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It Starts With You

CW: This post uses explicit language

I hate when my friends and family call me beautiful. Always have and probably always will.

To me, the compliments almost always feel as if they are coming from people who are saying them out of necessity rather than truly believing them. It is hard to believe that others find you beautiful when you do not believe that to be true yourself. There have only ever been two groups of people who have commented positively on my appearance: my friends and family (because, let’s be honest here, they have to say nice things) and random creepy sleazeballs on the street (not exactly the type of attention I’m dying to attract).

Since high school, I’ve watched my friends be the ones who are desired. I’ve watched guys slide into their DMs.

I’ve waited off to the side as guys have ran up to them begging for their number after a wicked wine at a party. I’ve sat quietly when the person I had a crush on almost unfailingly ended up having a crush on one of my friends. I’ve watched as all the normal teenage experiences of everything from relationships to cringey first time stories happened to what felt like everyone but me. I’ve watched my friends fall into love, out of love, suffer through heartbreaks, love men, hate men, love women, and just about everything in between.

Glow-ups came and went, and the whole time, the one constant seemed to be that I was not pretty. Hot? Sexy? Fine? Maybe on a good day.

Great butt. Nice boobs. Curvy body. But not actually pretty. And so slowly I started to pick apart the parts of myself that were the problem. My stomach that bulged over and refused to be flat. The acne that dotted my face and felt like hives. Skin too dark. Face too round. Thighs too big. Body and face too ugly.

My self-image became a reflection of public perception.

In other words, I started to value myself completely based on what others thought especially when those others were guys. Well, really that should be present-tense because as bad as I know it is, I still do it. I desperately want to be stopped by one of those talent-searching carts in the mall looking for the next big model or actor. I want people to slide into my DMs and start a conversation with me in hopes of getting my number. I want to meet a random stranger who thought I was so cute that he had to ask me on date.

I think I reached a low in the beginning of my freshman year of college. I came into college finally on the winning end of a battle with anxiety and depression and hoping that my love life would take a turn in the new environment. In the first week, there was this guy who all of my friends mocked for sliding into their DMs. Every. Last. One. They would laugh about the late night messages he sent and joke that he would fuck anything. Except for me. I found myself crying because even the guy who would fuck everything and anything would not fuck me.

Like I said, I am not past this phase of my life. I’d be lying if I said that . But around the same time, I found myself crying over the opinion of an ain’t shit ass nigga who I did not even find attractive in the first place, I started looking at my body in my full length mirror every day after returning from the gym during my post-workout high. I’d examine all the parts, especially focusing on the areas I loved and didn’t have complaints about. I took A LOT of half-naked selfies (pro-tip: My Eyes Only on Snapchat for safe keeping!) for myself on days when I was happy. I posted them on my finsta and sent them to my mom too. I read the comments from my friends and family and started training myself to believe they were real. More importantly, I slowly started to formulate positive comments and beliefs about my own body. There is something extremely victorious about the moment when a thought like “I feel bad for all the guys sleeping on me because my nudes are FIRE” runs through your mind. It’s a moment when you’re reclaiming control of your self-image.

So yes, I am writing this piece as someone who is still very early on in her journey to self-love and acceptance. I still compare myself to my friends plenty, find emptiness in many of their comments, and seek validation in the wrong places. I still don’t really like when my friends or family call me beautiful, but I love when an organic thought about my own beauty naturally crosses my mind.

I know I have a very long road ahead of me, and I don’t know what the end of my journey to self-love will look like. But I do know the beginning. It’s not Instagram comments hyping you up, a cute guy asking for your number randomly in public, a guy sliding into your DMs on insta, or tons of Tinder matches. I know because over the course of the last few months, all of these things have happened to me, and none of them have made me feel any better about myself. What has, however, is slowly working on my own self-perception. It’s not easy work. It’s the painful, traumatic type of act that people mean when they say self-care, not the face masks and hot showers. And it hurts. It’s slow, and some days you won’t be able to do it. But it works. Like I said earlier, I’m still in the middle of my journey, so I don’t know what the end will look like (or if there even is an end to this kind of journey). But I do know the beginning. It starts with you.

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