Truth Byte #47
“It’s time to say I love you.”
I have been looking at myself in the mirror ever since I was a child. When I was little, I would admire my sparkly dress or new shoes or the way my hair caught a beam of sunlight and changed from flat black to shimmery, coppery brown. I would look at my eyes, one open, the other open, both open, both closed but squinting, peeking at myself through the slits. I would turn this way and that way, and most importantly (because it was the most fun!), I would stand in front of my parent’s full-length mirrored closet and twirl and twirl and watch the fabric of my skirts and dresses float magically and elegantly in to the air.
In my mind, I was a real, live princess/beauty queen/superstar, and I loved what I saw shining back at me.
When I turned fourteen, and the girls around me started shaving and waxing and plucking and tweezing and adding and subtracting to make their bodies look different, I started looking at myself in a whole new way in the mirror. As a Canadian girl of Indian heritage, my wavy brown-black hair didn’t fall straight or sit in a ponytail the way the “other” girls’ hair did. I had frizz and strays everywhere. And there was hair in so many other places that I had never noticed before, like my legs, my arms, my cheeks, my eyebrows, my underarms, my upper lip…even my chin! My teens were a full-time battle against the hair erupting on every surface. As quickly as I removed it, more would grow. And this is what I used the mirror for now: to check for hair and pimples, and notice how I didn’t measure up to the slight, svelte, petite, hairless beauties around me.
Most of the time when I was around other girls, I felt like a clumsy, hairy, oily giant.
I knew I was smart, but that never showed up in the mirror, no matter how had I looked, or how trendy my glasses were.
And my twenties were an extension of that. I looked at myself in pieces: okay, nice enough eyes, exotic maybe? Chin, nothing special, remember to tweeze. Legs? Could be more toned. Arms? To skinny. Stomach? Too squishy. And I broke myself up into little parts that I would coax into shape through toning and training and waxing and threading and eating or not eating or push-ups and spandex undergarments all promising me the body that curved in all the right places.
I never saw myself as whole, and the parts I did notice were all just slightly not quite acceptable.
Fast forward a decade, and up until this summer, I was fighting the same battle. I would look in the mirror and shudder at the imperfections. All while I was coaching others on self-love, positivity and loving kindness.
I felt like a fraud.
This summer I confided my body image stories to a friend who didn’t see me as parts. She never said, “Your hair looks good today,” or “Your legs look good in that,” or “I can see you finally shaped those nasty eyebrows,” or “Wow! You have gained/lost ten pounds!” These are some of the many things other women in my life have said to me over the years, mostly out of love and sometimes out of spite or competition, but even the positive comments just made me feel more self-conscious and unattractive.
The problem was not really what they were saying, but what I was hearing. I was hearing: “What matters to me is how you look, so that’s what we are going to talk about.”
What was missing was my own capacity to see myself as a worthwhile whole person.
When I told this friend “my issues”, she looked at me with raised eyebrows and a huge grin and said, “But Saira, you already have curves in all the right places!” And we laughed.
And each time I have felt unattractive or ill-fitted since then, I remember that moment.
Because what touched me in that moment was not her comment (she could have said anything, really), but rather her love and acceptance of me pouring through. She didn’t stop, scrutinize, and give me workout or diet advice. She basically said to me:
“No matter what you think about you, I love you just the way you are. And I trust you to get there too, in your own time.”
Today, she invited me to her wedding. And not for a second did I consider my outfit or how I would look in it. All I could think about was how I could support her in making this the day of her dreams, and what I can do over the next few months to lighten her to-do list. And we had a sweet moment this afternoon where I knew and she knew how indispensable we have become to each other. I have met a woman who refuses to compete with me, and is learning, like me, to say “I love you” to herself in big and small ways. A sister who sees me as whole and loveable, no matter what my dress size or state of my un-waxed legs.
And it’s not that I have never met anyone like this before. I have. I was just too insecure and self-conscious to see these women as my equals.
I kept comparing.
I kept feeling like the fat/geeky/un-stylish/non-athletic/un-cultured/poor (fill in any other comparison) friend. I was too afraid of leaping in to utter vulnerability and finding out that my worst fears were true: my love for them was one-sided.
So what I learned today, I bring in to this new year, and I invite you, my lady-readers (men, please pass this on!), to consider it for yourselves as you set your own goals and intentions for 2017. When we can truly say “I love you” to that woman in the mirror, with all her curves and lumps and hair and flavour, we can truly and authentically start saying “I love you” to other women in our lives. So girls, let’s do this together. We can truly open our arms to the sisterhood that many of us have been craving since we were girls playing dress up with our mother’s things, spinning in front of those mirrors years ago.
Want to join in person me for more stories and join our newly-forming brother-and-sisterhood? January 19 is the Kick-Off Party for our Get Happy Club in Surrey B.C.! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information and details.