I am 20 years old. I am a size 8-10 (UK), 5’1”, and weigh around 9 stone (I used to be 8 and half), and have 30DD breasts and wide hips and a small waist. I’m a student at Oxford University and live in a small flat with my wonderful fiancé. I play the saxophone and sometimes bash away at our slightly out-of-tune, antique piano. I can speak, read and write Chinese. I have depression. I also have long, wavy hair that is really light brown, but that I like to call auburn because my Nana had auburn hair. My fiancé says I am the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. I look in the mirror and hate myself.
These are all facts about me.
I’ve been reading TIAW’s sister site, SOAM, for some time now, feeling like an intruder for never having children, but loving and in some way really needing to see the beautiful community of women supporting each other and saying “you’re gorgeous” to people they have never met. Something which struck me when reading some of the posts today is how often people in comments say “from your description of your body I’d expected something a lot worse in your pictures”. This struck a chord with me. If you ask me to describe my body as I see it, I’d say: it’s hideous. A huge, dimply bum and vast, whale-like thighs and oversized calves. A horrible, sticky-out lower tummy and flab spilling out from underneath my bra. I would turn on myself all the insulting and scornful language that I would never, ever use to describe another woman. But if you asked me to step out of myself, and describe my body as I would if it belonged to a girl I didn’t know, I’d say: she’s gorgeous. Her legs are strong and muscular, she has a sexy, lovely bum. Sticky-out-tummy – what are you going on about? She’s slim! She’s got beautiful curves and she looks healthy and has wonderful smooth skin. And lovely boobs! Her fiancé is a lucky man.
So the thing is that everything I think and feel about my body, it doesn’t come from without – at least, it doesn’t come from what the mirror really shows me. It all comes from within. This is the same with a lot of my negative thinking. If you asked me whether I thought my fiancé was lucky to have me, I’d say no – that I was lucky to have him, but that he deserves a hundred times better. That he deserves someone better-looking, someone more loving, someone cleverer and more well-matched. But I also know, on an intellectual level that doesn’t seem to touch my inner feelings, that if an outsider was asked to comment on our relationship, they would say that it was a relationship of two kind, loving, intellectually-matched people. They would say that we both gave equally. They might even comment, in that old-fashioned way, that we were a ‘handsome couple’. But when you feel ugly and worthless inside, the evidence on the outside – be it about your relationship, your body, your ability to do things – is never quite enough.
There’s that old saying about being ‘beautiful inside and out’. When I was little I always thought this meant people like my primary school teacher – this wonderful, round lady who always wore huge, floral, tent-like dresses – who because they were happy and sweet and kind, had an inner beauty that made them look beautiful on the outside too, no matter what they ‘looked’ like. I thought that you could be beautiful by being kind and good and thinking nice things about other people. And certainly I know beautiful people like that. But I’ve tried to be kind and good and to not think harshly of others and still my external beauty is only skin-deep because I do not feel it in my heart. I will never be ‘beautiful inside and out’ until I can really, truly accept and appreciate in my heart of hearts that I am beautiful.
How do I begin to love myself? Part of the difficulty for me is that I know my image issues are part of a much wider problem – it’s not just my physical appearance that my depression is trying to make me reject, but all of myself. But trying to appreciate this body is a start. One of my aunts gave me a shower gel and body lotion set for Christmas, so I’ve started trying to make myself use the lotion after I have a shower. I try to make a ritual out of it – rubbing lotion into my breasts, my bum, my legs, my stomach, and trying to make myself think “I am beautiful. My body deserves this pampering”.
But it is an uphill struggle. But I’ll keep trying, because however many times my aching self screams at me that I’m worthless, the quiet, calm voice of my intellect insists that I am not. I just need to connect the dots so that I feel what the latter voice is saying in my heart. Then I will be beautiful – inside and out.