the belief that if I could change myself, then maybe I would finally love the girl in the mirror. Maybe then I would be good enough. But the deeper I drowned in the depths of my illness, the less love I had for myself. It wasn’t the answer. I had to fight my way back to the surface and find a future for myself.
I was struck by something a friend told me during my recovery, that the first step to loving yourself is to treat yourself like you’re worthy of love. She said you had to start acting with love towards yourself if you wanted your emotions to match up. So I began to care for and nurture my body. I gave myself the nutrition I needed and allowed myself to enjoy food once more. I learnt to celebrate on the good days and offer comfort on the bad days. I started to look in the mirror for long enough to see past the imperfections, to really see the girl in front of me. I began to accept her, the good and the bad.
I have learnt that it’s difficult to accept truth from my friends and family, if I believe lies about myself. Whilst the words of love from those around us are important and special, they don’t hold as much weight as if we’re able to speak those words of love to ourselves. The words we tell ourselves have power, the power to crush or comfort, to build up or tear down, to heal or hurt. If we, who see the best and worst of ourselves, are able to speak acceptance and love into our lives, then we can handle anything that life throws our way.
I had to accept that my view of myself was flawed. For too long I had rejected the positive things about myself and only held onto the negative. I judged myself far more harshly than I would ever judge anyone else. I was quick to forgive the mistakes of others, whilst my own seemed unforgivable. I realised that nothing I did would ever be good enough, unless I adjusted the way I looked at myself. It was time to open up my eyes and try to see myself clearly for the first time.
I used to believe loving yourself was for when you had life all figured out. For that ever elusive time when you’d ironed out all the creases and flaws in your personality. When you could say, with confidence, that you had become the best version of yourself. I believed that one day, once all my troubles were behind me, I’d be free to make peace with myself. That once I had painted over the ugly parts of myself, I would finally look in the mirror and like what I saw.
But now I know, that day may never come. I will never be perfect. There will always be parts of myself that I don’t like and that I would rather others didn’t see. I may always be on a journey of recovery, of travelling towards complete healing and wholeness, towards full acceptance and love. Some days the past weighs heavily on me, threatening to overwhelm me. In the tough times I’ve learnt that it’s okay to be not okay, to admit that you struggle.
However, loving yourself is about taking a step back and seeing the rich tapestry that makes up who you are. It’s about recognising those unique and precious things about yourself. To look and see those parts of you that are loved by those around you, and to learn to appreciate and embrace them. Loving yourself isn’t just about warm fuzzy feelings, but about treating yourself with care and compassion, even on the days when you don’t want to. It’s about acknowledging that we are all flawed people. We are all beautifully broken, perfect in our complexities and vulnerabilities. We are stories still going on, each chapter a chance to begin again, to love ourselves once more.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not all the way there yet. I still have days where I struggle to see the good in myself or show myself love. I often find it hard to accept the praise of others and I can get weighed down by insecurity. I’ve found that learning to love yourself, like learning anything, takes practice and hard work. I may have a way to go, but I’m taking a step closer every day.
I am making peace with the girl in the mirror, learning to love her as she is, through her successes and failures. We’ve been through a lot and somehow come out braver and stronger than anyone would have predicted. We’ve fought and won many battles together, and now it’s time to lay down the weapons and learn to live and love together.