“I love myself.” I speak into the mirror, my voice cracks into a barely audible whisper, the embarrassment squeaking through just ever so slightly.
I am close enough to see all my pores, all the smeared residue of makeup, all the bumps and edges of my skin. I can see all of the tiny lines, blemishes, gaps in my teeth, and holes in my skin that I don’t like. All of my flaws are in plain view. Usually, my hands would be poking at a single red blemish on my face, my eyes glaring. My next step would be to backup and look at my body, my eyebrows knitting together in a look of confusion, like how do I still look like this when I wish every day it was different. That I was different. If you could just change one thing about yourself what would you change?
As I stand in front of the mirror, I remember the first time I was self-conscious about my body. I remember my little steps up to the damaged old white scale.
I was in fifth grade when the gym teacher told us we had to weigh ourselves for PE class. My face turning a bright pink when my number seemed to be a little higher than the rest. One hundred and eighteen. It felt as if the number was a thousand times that size, and it felt as if there were double that amount of eyes staring at me, taking in what felt like my huge, bulking frame. Suddenly all I wanted was to be someone else, someone tiny and, most of all, invisible. Why are we trained to feel this way? And how does it creep in without us knowing?
It wasn’t a huge number, but when I sat in the locker room, girls with tiny bodies that were still able to fit in clothes from Justice left me feeling so out of place. By no means was I fully grown—instead, I was in the awkward phase of puberty, with baby fat still clinging to the curves my body was growing into. I felt shame for being bigger. I was too young to feel the embarrassment for something I thought didn’t even matter, but I did feel a sort of resentment for being in this body I seemingly couldn’t control. Today, I try and do all I can to control it. As if my body is its own force and I am just a caretaker—a begrudging and desperate but loyal caretaker.
I went home that day and the hands that were placed on my hips right now were gracing the purple, long marks all over my hips back then. Staring at the scattered stretch marks around my arms in little crevices, I tried to pinch them together. I felt like I was bursting at the seams.
It’s not that I am full of hate; it isn’t even that I look at myself with disgust. I know who I am, but I can’t help getting frustrated over small things, obsessing over parts of myself or my features. I can’t help but pick these pieces of myself apart.
As I stand in front of the mirror, my hands gently land on my hips. My head tilts, and my reflection stares back at me as I look at the pale skin that stretches across my bones for what seems like for miles. My eyes beg me to see anything but beauty. My head goes to war for me. My heart is caught up and flips around. Will I ever just be happy when I look at myself? Is this the eternal struggle of being a teenage girl? There has to be more.
Today, I look at my stretch marks with less horror, and I’ve started to develop a respect and admiration for these marks. By no means do I adore them, and it has taken me years to not despise them. My relationship with my skin and body is a work in progress. One that has me realizing that these marks have made me who I am and have grown with me in ways people haven’t.
My immediate response to feeling the initial horror was to cover, layer, hide, and shrink into myself. I didn’t like the way my legs looked when I stood in the sun because it wasn’t like other girls who didn’t have the dreaded word, that damn cellulite. So I would only wear leggings or jeans, never shorts. Oh, and I wouldn’t expose my chest in anyway. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was growing into a woman, as if it was my fault they were getting bigger before anyone else’s.
It’s hard, but as I stand in the bathroom, head tilted, and take in all that makes me, me—physically—I am starting to realize that I am a whole. I am a project. I am so much more than dissected body parts and the whispered rumors of boys and girls behind my back.
I tell my eyes to put down their scalpel. I tell myself to stop looking for all that I would change. I let my hands wrap around my chest, the cage built for my heart. I stay here, until my pulse slows down and I have stopped imagining the horrible moment in fifth grade and all the times I have seen models on Instagram who I will never resemble. Instead I remember my legs are strong enough to keep standing back up on the volleyball court, my chest has withstood about 1,000 pounds of heartbreak and still keeps beating, my thighs control a horse and aren’t meant for people to look at or judge, my face represents who I am and what I stand for—and I won’t stand to let myself be judged by my hardest critic. I put down my microscope and pick up my hairbrush. I let myself close my eyes and get lost in the feeling of brushing out the negative energy I’ve cultivated in the small space of this bathroom.
I put the guns down.
I put the brush down.
I open my eyes.
I answer my own question.
I wouldn’t change a thing.