Image credit: @mayraarvizo
I was changing in his bedroom when I overheard my first boyfriend say, “She’s average but her best friend is much prettier.” I was twelve.
After I left the boyfriend I lost my virginity to, I found out he was in another relationship for an entire year of the time we were together. His best friend told me that he was cheating because he thought I was average but would have a nice body when I was twenty-five. I was sixteen.
At an outdoor festival, I heard someone said I had the best body in Cape Town. Someone else interrupted to add that it was a pity my face wasn’t any better. I was twenty-two.
I wondered what I could possibly do to be appealing enough. Sexy enough. Good enough. Just enough.
I’ve cried over all of these comments and the many more that followed. They’ve come crashing down on me like waves of unchangeable truth, each suffocatingly corroborating the next. They’ve crept into my disarray of thoughts surrounding my self-image like shards of inviting glass.
I absorbed those shards into the fibres of my being, let them take up space where slivers of self-love once lived. Soon enough, what people thought of me came to totally replace what little self-worth I had so arduously raised from the rubble of breaking circumstance.
It’s awful how comments like these can so easily withstand the hands of time, remaining painfully ever-green in my mind. Some days they’ve stung as bad as the day they bit me, even years later. These comments clung to every other experience that made me feel I wasn’t good enough, tumbling and collecting like balls of lint at the back of my hot mind.
Aching insecurities compounded, eventually transforming into the incessant ominous Hum of Inadequacy, something I accepted as a burden carried by those who just weren’t good enough.
There is something wrong with the way society has been punting beauty standards and the way we’ve been buying them.
One day, I found myself lost in a labyrinth of perfect limbs, full lips, and practised poses. My thumb ached from scrolling endlessly through strangers’ Instagram accounts. It was in that moment that The Hum became an exigent roar.
The Hum capitalised on a moment of innocent comparison and turned simple thoughts to jarring questions that jabbed at every inch of my being. They made me ponder my relevance as a person based on my appearance. I wondered what I could possibly do to be appealing enough. Sexy enough. Good enough. Just enough.
We live in a time of deleting posts that didn’t receive enough double-taps. A time where ‘Instagram-worthy’ often means you’ve Facetuned yourself into an alternate reality. A time where people are sniffing up heart emojis more greedily than a bag of cheap cocaine that’s supposed to be shared with four other people.
There’s nothing wrong with social media but there is something wrong with the way society has been punting beauty standards and the way we’ve been buying them. Shall we discuss what skin colour the media has long preferred? #RepresentationMatters #BlackFishingMustFall.
Overweight? That’s linked to loneliness. Thin lips? You should get Kylie Jenner lip-fillers. Pear-shaped body? Here’s an outfit to help conceal your broad hips.
These are things I’ve actually read in the media as an impressionable youth, and things I’ve continued to see as an impressionable adult. Slim, white women are all we see in the media – fuck it, I am one and I’ve still been made to feel that I’m not good enough. I can only imagine how much worse it is for people who aren’t slim, white, and cishet.
I have spent so many years feeling powerless. Everything happened to me and nothing was under my control.
So, how do we become immune to unsolicited opinion once and for all? How do we ignore the subliminal ideals we’ve been consuming our entire lives? How do we forget hurtful remarks made about parts of us we cannot change (without surgery)? How do we envelope ourselves in an impenetrable wall of self-acceptance that remains unaffected by judgement? You don’t. Self-acceptance, and self-love, is not a destination.
It’s not a wondrous place at which you finally arrive to love yourself unconditionally, happily until the end of time. It is not an eternal state of being that renders you immune to the excruciating sting of judgement and the lingering lull of self-hatred. Self-love is work. It’s planting the seed of self-acceptance that will grow given the right conditions. It’s consciously curating an environment that facilitates positive growth.
Think of your life as a canvas
Each friend, family member, colleague, and person in your life edits and adds to the masterpiece that is your life. Each social interaction offers a new influence. Some are positive, some are destructive, and others have their effects completely unbeknown to us.
You can’t keep your canvas from transitioning from blank to bedazzled, but you can recognise yourself as the Master of your own artwork. Understand that when it comes to your canvas, self-preservation comes first. Always. ~You~ are the curator of your life. This is your fucking artwork. Be proud of it, protect it fiercely. It’s up to you to choose who you allow to colour it.
Acknowledge that YOU are in control
I have spent so many years feeling powerless. Everything happened to me and nothing was under my control. That was a stupid fucking lie. A lie that I don’t want you to tell yourself. You do posses a notable amount of power and control. But, before you can master the curation of an environment that facilitates self-love, you need to trust yourself to do it with your best interests at heart.
When you begin to know ~you~, you can start accepting you, and eventually (the fun part) loving you.
You need to focus on connecting with yourself. You need to establish a foundation of self-respect. A foundation that you will defend against anybody, especially your negative self. “Connect with yourself” – sounds a bit woo-woo? Well, get fucking into it because it’s about to become the superpower you didn’t know you had.
When you block out the noise of everyone else’s wants, needs and expectations (even just for a few moments to start), a bloody wonderful thing happens. You get to know ~you~. Often times, that’s the ~you~ everyone else doesn’t know. The ~you~ that so many of us are persecuting for falling short of unobtainable ideals, the ideals we’ve conjured up ourselves and those unfairly bestowed upon us by others.
When you get to know that ~you~ , you stop seeing yourself as the Unacceptable Other. You start getting to truly know yourself, facing everything you wish you weren’t. When you begin to know ~you~, you can start accepting you, and eventually (the fun part) loving you.
Meet the power of the present moment
Existing is such a whirlwind for so many of us. I know there was a time I often found myself flying through days like a haphazard bumblebee, bumping and bashing my way through a task list that only seemed to get longer.
An anxious cucumber with as much free time as there is pure cocaine in Cape Town, I began to whirr into another dimension of anxiety. Unexpected phone calls diseased me (still do) and I’d fantasise about telling people that the reason I took ten years to reply was because I barely had time to scrub the accumulating dead skin cells off of my feet, let alone tackle my unopened Whatsapp messages.
Months of a schedule that made me unhappy, combined with poor mental health and little-to-no self-awareness, saw me lose connection to the present moment entirely. I just did things to get them done. Everything was a means to an end and I was never fully present in the process. By the end of a day spent travelling at light speed, I sat with a kitka-bread knot of anxiety where my stomach used to be.
I took my focus away from my useless stream of (un)consciousness, and focused it on my breath.
I was often unable to pinpoint which part of my whirring schedule put me in such an anxious state because I wasn’t totally present through most of it. I let one experience bleed into the next; one bad experience could have power over my entire day.
I never really took the time to meet individual moments with the attention they were worth, and that allowed my ego (and the insecurities born of it) to totally hijack my unconscious mind. When my ego took over, it fed into what everyone else thought of me and that ultimately became what I thought of me. The result was a smashingly successful case of severe self-neglect and the inability to understand, let alone practise, self-love.
Practising being present and mindful through all moments (regardless of where I thought they ranked in importance) inadvertently set me free from the prison of self-hatred I created in mind. Moving my attention away from my overthinking mind and into my body/the present moment slowed everything down for me.
I stopped treating life as a series of events that I needed to get done. I stopped getting ready just to go somewhere and I started to feel the water falling on my skin in the shower. I started doing the thing all healers told me to do, the thing I really didn’t think would help: I took my focus away from thoughts, my useless stream of (un)consciousness, and focused it on my breath, the feelings in my body, the present moment.
I looked into my eyes while performing skin-care rituals and, instead of analysing myself for flaws, I focused on my breathing, my posture, my existence beyond the mind, beyond thought. For the first time, I appreciated my eyes as the lenses through which all of my memories are captured.
My clumsy, masculine hands became tools I could appreciate for feeding me, washing me, carrying my bags, and writing these important words. My bloated belly became something I wanted to try and understand and heal, instead of something I cursed for suffering Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). When I began to slow down and really see myself, I finally had something of value to hold up to everything I kept comparing myself to.
You begin to see through the surface-level hopes and expectations your unconscious-self/ego has for each relationship in your life.
Loving yourself will give you Trash Vision
An added benefit of creating a safe haven within yourself – the place you have to spend the rest of your life – is the development of the ninja ability that allows you to see things you couldn’t before. So often, we subject ourselves to repeated doses of pain and toxicity from the same people, or same types of people. Often, we endure suffering because (whether consciously or not) we don’t see ourselves as deserving of anything more.
Looking back on my younger self, as I lay in a pit of physical and emotional abuse, I know I only endured it for so long because I wasn’t remotely invested in myself. I wasn’t aware that I didn’t have to accept continuous servings of mistreatment as something that I deserved. It wasn’t that I thought I deserved to be beaten or bullied, it was just that I had zero self-worth so I hadn’t considered that I might be worth more.
When you know yourself, you begin to understand your worth. You begin to back yourself, ~you~ become your most important person, the person you’ll protect at any cost. And this, my sweet, is where your Trash Vision comes in. You begin to see through the surface-level hopes and expectations your unconscious-self/ego has for each relationship in your life.
False hope and unrealistic expectations fall away to reveal toxic people, and their impact on your life, for what they truly are. You begin to see who and what has a negative impact on your newly-found foundation of self-love and respect, because protecting that foundation becomes the main objective. That’s when you can begin telling the trash from the treasure and decide who needs to be cancelled in the name of self-preservation.
If this doesn’t come to you naturally, taking physical stock of your life will help. Start by tracking your moods to see what/who induces feelings of negativity, anxiety, and general disease. If not on paper, or via mood tracking apps like the ones listed here, then do it via notes on your phone. This will help you assess your moods in relation to what happens in your life.
What patterns do you notice? Are there people in your circle that often leave you feeling deflated or bad about yourself? Can you identify what behaviours (those of others and your own) trigger negative feelings surrounding your self-image and/or hinder your ability to accept/love yourself?
This is about respecting yourself enough to cultivate your circle by cutting people out of it if they refuse to acknowledge your feelings.
Crowd Control over Cancel Culture
Once you’ve recognised everything and everyone that hinders your ability to practice self-love, you need to decide whether these things/people are worthy of reconciliation, or whether they just need to be cancelled altogether. This is where Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer comes in,”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Sometimes, it’s as easy as leaving their messages on read and their balls on blue, as Cardi B advises. Other times, you just have to be honest and say, “Your behaviour has been making me feel in a way and if you can’t stop doing it, or solutionise with me, I’m going to have to limit/end my contact with you.”
The people that are right for you will approach your request with understanding and be keen to remedy your relationship for the sake of your well-being. The people that are wrong for you, will not. As hard as it may be, cancelling these people is the only surefire way to protect the most important person in the equation: ~you~
I’m not saying you should cancel everyone that’s ever challenged you; being challenged in the right way is imperative to constructive change and growth, no matter how bad the truth hurts. I’m talking about making an informed decision based on what should be your one cardinal rule: my well-being comes first, always.
This is about respecting yourself enough to cultivate your circle by cutting people out of it if they refuse to acknowledge your feelings and meet your concerns seriously. This is about having sufficient self-awareness to know the difference between someone being irreparably toxic and you projecting your own insecurities.
This is about saying ~fuck this~ to mistreatment you thought you could accept. You are deserving of healthy relationships with people that care about you enough to be conducive to what you need. Stop feeling like you owe people emotional turmoil. Be it a partner, parent, friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance – no one is worthy of squatting on your emotional real estate.
We need to realise that the words we speak have an effect on people that we are responsible for.
I know better than anyone that a lot of relationships are very, very hard to get out of. Abuse is not easy to escape from. If you’re in this situation, please slide into my DMs. I’ve been there. I can try and help. You’re worth more and you’re not alone.
Check yourself before you wreck someone else
Self-love is not just about oneself. As I’ve become more self-aware, I’ve become deeply connected to everyone around me and I feel painfully guilty for ever engaging in toxic commentary about others. How can I, someone on a journey of self-love and acceptance, entertain the same types of destructive commentary that sent me into a spiral of suffocating insecurity in the first place?
We need to realise that the words we speak and the silences we allow to accommodate hate speech have an effect on people that we are responsible for. Something you said five years ago may have stuck with someone ever since, stifling their existence with crippling insecurity.
Something you say today may be the finality that pushes someone with poor mental health over the edge. Something you say tomorrow may make the difference between someone accepting themselves one day, or never at all.
People often feel afraid to shut down a nasty conversation because they don’t want to be see as righteous or make things awkward by calling people out. They’re afraid they might cause drama. Let me tell you something: fuck that noise. As a human being on a journey of self-love and acceptance, it is your responsibility to protect the journeys of others.
Don’t engage in that shit. Tell people to shut the fuck up. From the moment you start, I can promise you that it feels so much better than shaming someone else’s life/body/situation ever could. It’s not even about it feeling good or not, it’s just the right thing to do.
You can’t control what people say or think about you, but you can curate an environment that facilitates self-love.
I’m not talking about food ‘cos I’m sure you’re looking like a snack while eating all the (healthy and eco-friendly) snacks. I’m talking about actively curing yourself of the Compare and Despair Syndrome you probably didn’t know you had.
Don’t know what Compare and Despair Syndrome is? It’s when you’re checking out someone’s IG feed, or flipping through a magazine, and you find yourself comparing your body, your life, yourself to someone else’s highlight reel.
Then you venture down the deep, dark hole of Despair. It’s like white people in horror movies. They just keep advancing into the terrifyingly-eerie darkness asking, “Hello? Is anyone there?” as if they aren’t in the slightest bit aware that they’re probably going to meet an axe-murderer down the hall.
If you’re keen to skip getting your self-esteem axe-murdered the next time you go wondering down the Hall Comparison and Despair, you need to ~curate~ all of your feeds; Instagram, Facebook, and any other media you consume. Start by unfollowing any accounts/people that make you feel negative in any way. Go Marie Kondo on their asses. No joy? No follow.
Once you’ve cleansed your feeds, it’s your responsibility to fill them with epic shit that inspires you, teaches you and leaves you feeling refreshed. Follow accounts that light you up with happiness and warm, fuzzy feelings. If you’re feeling like crap after a scroll session, it’s your fault! You’re in control, remember?
Never underestimate the power of curating your life. You can’t control what people say or think about you, but you can control what media you consume, who you surround yourself with, and, ultimately, an environment that facilitates self-love. It’s in your ~power~ to surround yourself with people that genuinely care about you, accolade you, and uplift you. You are deserving of that.
Imagine putting a number to all the hours you’ve spent worrying about what people have to say about your appearance, your character, your wonderfully unique being. Now imagine you spent the same amount of hours channeling that energy into something positive.
Imagine spending the same amount of hours appreciating what incredible things your body has allowed you to experience, thinking about starting your own business, growing an empire, encouraging other people to love and accept themselves, and doing things that make your heart explode with supernova happiness. Nicole Brit is right: fuck being just pretty. Let’s be pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty smart, pretty strong. ♥