10 YEARS OF SELF-PORTRAITS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO LOVE YOURSELF TODAY
While searching for some old college essays a while ago, I stumbled upon a forgotten Photobucket album that held 48 pages of memories from the last 10 years. I was thrilled to find this photographic treasure chest and eagerly clicked through them, reliving every moment that I had captured. It’s so strange, the things that old photos can evoke.
I could somehow remember the smell of my dorm room, the dust in the abandoned apartments upstairs, that specific monsoon season, those nights smoking cloves in a hoodie, that visit to a park in Baltimore, those tears on top of a parking garage, that drive to nowhere, those feelings of hopelessness, that moment of ecstatic joy, that museum trip with the Renoir exhibit, that afternoon spent listening to Jenny Watson and drinking Highlife in the backyard, that week spent on the circus train, and that cup of espresso in Venice.
The evolution of me becoming who I am today; my many faces and multiple facets. It all came back to me with such force, it nearly knocked the breath out of me. It was unexpectedly powerful.
I then noticed how beautiful I was in all these old pictures, and immediately connected this with how much thinner I used to be. I wasn’t skinny, but I was not fat in the way that I remembered, and this shocked my nervous system in a way I can’t explain.
I became hyper-aware of how I felt sitting in my current body, and how I didn’t see it reflected in any of the photos on my screen. I was instantly attacked by the cruel teachings of society that I’ve internalized my entire life.
So I wasn’t as fat as I remembered back then. Why did I remember always feeling like I was twice the size that I was? How was my body dysmorphia so extreme that I felt like I was an embarrassment to those around me? Why did I hate myself so much? How could I not see?
The spiraling continued.
Maybe I’m even more of a failure now than I was then and maybe I should lose weight to become like Old Me again. Maybe I would meet more people if I looked like Old Me. Maybe I would succeed more if I looked like Old Me. Maybe I would be happier if I looked like Old Me. Maybe Old Me was better.
And then I caught myself.
I realized that Old Me hated everything about herself. I can see the beauty so clearly now, but she had no idea. She loathed every piece of her body and wished she could trade it in for anything else. Anything. Her self-esteem was nonexistent, though she pretended this wasn’t the case. Old Me wanted to die instead of live in that body and I wish I could have hugged her and told her how exquisite she was.
And then I started to sob.
I sobbed for the girl that was so beautiful on the inside and the outside but couldn’t see it. I sobbed for the girl who spent years missing out on magical parts of life because her perspective was poisoned. I sobbed for the girl that repeatedly punished herself for not being good enough. And I sobbed for every other person out there who believes the same lies that she did. I sobbed because these lies destroy lives.
And then my answer came. Retrieving the body of Old Me wouldn’t change a thing. I’m fatter than I have ever been and somehow I happier than I have ever been. I have a career and mission in life. I have more fulfilling friendships. I am solid in my beliefs. I believe in myself and my purpose. I have learned how to heal. I have people who love me, a partner who adores me, a lover who worships me, and goals that I’m achieving.
I am the happiest I have ever been and this simply proves that happiness is not a size.
Happiness is a state of being. Happiness is about finding what you love about yourself and sharing it. Happiness is about taking what you hate about yourself and learning to love it. Happiness is an internal sanctuary where you are enough just as you are, right now.
There is a comic by Toothpaste for Dinner that has a drawing of a fat man saying “I hate myself.” The next frame is him as a skinny man saying “Nope, that wasn’t it.” Every time I read it I smile at the profound truth. It’s far more difficult to treat our mind and bodies well until we learn to accept them. Nothing good comes out of finding the flaws and harboring resentment towards ourselves.
Years ago I was more “conventionally stunning” and hated everything about my body; hurting it repeatedly on purpose. I am unconventionally beautiful now and I find myself with more good days than bad. My life is nowhere near perfect, but I’m learning to love myself. Just the way I am. Right now. And I am happy.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?