Mo at Big Fat Deal got a poignant question from a 14-year-old reader, one that stirred up emotions for a lot of people who recognized either themselves or someone close to them. The letter-writer asked:
Is this just a “fourteen year old phase”?
What’ll it take for me to love my reflection?
‘Cause everytime I say to myself “You’re beautiful” it feels like a lie…
How do you do it? How can you just totally accept yourself exactly the way you are! What your secret? Will you share it with me?
The question has elicited such beautiful sentiments that I hope you go over there and read all of them (and contribute your own). Here’s a sampling:
Your body is how your mind accomplishes its work in the world; it’s what lets you do and be and act. We tell women that their bodies need to look a certain way, but if we all looked the same, we’d all be do-ing and be-ing and act-ing the same, and that’s not what this world needs. It needs all our individual bodies, and all our individual talents, and all our individual limitations in order to create the diversity of experiences that exist. If everyone were the same, even if everyone were perfect, the world would, frankly, suck.
Look at your body and love your body not for what it looks like to others, but for what it does for you. Find the parts of it you like, the parts of it that are strong or flexible or hard or soft in just the right ways, and concentrate on those for a while. Maybe you can’t hear “You are beautiful” yet (though you are), but try “I am strong” or “I am fearless” or “I am flexible” or “I am solid” or “I am energetic.”
Say good things about yourself long enough, and even you will come to believe them. (Remember that it works the other way, too, and stop yourself from saying negative things about your body, even in your head.)
I think in order to believe you’re beautiful there are certain things you have to believe first.
You have to believe that so much of the world is in the business of telling women that they’re not beautiful, and that being beautiful is the only way women can ever be worth something. This is the big idea. They make money off this idea. They love that this idea gives them something to hold over women. And as for who “they” are: they are companies and magazines; they can be men who have discovered the power of this idea; they can be women who have given their lives over to slavishly following this idea and think you should, too; they can be the guys in your homeroom and the jerk who shouted something at you on the street; they can be perfectly nice people, too, your friends and your mother and people you love.
I know, it’s intense. It’s much easier to believe you’re not beautiful than believe the above. But that’s kind of how it works.
To the young woman that wrote in: I don’t know you and may never have the chance to meet you, but the fact that you are asking for help with self-acceptance is simply amazing and so wonderful to see. Even if you don’t realize it, you have asked these questions because your very soul understands your worth and is gently calling your mind and heart (and eyes) to agreement. Continue searching, continue reading, continue questioning, and keep looking in the mirror – one day you will see your beauty. You are loved and supported by more than just your mother and friends – you are loved and supported by all who have come before you and know your struggle. We are here for you, we are rooting for you, and without even knowing you, we know that you are so very beautiful.
The best thing you can do is take care of yourself. That doesn’t mean starving and compulsive exercise. It means trying to get a balanced diet and incorporating some physical activity. It also means looking at the people and influences in your life and making sure that those things make you feel GOOD about yourself and not bad. Develop your talents, and be glad that your mom tells you you’re beautiful….not all moms do.
I don’t think it’s “just a phase,” but I think everybody struggles with their image of themselves in adolescence. Your body is doing all kinds of weird shit, even if you’ve gone through puberty early; your hormones are raging; you’re trying to do way too much in a day when your body needs care and nurturing and plenty of rest. Not only that, but high school is a total emotional minefield. It’s hard to love anybody, let alone yourself. I think it makes sense to be freaked out sometimes, and that it’s easier to start accepting yourself as your body settles down. That’s without bringing dieting into it, but anyway.
Another thing that’s really important to know: those of us who appear super confident and accepting still have bad days. We still have days where we think we’re fat and that means we’re ugly, where everything from our hair to the shape of our toes is wrong wrong wrong. So don’t beat yourself up further for not being able to love yourself every time you look in the mirror. Nobody does, except total narcissists.
I think what I would add/emphasize is that loving yourself isn’t something you are ever done figuring out. Even as an adult, I struggle with finding myself beautiful sometimes. It is so hard, yes, but the question is, do you want a life that you love? Because if you do, then you need to not give energy to other people’s expectations to such a degree that you stop living your life.
All the tips and tricks and affirmations in the world won’t force a change in an unwilling mind, but you have to find whatever it is inside you that makes it true for you. A lot of that comes through doing whatever it is that you are uniquely good at, because the satisfaction of creating or performing something great drowns out a helluva lot of self-loathing cynicism. It can be anything; art, sports, music, theater, writing, gardening, martial arts, photography, crafts, etc. etc. etc.
Do something physical. I agree about the Yoga since it challenges you, you can work up to it gradually at your own pace, it helps your balance and posture, and it makes you really aware of your body and what it can accomplish.
Then, surround yourself with good people. Friends are not really friends if they tear you down or make you feel ashamed of any part of yourself, physical or personal. A friend is someone you should be able to trust. A couple of true friends is worth more than a houseful of “associates” that stress you out.
Skinny people hate their bodies too. The “beautiful people” often see just as much to hate about their bodies as everyone else. That doesn’t help or comfort much, but it’s a perspective to hold onto so that you’re not placing anyone on a pedestal. Choose your heros by what they do and who they are, not by what they look like.
This is a tough one, but here’s an idea that helped me. People tend to judge themselves more harshly than other people. So, try to find beauty in other non-size-0 girls and women around you. When you start to see their beauty, it will help you to see that beauty is not about size, and that everyone has their own way of being beautiful. Then it will be easier to apply these concepts to yourself and see your own beauty.
By doing all of this, hopefully you will change your idea of what is beautiful and attractive. If you measure everyone against Hollywood standards, most people are going to fall short. And the fact is, just because images are presented to you as being “beautiful,” that doesn’t mean that you have to believe that they represent the only definition of beauty.
Damn, you guys, I wish you’d been around when I was 14. There’s some advice on the thread that I find weird or don’t completely agree with, but mostly there’s a vast number of really insightful, uplifting comments. I hope the letter-writer reads them and takes them to heart. The FA movement has the potential to make some young people’s lives a lot happier and healthier, y’all. I sure wish it had been around for me. (Well, it was around, but it wasn’t so easy to access.)
What do you wish someone had told you when you were 14? What do you want to tell the 14-year-olds you know, who might be going through this?