Recently, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about fitness goals.
“Who would you consider body goals?” he asked me.
A hot defensiveness rushed through me, and I launched into a tirade about how I’m trying to refrain from comparing myself to other women (which I still stand by), and how this entire conversation was incredibly triggering for someone like me, who has struggled with body image since childhood, and how he should know that by now, after all the conversations we’ve had about my insecurities.
“Every time beauty or fitness comes up, you get upset,” he said. “I understand you have these insecurities. The question is, what are we going to do about it? How can we move forward?”
At first, I felt shut down. Yet again, I’m too sensitive, too emotional—these feelings are too much of a burden for someone to deal with. But his questions marinated in my mind for several days after that. I’ve already done a ton of self-reflection over the years to understand why I am the way I am. I’ve identified the peer and family dynamics that fueled these insecurities in my youth; I’ve investigated my relationship with Eurocentric beauty standards as a biracial woman; I’ve highlighted the hurtful words that had been thrown at me in my former romantic relationships; and I’ve recognized how Instagram pushes me into the depths of toxic comparison. I used to think that if I dug deeper and deeper into my psyche and got to the root of my insecurity, I’d be able to grab ahold of it and yank it out of me. Alas, it’s not that simple.
My boyfriend was right: almost every time beauty or fitness comes up in our conversations, I get upset. All my worst insecurities creep up, and instead of shooing them away, I invite them in, naming them, introducing them to him. Again and again, I position past relationships, beauty standards, and social media as not only the cause for my low self-esteem, but the justification, to the point where it seems logical and inevitable to feel this way about myself. The more I tell these “origin stories” about my insecurities—to myself and to others—the more I believe this is how I should feel about my face, my hair, my body.
Clearly, understanding the “why” is only half the battle. So what comes next?
I think I’ve figured out what needs to happen: I must change the narrative.
The way I talk to myself and about myself plays a key role in shaping my self-image. That considered, it’s time to stop recounting those “origin stories,” so that I don’t give them any more power over me. Whenever I feel the urge to pull out the skeletons in my closet, I will pause and remember that I have an opportunity to tell my story in this moment. Which story do I want to tell?
Next, I will work on self-deprecation.
“Your love language is words of affirmation,” my boyfriend reminded me. “Why do you speak this way to yourself?”
I make self-deprecating comments on the daily, either mentally or verbally. It’s as if I’m training myself to handle these insults—as if it’ll make them hurt less when someone else says them. But of course it doesn’t, and if anything, I’m much more likely to believe these things when I hear them. Textbook confirmation bias. From now on, I will replace these harmful criticisms with affirmations. I want to treat myself with the same kindness that I extend to others. To help build a habit, I’m going to record daily affirmation videos and/or voice memos. Yes, it sounds cheesy and cringey, but it will force me to make space for this practice each and every day. I don’t necessarily plan to publish any of these recordings publicly, but I may write a follow-up post to share my progress. (Accountability!)
Awareness is the first step to meaningful change—but awareness alone is not enough. Real change arises from action. That said, I don’t expect to transform my self-esteem overnight. I’m in this for the long haul, because despite all my doubt, I know I am worth the effort.