I’ve always been my friend group’s spokesperson for self-love because of a recurring joke – if anyone said something negative about themselves in front of me, I’d become their personal motivational speaker, following them around for the next two weeks, telling them how beautiful they were and reminding them they are loved by everyone around them.
The ironic thing was I probably needed a motivational speaker for myself more than anything.
When I was 14, I went through a series of physical changes. I lost 30 pounds, began straightening my hair and learned how to put on makeup. All simple and basic things that were part of growing up.
After experiencing these changes, people actually started to notice me, wanting to talk to me and become friends. I finally got my first boyfriend. But along with these changes came insecurities.
Five years later, after multiple destroyed romantic relationships and friendships and lessons learned the hard way, I realized I had connected being loved with looking a certain way that truly wasn’t reflective of the person I am on the inside.
The progression of my development throughout the first three years of high school can be described in three words: insecure, unhinged and dismal.
Insecure characterized my freshman year because, while I spent a lot of the time faking my interests to make friends, I was in a toxic relationship with my first boyfriend where I forced myself to look a certain way to keep him around.
I attended a small school where you could find out anything about anyone. I knew if I ended up as the butt of a joke, I would be crushed and never escape it. Sometimes pretending to be someone you weren’t was just changing your appearance or what you did on the weekend, sometimes it was living someone else’s life, the person who you thought everyone wanted you to be.
I craved validation from others. I was so uncertain of myself and my appearance that receiving compliments only encouraged me to keep pretending to be someone I wasn’t, as if I needed this facade to be happy.
The truth is I wasn’t happy, but I was convinced I could be eventually if I continued with this fake persona.
My boyfriend broke up with me pretty early into my sophomore year, and I began fighting with my friends. I became unhinged. This was the first time in a while my depression returned, but instead of being sad, I was angry at the world because all my pretending didn’t work.
I let all of my anger out onto people around me, not caring about the consequences. I burned a lot of bridges that year, and it felt right in the moment to get rid of those people. I regret it, but I like to think everything was necessary to bring me where I am now.
Looking back, my heart hurts for the person I was – the girl underneath all that hurt and anger, who just wanted people to want her for who she was, not what she looked like.
My freshman year taught me I didn’t want to surround myself with people who only liked me on a superficial level, and my sophomore year showed me superficial relationships can result in people leaving the minute you start to change. The third lesson I learned is something I carry with me to this day: sometimes people leave us, and there is nothing we can do about it.
My junior year was dismal. It was the peak of my depression, and I no longer cared about my appearance – not in a “I’m beautiful the way I am” way, but in a “I am withering away from mental illness and cannot take care of myself” way.
Every day I got out of bed, got dressed, went to school, came home, took a nap, went to work and went to bed. I was barely functioning as a person. I struggled getting good grades and the few relationships I could salvage from my sophomore year were failing.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Being away from my high school helped a lot because, with everyone quarantining, I didn’t have to see people I didn’t like or pretend to be the person I was at school.
When I revisited my childhood hobbies – reading, writing, and cooking – I noticed a quick improvement in my mental health, and something clicked. When I did things I enjoyed, I felt better about myself, and I enjoyed living again.
When it came to loving my physical appearance, I decided I was done believing I was beautiful based on other people’s opinions.
I stopped basing my appearance off of society’s standards, and started dressing how I wanted to. I began wearing clothes I thought were cool, doing my makeup how I liked and acting like a person I wanted to be around.
I was beautiful. I am beautiful, and I will always be beautiful no matter what anyone tells me because I know my beauty is not only skin deep anymore.
I went into my senior year of high school more confident than after my junior year. I dyed my hair red because I wanted to, and whenever I heard comments about how much better I looked with dark hair, I didn’t care. I started hanging out with people I enjoyed and whenever someone asked me why, I told them it was because I liked them.
When I enter a room, I no longer worry if people like me because I know the person I am is someone a lot of people like being around, and no matter how vain that sounds, I know it’s the truth.