Anonymous made some really good points in my post Fake It 'Til You Make It, which I wanted to address in a follow-up post. I think Anon made a good point in that my last post really came across as being all about physical beauty. What I failed to accurately convey was that, as cheesy as it may sound, outer and inner beauty go hand-in-hand. I really believe that one can not exist without the other.
For me, building up my self-esteem in terms of my physical appearance was merely the starting point for my long-term confidence goals. I felt that, where I lacked the most confidence, was in the realm of my physicality. In many other aspects of my life, I didn't suffer from a dip in self-esteem at all, and was actually quite self-assured. For example, though I suffered from no disillusions that I was a genius, I had always felt confident enough in my intelligence. And, while I knew I would never be a famous athlete, I felt confident in my athletic abilities. But the area of my being where I felt the least confident was in the way I looked. Perhaps its because there is only so much a person can do to change the way they look: Diet and exercise can certainly help. A little bit of make-up can go a long way to help cover-up imperfections. And we can be more careful about how we dress, so that we look somewhat more fashionable and appealing. But, short of plastic surgery (which may be able to fix some external "flaws" but will fall far short of the mark for fixing what may be wrong internally), human beings just have to learn to live with what they've got. And certainly, if you don't find some way to be happy with whatever you've got, then you're in for a long and bumpy road. Unlike athletic abilities or intelligence or artistic ability, we can't do very much to completely re-vamp our outward appearance.
So, for about as long as I can remember, up until a few years ago, I was truly unhappy with my physical being - that which could not truly be hidden from the world or changed to suit my ideal (or was it society's ideal) of beauty. I remember once having a very vivid dream where I had a magic mirror which had the ability to change whatever I wanted about my appearance. I was naked as I stood in front of the mirror, so of course I could see every one of my "hideous" flaws. In the dream, I giddily started to wish away my "ugliness." I started with my face, changing my nose, my eyebrows, my teeth. I changed my hair, my shoulders, my boobs, my thighs. I made myself thinner. I changed my knees. But what I started to notice was that no matter what I changed, no matter how many features I molded to my desires, I was still unhappy. I would change something and think, "This. This will do it. This will be the change that does it." But I would make the change and the elated feeling just wouldn't come, so I'd move on to something else. As I continued, I looked less and less like me and more and more like something unreal and fabricated. I awoke from the dream before I even finished all the changes I would have made, I think because it would have been impossible to accomplish what I was actually attempting: To love me, for me, rather than for the me I thought I wanted to be.
I remember being blown away by that dream. What had started out as a lack of confidence in my appearance had translated to a hatred of my Self. It didn't matter that I was confident in school, or in athletics. It didn't matter that I was a budding photographer or that I was great with children. It didn't matter how many people loved me or what kinds of talents I had. All that mattered was that I had developed such a detrimental complex that I couldn't even begin to appreciate myself. At the very least, my lack of self-confidence was annoying. And at it's worse, it crippled my ability to attract what I wanted most in life. I longed to be loved and accepted by others, but most of all, I think I longed to just accept myself. I mean, it gets fucking tiring beating the crap out of yourself all the time. I wanted to walk into a fucking room and feel confident, I wanted to be the beautiful person that everyone seemed to think I was; inside and out. I wanted to stop focusing on all the stupid, superficial aspects of my life that honestly did nothing to further my goals or help me attain greatness.
When I was in my late teens, and as it so happens, while I was dating my narcissistic ex-boyfriend, I became anorexic. I ate so little that I dropped two clothing sizes in a month. I could remember off the top of my head, everything that I had eaten in one month, the portions, and when. My clothes sagged off of me. My thighs were finally starting to reach the point where they didn't touch in the middle. That had been something I had wanted since puberty. During this period in my life, I was also suffering from (undiagnosed) depression. I became an insomniac, due to the stress of living with my abusive boyfriend. I don't think I slept much at all in the two years that he and I were together. I remember looking in the mirror once and thinking, "Maybe now he'll love me."
What I should have been more focused on, was loving myself. Because loving myself would have meant I would have woken up sooner and realized that I was worth so much more than what he could offer, and what I was willing to give myself. It took me a long time to get to the point where I fully accepted that I was engaged in an abusive and manipulative relationship and that what I was doing to myself was not healthy, nor was it ever going to make me happy.
When I left him, I had the briefest moment where I made the decision to do it, and I found the inner strength required to get myself out of that toxic situation. It was a moment that lasted long enough for me to leave, and to make the decision to seek therapy. It was a golden moment, and I'll never forget it, because it was in that moment that I started "faking it" before I even realized that theory had a name. My therapist helped me through much of the rest of the process, though I had to do the hardest work on my own.
In my original post, anon brought up a good point when s/he said: Eventually, looks fade. What then?
I have had to redefine the physicality of beauty many times over. Anon was absolutely right: looks do fade. And some people never really have "looks" to being with. Some of us are just ordinary folk, plain at best. Some people have suffered terrible life-changing disfigurements. We all age, we all change, not even the luckiest of us can stay youthful and "perfect" forever. So what then? I think the answer is in how we phrase the question. How do we redefine beauty so that it helps us, rather than hurts us? How do the blind see beauty? Surely, they must have some concept of what it means to be beautiful, even if their concept of beauty differs greatly from that of the rest of the public who use their eyes to see.
When I had a baby, I had to change the way I looked at myself. Things changed, as they inevitably do when women have babies. I carry extra weight in places I never carried it before. I have stretch marks. I had another baby: My body changed even more. I don't look the same as I did when I first made my realizations about my beauty. Yet, one thing has not changed: my confidence. I still feel beautiful because I have redefined what it means to be beautiful, and I have done so by taking into account the two perfect beings that this body of mine made. I have stretch marks because I made babies, and I wouldn't wish them away for anything.
I have learned that, simply by changing my outlook, I have gained so much. I kid you not, when I learned how to feel beautiful, things started to happen. I remember the day I told myself that things were going to change: everything was going to be different. I knew it because I told myself that and for the first time, I believed it. I wasn't just saying it, I felt it.
A month later, I met my husband.
Less than a year later, we had our first baby.
We bought our house.
We had another baby.
I attribute the beginnings of my path towards happiness to my development of self-esteem. I don't live in a fantasy world. I know the difference between reality and dreams, between what is real and what is imagined. I know that just because I think something, doesn't necessitate that it will become a reality. But I also know that "fake it 'til you make it" got me started on a path that helped me realize my internal beauty, much more so than I could have even imagined it would. Loving my appearance was just the starting point for loving myself. And I firmly believe that if we are confident, no one can knock us down - least of all those manipulative and abusive jerks out there (whether they are boyfriends, or parents, or friends), and most off all ourselves.