I’ve always been my toughest critic. Whether I’m distraught over the definition of my arms, the cellulite on my legs or the flub around my stomach, I excel at identifying and obsessing over my flaws. But in reality, no one notices these supposed defects. In fact, my friends and family seem to be blind to them.
The same goes with my friends. I have one pal in particular who absolutely despises her legs. Despite the fact that she’s undeniably gorgeous with a heart of gold, she tunes out our compliments and spends all of the time she could spend appreciating herself focusing on some imaginary imperfection. And one day, I fear, she’ll look back at pictures and wonder what the hell she was thinking by not appreciating her beauty.
It’s pretty common: We tend to focus on the negative and ignore any positive feedback our loved ones give us. But what if it was the opposite? What if instead, we let go of all the things we hated about our body, making them as insignificant as they really are and focused on the compliments and positive parts of ourselves, allowing ourselves to feel good about and possibly even proud of our looks?
I know what you’re thinking: easier said than done. But I’m tired of using that as an excuse to put off my efforts in improving my self-esteem. And after this past week, I’m ready to make a change.
My dad, who has always been my No. 1 fan, passed away during spring break. And throughout my entire existence, I can’t remember a single instance when he wasn’t flooding me with flattery.
Ever since I was 3 years old, I was his little princess. He would bring me to work to show me off, telling all of his co-workers how “lucky” he was to look just like me. Every time he would pick me up for a lunch date, his first words would be “you look beautiful,” and whenever a boy broke my heart or a kid at school would pick on me, he would call them “crazy” for not seeing me the way he did.
Despite his consistent praise, I found a way to focus on my insecurities, falling into an eating disorder, unable to believe that I was even half as beautiful as he thought. It broke his heart, seeing me push aside my food, seeing me refuse to acknowledge the truth: I didn’t need to change a thing.
I wish I could go back now and listen to him, to take his word for it: I was perfect with all my imperfections. I was beautiful enough solely because a part of me came from him.
I don’t believe in some sort of afterlife, and I know my dad’s not really up in the sky watching me right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to be my best self, to be my happiest, in order to make him proud.
So from here on out, every time I’m tempted to go on a new diet because my pants don’t fit exactly the right way, and any time I feel like comparing myself to someone else, I’m going to remember how my dad would have wanted me to see myself. I’m going to look in the mirror and hear him tell me I’m beautiful, and I’m going to believe it.
Because in the end, that kid in ninth grade who called me chubby doesn’t mean a goddamn thing, and the choreographer at an audition who thought I was too big to be on the dance team is a meaningless nobody in my life. But my dad, well, his opinion and his voice will be with me forever, echoing again and again in my heart.
If he could read this right now, I hope he would know that I think I’m the luckiest girl alive to have had his gapped-tooth smile and bright eyes. I hope he would see how far I’ve come from restricting my diet and fixating on the scale. I hope he would understand that I wasn’t ignoring his words, but that I just needed time to believe them on my own.
If I could hear him call me beautiful just once more, I wouldn’t fight with him over it. I would just thank him because I know he truly believed it.
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.