This is for Kiki.
I wasn't always the self-confident woman I am now. In fact, for more of my life than I'm happy to admit, I was so lacking in self-esteem that I honestly believed I was never going to have any of the things I wanted most in life: true love, marriage, and children. I thought I was doomed to spinsterhood because I was too ugly to find love. I thought that no man would ever find me attractive, that no one could see past my flaws. Mostly, my confidence dipped when it came to the realm of my outward physical appearance.
Which is quite funny because I am not, nor was I ever, an unattractive girl. For the sake of modesty, it is difficult for me to sit here and brag about "how beautiful" I am. But what I can do, what I feel comfortable doing, is talk about my looks from other peoples' perspectives.
I was the kind of girl that got looks everywhere I went. I never knew it, I was always too oblivious. But my mother said that whenever we went somewhere in public, people watched me. When I was a little girl, she got comments about how pretty I was and that I should be on the cover of a magazine. As I got older, everyone could see past my gangly limbs and my glasses, and they saw something truly stunning, something I could not see. Boys craned their necks when I walked by. In high school, when I grew into myself a bit more and began to mature physically, I got lots of attention for my looks. People asked me all the time if I modeled and suggested that, if I didn't, I should. Male relatives told my parents that in the next few years, guys would be knocking down their door to get to me. To this day, I STILL get compliments on my looks, and people still ask me if I model. Very recently, the photographer for our wedding asked me if I had ever considered modeling. She said, "I'm still in awe of how photogenic and beautiful you are! What you should be doing is looking into modeling (and this is coming from a photographer, we know what were talking about..lol)...Astonishing!" Granted, she doesn't see me in my normal everyday "mom attire," which comes complete with boogers, food crumbs, and pony-tailed hair, but the fact of the matter is that she still saw beauty in a tired mom of two, enough to suggest that I become a model. (I swear, if I had a dime for every person who suggested that over the years, I'd be rich without having ever had one photo snapped!)
So what I've always had is a sort of natural beauty. I'm no Cindy Crawford, but I've gotten enough head turns in my day to know that I'm no wicked witch either. What was always funny to me is that people could see past so much of the superficial stuff to the real beauty underneath. I got genuine compliments on my looks when I was twelve years old, wearing braces and thick glasses. And I have NEVER been much of a dresser. My fashion sense was limited to jeans and t-shirts and an occasional sundress. But still, beyond the gangly limbs and the awkward glasses and the dorky clothes, people saw a beauty that few possess. I have always been slender and athletic. In my adulthood, I've grown into a rather feminine hourglass shape. I have rather symmetrical features, with almond shaped green eyes and shapely pink lips. I've always liked my small ears and my elegant hands. I have thick, wavy brown hair that hair-stylists have always oohed and aahed over, and broad, strong shoulders.
What I had lacked, up until the past few years, was the self-esteem to pull off my good-looks. Once, when I was working at a small retail store at the age of eighteen (and probably at the height of my youth and beauty) an older woman came in just to tell me how beautiful she thought I was. I remember thanking her, but of course not believing her, and as soon as she left, I ran to the back room where there was a mirror hanging on the wall, in the hopes that I might see whatever it was that she had seen. When I got to the mirror, though my eyes were alight with some bright hope, I couldn't see it. I just couldn't see the great beauty that she was describing.
Once, at the same job, a young man came in to the store and said, "You shouldn't stand in front of these great big windows you know." A little defensively, I asked, "Why?" to which he replied, "Because all the boys are likely to get into accidents since they'll all be staring at you." I sort of scuffed my foot and looked down and smiled shyly. I was incredulous. I looked behind me, wondering if there was some beautiful girl standing there all of sudden, because he couldn't possibly have been talking to me.
I think that for a long time, many years after I got contacts and had my braces removed and learned how to brush my too-thick hair, I still thought I was the awkward girl with the braces and the glasses and the puff-ball on top of my head. Even then I had been beautiful, but I never had the confidence to really see it.
When I started a relationship with Dickhead, my narcissistic (possibly sociopathic) ex-boyfriend, any slight self-esteem I had had to begin with was shattered. It took several years of maturity and therapy, and one massively-difficult breakup, to solve my self-esteem woes.
And it all began with the motto, "Fake It 'Til You Make It." My therapist gave me that little gem and it has stuck with me ever since. We started small, with me bringing in photos of myself at various ages where I thought I was particularly ugly, or funny looking, or unattractive. We looked at each photo and I pointed out my flaws, while she pointed out my obvious physical appeal. I did the emotional work that led me to the theory that some of my self-esteem issues stemmed from the notion that I was still hiding behind my invisible glasses and hideous metal mouth. For homework one session, I had to ask five people to write me letters, which I was not allowed to see until I came to therapy the next time, in which they described why they thought I was beautiful. I still have those letters and I take them out from time to time and re-read them.
I learned that it was important to accept a compliment gracefully, by simply saying "thank you" and never refuting the claim made, even if I thought (or in some cases, knew, though that was rare) that it was disingenuous. I learned that all those people who watched me as I walked by were watching me for a specific reason, and it wasn't because I was unattractive. And, more importantly, I learned that in order to gain self-worth, I had to first pretend that I had it. It was something I had to work on everyday, in every situation, at every moment. When I found myself thinking, "I'm ugly" or "I'm worthless," I pretended that I believed the opposite. In essence, I was putting on a show for the rest of the world. While inside I was saying, "I'm so hideous. No one will ever love me." On the outside, I shouted, "You think I'm beautiful? Well thank you!" And then I smiled. I worked on having good posture and holding my head up high, always. I learned to walk with my chin up, instead of looking down at the ground. I told myself, day after day, that I was beautiful, that someone...no, that MANY someones loved me, and many more would still. I walked around as though I knew of my own beauty and worth.
And one day, I looked in the mirror, and I fucking saw it. I saw the beauty that everyone was talking about. I saw it in my eyes and in my hair. I saw it in my laugh and in my honesty. I saw it in my slender feet and my shapely hands. I saw it in my kindness and in my love. In that moment, and it was only a moment at first, I saw what I had been pretending to see for many, many months.
It wasn't over, it still took more work. Lot's more. But eventually, after pretending so well for so long that I was the beautiful, smart, and wonderful woman that I was pretending to be, I became that woman. And, I found out that, more importantly than finding other people to love me, I had found that I loved myself.
That's what self-esteem is all about, after all. It's about loving yourself.
I'll leave you with this one, rather poignant (if not a little silly) image of what "fake it 'til you make it" means to me:
My mother once told me that when she was in junior high school, she had this one gym class where the female teacher sent all the boys away and had the girls do this silly (but powerful) exercise. They were to walk across the length of the gymnasium, back and forth, back and forth, with their heads held high and their eyes straight ahead. And they had to chant, "I am a woman. I am beautiful, inside and out." They had to say it, over and over again, as they walked up and down the basketball court, for the whole forty-five minutes. My mother says it forever changed her self-esteem for the better, as much laughing and chuckling her friends did at the time.
That's what you've got to to do, Kiki, in my very humble opinion. It works in all aspects of poor self-esteem, not just the ones many of us "girls" have about our physical appearances. Fake it 'til you make it.