This week I’ve had the pleasure of editing an incredible article by Laurie from MyPOTL. You can read it here on the Guardian Soulmates blog. In the article, Laurie explains how she finally recognised her most attractive qualities, after years of thinking of herself as ugly. It’s a really touching post, and one which I think may inspire several articles here on 30 Dates, but one of the first things I noticed, was that whilst it’s great that Laurie came to understand how powerful her personality and sense of humour are, I was still left thinking that Laurie sees herself physically as ugly.
She’s anything but.
Laurie is gorgeous. If I were to describe her to you, she has all the things most girls would die for. And yet she openly describes herself as ugly. I’ve met her, and it’s not one of those thinly veiled attempts at modesty. She genuinely doesn’t see her own beauty. And I think that’s one of the saddest parts about living in 2014. So many of us are so conditioned by what we see every day in glossy magazines, that we compare what we see in the mirror to carefully photo-shopped photos of celebrities, not to Joe and Jane Blogs walking down the street. And why should beauty need to include comparison anyway?
One of the most touching parts of writing a blog with an international reach, is the range of emails I get each week. I love hearing from readers, and often, because it’s a dating blog, people don’t like to comment publicly on the articles, so they email me instead. I guess because I share so much of my own life on here, people on the other side of the world have come to see me as a friend. A friend who they can talk to, without having to look me in the eye, or waiting for a facial response. And so they’re often a lot more candid in their emails than people would ever be with a friend face to face. And the saddest part is how many of the emails come from women all over the world with incredibly low self-esteem. Women who speak so poorly of themselves. Women who don’t see themselves as beautiful, and who berate themselves for everything. Women who assume automatically that the reason they are single is because of their looks.
Our self-esteem and self-confidence will always start with us. With the way we interpret things. The messages and pep talks we give ourselves. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who does this … often when I spot myself being particularly down, or lethargic, I will vocally spur myself on. “Come on Lester!” I’ll mutter … though no one else is there to hear. The message is just for me. No one else. Because you have to be your own personal cheerleader at times.
And whilst I read Laurie’s article and loved that she pointed out the things that we all know really matter – the value of a sense of humour, and personality, over looks which will change and likely diminish anyway – I still found it sad that she didn’t end her article looking herself in the mirror and understanding her own physical beauty too.
The thing about self-confidence, is that it’s attractive, and it’s infectious. When you see yourself as beautiful, others around you do too.
I’m a girl who grew up frustrated with her body. I’m 5’8”, and have never been below 10 and a half stone. (That’s 147 pounds for Americans reading … and maybe 60 kilos for those of you elsewhere in the world). I have a whole host of friends who are tiny – they’re all around half a foot shorter than me and to them, 10 stone is ‘fat’. No, they would never call me fat, or even think of me as fat, but if the weight that comes up on my scales came up on theirs, they would be devastated. And so I compared myself to them. Frustratingly I always did far more exercise than any of them. I would always be the one watching what I ate, and choosing the diet or skinny versions of drinks and meals.
As a result, I yo-yoed. The more pressure I put on myself to loose weight, the more I gained weight. On paper, to a lot of people it will sound like nothing, but the effect a stone or two had on my self-confidence was painful. I yo-yoed for years between a UK size 10 and a UK size 14. On my frame, the former had people telling me I needed to eat. The latter made me look chubby, and never want to pose for photos.
No matter which of those dress sizes I was, I still didn’t like the girl in the mirror. I still saw the weight on the scales – a weight which would never have changed to the dramatic degree I wanted it to, unless I’d cut off one of my limbs. And I attached my own self-worth to that number.
Hating yourself is really exhausting!
If there’s one person in the world you need to work with, not against, it’s yourself.
But the only way to start accepting yourself, is to find ways of loving yourself. Which I guess is where Laurie is at. She’s come to love aspects of herself – recognising just how important and valuable her personality and sense of humour are. And maybe one day that will lead to her also loving the whole girl she sees in the mirror too. Because no one should ever describe themselves as “ugly”.
I think the turning point in my own self-acceptance came when I was travelling. I could no longer exercise crazy amounts, and when I was in the middle of nowhere, I had to eat whatever was going. I couldn’t attempt to control my body in the same way I had for years. I was also meeting new people on a daily basis. People who liked me. People who chose to spend time with me, even though I was a complete stranger. I didn’t ‘find myself’ while I was backpacking, but what I did find was an appreciation of myself. One which has grown in adult life.
The more sensible my approach to eating and exercise became, the less my weight yo-yoed and the more comfortable I found myself becoming in my own skin. I know I’m not the most beautiful woman in the world. In the same way I’m not the funniest, or the most intelligent … But I don’t need to be the best at anything, I just need to be happy. And I’m happy with the woman I see in the mirror. Yes, she weighs more than 10 and a half stone, she’s not a size 10, but I thinks she’s beautiful … which is a bloody good thing, because I have to see her each day. I give her a break if she doesn’t have time to exercise, or if she eats a chocolate bar, or orders in take-away pizza. I smile at her in the mirror, and give her pep talks when she needs a pick-me up. I treat her like my best friend. Because our self-esteem and self-confidence start with us.
If you look in the mirror, and you don’t feel that way about yourself. If you beat yourself up, and give yourself more grief than anyone else in your life, than why not take a step back like Laurie, and work out what your most attractive quality is. What draws people to you? Why are your friends your friends?
This month, two friends have said lovely things to me, which stuck out in my mind. Comments which will stay with me far longer than anyone telling me how beautiful I look. They’re both people I’ve met this year. New friends, who I’ve made because of the challenge. Firstly, in the middle of a meal, one turned to me and out of nowhere just said “I love spending time with you. I always come away feeling so happy!”. And then a few days later, a male friend who’s about five years younger than me told me that I “always make him feel like anything is possible.” That I’m “such a positive person to be around”. Both compliments came out of nowhere, mid-conversation. And both meant far more than a life measured in Facebook likes on an Instagram-filtered selfie.
So have a think – give yourself a personal pep-talk, and remember the compliments that really mean something. We’re all beautiful, some of us just need a bit more encouragement to realise it.
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx