tatum van dam
Around a year ago, I published my piece ‘transitions.’ For those of you who have not read it, ‘transitions’ is a personal narrative speaking about my struggle with body image and self esteem; it is the result of a thousand bottled up thoughts that had been circulating throughout my mind since I was too young to comprehend what they actually meant. Writing the piece was a therapeutic process. I was hoping that being vulnerable about my struggles would somehow alleviate them, or at the very least help me recognize that my problems are ones that are able to be fixed. Perhaps, even, help other little girls with body image issues realize they are not alone. While the piece was able to empower my feelings in the moment I published it, and the subsequent weeks to follow, poor self esteem remains an uphill battle that I fight to this day.
I am very insecure about the way I look, and trust me, I wish I wasn’t. You know how sometimes you get a pimple and all of the sudden it feels like the entire world revolves around the monstrosity on your forehead? Like, you can’t look people in the eye because you fear that they are staring at your pimple? That’s how I feel every day, except instead of a pimple, it’s my entire being.
I wake up, and the first thing I do is use the front facing camera and hyper analyze every little mark on my face. Then, I head to the bathroom to do my skincare routine, and repeat the same process but with the gigantic mirror and fluorescent lighting in place of the front facing camera -- well aware that my face is red because I just washed it and applied medication. Then, I turn on my vanity light and repeat the process yet again with my circular mini mirror as I apply my daily dose of glitter eyeshadow, mascara, blush, and a tiny spritz of setting spray. After that, I decide what to wear. And after deciding what to wear for the day, changing between 3-4 times on average only to decide on the first outfit I put on, I repeat the outfit process for the fourth time, but this time, with my hair. Low bun, ponytail, straightened, half-up half-down… again, a million attempts at achieving a certain look only to result in whatever the initial style was. And finally, I say “f**k it this is what I look like,” turn off my lights, and step away from the mirror.
That is only the start of my day. I go through the rest of it constantly worrying if my hair is messy, if I look bloated in the crop top I chose to wear, if the breakout on my chin is noticeable, or if the outfit I selected was cute or not. I look in every reflective surface, just checking to see if I look fine, whatever even constitutes the term, and ultimately switch back to the “f**k it, this is what I look like” mentality.
Sometimes, I wish mirrors didn’t exist. Sometimes, I will purposefully avoid looking in a mirror in hopes that these negative thoughts will go away. Sometimes they do, and sometimes, they do not. It’s weird knowing that what I see in the mirror isn’t the same “me” that other people see.
I read a quote from someone that said something along the lines of viewing yourself the way you view strangers, and it absolutely blew my mind. When one sees a stranger, they aren’t quick to point out their imperfections, but rather, the beautiful idiosyncrasies that make them unique. Many of the beautiful strangers I have encountered in my life weren’t “conventionally” attractive. In fact, what made them attractive was the fact that they didn’t adhere to the Eurocentric beauty standards that we are conditioned to perceive as the most beautiful. So, why am I so quick to judge myself, while I am equally as quick to recognize the beauty in those around me?
Not liking yourself is exhausting. I spend my day constantly worried about my external appearance. As much as I try to avoid negative thoughts, they always find their way to the forefront of my mind.
I am actively working on conditioning myself to celebrate my beauty. I have found that when I am surrounding myself with the right people, I don’t find myself worrying about the way I look as much.
Yesterday, I went to the beach with my friends. After going in the water, my hair was wet and messy with salt water and my face was red. I checked my front facing camera to see if my hair part was where it was supposed to be, and I found myself, for once, admiring the way I looked. What a bizarre, but uplifting feeling that was. I thought my hair was messy, but it was actually a nice, wavy texture. I thought my skin was red, but it was actually sun kissed. And the sun had my eyes looking hazel as ever. This moment helped me realize that my mind is slowly, but surely, working on being a little bit nicer to itself.
Today, I stumbled upon another excerpt that, again, blew my mind:
“did you know that our brains are designed to warp the feedback we receive about our own bodies until it fits with our insecurities? you are so used to your own face that your brain is hard-wired to scrutinise it. nobody else even notices. nobody else holds you to those same high standards, and biases, and criticisms. it is a proven myth that we perceive our faces to be more attractive than they are - the opposite, in fact, is true. nobody else remembers that time you embarrassed yourself, or wonders about your weight, or thinks you have an annoying voice. nobody thinks you are unworthy. strangers see you on the bus and think about you for hours afterwards. old friends think about you on your birthday. to someone, and more than likely many someones, you are the most beautiful, compelling, and wonderful person they have ever met in their life. they will never forget you because you have made a lasting impression on their mind, and to them, you are known.”
And it is completely, entirely true. I am my own worst critic; we all are. I am the only one who sees my flaws -- the same flaws that someone else, and perhaps multiple someone elses’, might find as beautiful. I’ve said this before, and I am going to say it again: beauty is subjective. Honestly, many of the things I find to be beautiful cannot be seen with the human eye. I am not sure what my point in writing this post is, but I think that it is a step in the right direction. I am tired of seeing myself and being unhappy with the reflection staring back at me. I am tired of overthinking. I know that I am beautiful, but I need to actually recognize it. While I can only do so much to change the way I look, what I am able to change my perception -- for instance, what happened at the beach yesterday. My therapist constantly reminds me to focus on what is in my control. And finally, I think that I might be able to.