Words by Mandy Goodwin
Relationships, at times, are awkward and sticky. They push you to the limits and challenge your ideas. They require your honesty, confidence and trust. Future happiness is promised only by love and commitment. These truths tend to stir thoughts of previous partners, friends or family, but no less is true of a relationship with your self. For twenty-three years, I have “dated” me. I have broken under both internal and external pressures, letting my self-esteem suffer tremendously. I have spent years without confidence, letting anything and everything penetrate who I am and what I want to be.
As they always say, “children can be cruel.” In elementary school, I became a victim of unkind words. Several peers started mocking some outward “flaws” that I, a quiet fifth grader, had not even noticed. Some of my features were compared to exaggerated cartoon characters and creatures. I hardly considered what was happening “bullying,” but I did start paying more attention to my outward appearance. I felt disconnected from school friends. I remember watching a television program about a stereotypically “un-cool” high schooler with ungraceful movements and a face decorated with braces and acne. I remember telling myself I never wanted to be THAT girl. …But eventually, I became a teenager more similar to her than any other character.
In eighth grade, verbal bullying continued. A group of students used instant messenger and hallway whispers to mock my physical appearance. My body suddenly became my favorite art to criticize. I dieted frequently. Nothing went into my mouth without careful consideration of how to burn those calories. I forced myself to run an extra mile or eat a little less. I became obsessed with fixing this or changing that. The mirror was my enemy. I was never going to be happy with myself until I could alter every imperfection.
Thankfully, in college, I was able to separate myself from the verbal criticisms, but I still had a voice inside critiquing every piece of me. You never fully understand the deep cuts of hurtful words until you notice patterns in your own thoughts. I was still not good enough. Then, I started work at a private golf club where vanity roamed freely. The most attractive servers received more tips. I, again, became the victim of verbal criticisms from adults: “Why is your hair like that?” “Were you out late last night?” “Do you not wear make-up?” They expected me to resemble their personal definitions of beauty. I was denied jobs and tasks because I was not attractive enough. I spent too many nights in tears and having to reassure myself I was worthy of my own love. This was my breaking point.
I spent all those years waging a silent battle inside. I watched peers dating and growing in relationships, but I felt stranded and lonely. I wanted to fix this or that so I was worthy of another’s attention. I considered myself destined to be the “unattractive friend,” always a third wheel. But then I considered, how could I love without loving myself? How could another see my beauty if I was blind to it? Was I denying God’s skill and craftsmanship by denying who I was? I spent a couple years living out these ideas and introducing myself to positive communities. I escaped the negativity and started standing up for myself. For every negative thought, I had to give myself two positive compliments. With this new mindset, I started seeing the immense amounts of love in my life instead of the pockets of negativity. Focus on the love, the goodness. It’s so easy to lose sight of beauty. It’s so easy to become blind to others imperfections. We inevitably ostracize ourselves. We place so much emphasis on the outside. We are so much more than this outward skin.
I would not have survived my battles with self-esteem and body image, the bullying or internal critiques without my faith and support system. Every day is still a struggle to quiet the voice inside and to simply love me. I am good enough, worthy enough. I am my greatest fan and supporter. My feelings and emotions are acceptable. Don’t let others penetrate your walls with negativity. Build those walls with kindness, love and grace. No relationship will ever resemble the relationship you have with yourself.
Mandy Goodwin is a graduate student in the Master’s in Social Work program at University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. She has a passion for helping youth survive the struggles of the teenage years. She loves their passion and uniqueness. Mandy is also Co-founder / Director of Philosophy of Karma Cozy, a craft business that donates proceeds to local non-profits and promotes kindness and service. Mandy would love to chat on facebook or twitter . Or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org