Friend, there are two things I want to tell you and also remind myself of:
First of all, you’re beautiful.
Let that sink in for a minute. Yes, you are.
Okay. Now, secondly, you don’t need beautiful.
I know sometimes — well, let’s be realistic — pretty much all the time, it’s hard to tell yourself you’re beautiful and actually feel it. Even for me, with these bold statements and lengthy essays about self-love and body image, there’s been a countless number of times I would look into a mirror and feel sorry for everything I see. Even when I do find myself beautiful, very soon I would start to doubt it and think maybe I was wrong; no, actually I wasn’t beautiful at all, like how dare I even think that for a second.
Love myself and believe I’m beautiful — it sounds all so simple, right? Yet, somehow for the last 22 years, it has been an unimaginable thing to me. Maybe for a day I managed to convince myself I’m beautiful and worthy of love but the next, I would just see all the flaws crawling out from every part of my body and I would come to loath every inch of it. I would desperately try to do this, change that, hoping to earn the “beautiful” status even though I didn’t know why or beautiful to whom.
The sad thing is, even when I was all dolled up in the most glamorous outfit and people would tell me I was “hot”, “gorgeous”, “sexy”, I didn’t feel it. Compliments and flattering selfies did not matter. I didn’t believe it. I would always feel like I wasn’t good enough, dripping in insecurity and anxiety every time a pair of eyes was laid on me. As it turned out, no matter how much I’d changed, inside I was still the ugly duckling in middle school when the boy I liked would say to me I was too ugly for him to date.
That’s right. Life isn’t always great and people can be cruel.
Back then I wasn’t the girl I’m today. I had a tomboy haircut and a little chubby figure, no cute clothes or pretty make-up. I would be completely unfiltered and freely speak up my mind, and I was bullied pretty bad. Some kids, and sometimes even adults, intentionally or not, would pick up on my look, my size, the way I naturally was, and throw unkind labeling words like “ugly”, “weird”, “strange” behind my back or even in my face. See, I was never taught by my family to place importance on look but when the world kept repeating it and treating me based on it, long enough, I started to care and really think I wasn’t beautiful, then eventually disregarded all other good qualities I had.
It was as though life was one big beauty contest and my worth was all determined by it. Not by kindness, not by intelligence, not by creativity, not by hard work. But solely by the way I look.
For that very reason, to me, especially as a female born and raised in a sexist society which put exceeding value on beauty, growing up was incredibly tough. Now I’ve learned to present myself well and shaped my own thinking, but at 14, what do I know? I was just a little girl who was full of hopes and dreams and so naively eager to explore the crazy big world out there. I was a blank slate that hadn’t yet developed the ability to filter what was thrown at it. Everything was taken to heart and deeply memorized, mostly for how hurtful it was. Over time, it was instilled in my core belief system that everything happened to me was a direct result of my look.
For example, if someone was nice to me, my first thought would be: it must be because I was beautiful. If someone rejected me, I would think it must be because I wasn’t beautiful enough. Although I gradually knew what to think rationally, like there are so many other factors and beauty isn’t always relevant, I could never really internalize it. I would still automatically attribute every cause and reason to my look, and you know, when look was emphasized too much, it means I was constantly comparing myself to other people and it was impossible to ever truly love myself and feel confident.
The most eye-opening, life-changing thing is the realization that at the end of the day, this struggle has always been my choice all along because essentially it all comes down to the thought in my head, the way I live my life, the people I spend my time with and my reaction towards what happens to me on a daily basis, which are all the things I can deliberately control. Surely I, or anyone for that matter, didn’t deserve to be bullied or mistreated and it wasn’t my fault that my thinking became skewed, but if I keep letting it hold me back from loving myself and being whoever I want to be today, then it’s my responsibility. I have a choice to think differently, live differently, and spend time with the people who appreciate me for me.
It’s beyond ridiculous that despite the obvious emotional damage, I still kept restricting my life within other people’s beauty standards and allowed them to determine my worth. And even more ironic that I — yes, me, not anyone — had always been judging myself and others based on this vanity system I claimed to despise, and that’s how I surrounded myself with so many wrong people who had such different values from mine and inevitably got hurt. I even consciously ignored all the positive things people had said to me and instead I chose to believe all the nasty ones, writing them all over my body and identity for years and years on end as though they were facts.
They aren’t facts. They are the subjective opinions of some people who do not know me well and frankly do not matter to me. They are the beauty standard I now refuse to be measured up against. I know who I’m. I know my self-worth. I set my own standard. I direct my thinking. Maybe I’m not beautiful to everyone but to some people, and at least to myself, I’m beautiful and that’s enough. And yes, I give myself that.
I didn’t know there would be so much power in saying such a simple sentence to myself. And it’s powerful because it’s never been about being considered beautiful by anyone or any standard. It is all about finally being able to embrace everything I’m and being confident in my skin like I own the word beautiful instead of having my self-esteem easily affected by every comment about my look, or envying and feeling threatened by other people’s beauty. It’s about me giving back to me what I had unknowingly cheated myself out of, and it’s self-love — the love I’ve always had in me, for me.
I don’t have to ask anyone for approval or prove to the world I’m beautiful.
I know I’m beautiful.
I’m beautiful even when I don’t look beautiful. Because it’s never about how I look. It’s in the way I feel, in the way I carry myself, do my things and treat others.
Though, I don’t need beautiful. And I certainly don’t need to look beautiful all the time. I’m so much more than that. There are plenty of words to describe me like a daughter, sister, lover, writer, human being who possesses great qualities and a big heart. Certainly, I can make myself look beautiful but I’m also good for talking, laughing, holding, missing, touching, loving among many others, which has nothing to do with “beautiful”. Most importantly, I have the freedom to decide through which metric I measure myself and people in my life, and you know, superficiality isn’t necessarily it.
I don’t need beautiful. I’m a great person and I love myself no matter what.
The best part is that I can start loving myself at any time, and it can only get better from there.
Loving myself means accepting who I’m and seeing my own beauty even when no one sees it. It means taking good care of my body, my mind and my heart. It also means being kind and gentle and forgiving to myself even when nothing feels right yet. Always.
Admittedly, this hasn’t been easy. And it won’t always be easy. This society will keep convincing me I’m not beautiful and there will be days I feel shitty again, I will look at some internet photo and want to be anything but me. But I will remember this. Today, I give myself the credits for being strong, for fighting this seemingly endless battle and for never giving up. And I will never, ever give up. Please, mark my words.
I promise to myself that I will not apologize for being who I’m, for things I was born with and cannot change about myself. I will switch the negative, nagging inner voice and stop pitying my past. And instead, I will look forward and keep trying to be a better person each day, in and out, while embracing every bit of me in the process. I mean it. I really mean it.
I hope you will too. Just don’t question this — You’re beautiful, though you don’t need beautiful.