It’s not easy, waking up and not loving the person you find yourself in bed with.
It’s even harder when that person is the face you see staring back at you in the mirror; telling you they feel the same way.
When you’re a person that doesn’t always love the body they find themselves in,
It seems that no matter what you are doing, wherever you find yourself,
Your mind always goes to the same place –
Picking yourself apart and seeking out the flaws.
Incessantly adding to the checklist of things you see, the things you hate, and the things you want to change –
Hair, body, face,
Check, check, check.
For me, it’s a constant stream of criticism that comes from within over every single part of my body.
Whether it’s my face, my skin, or the way my body is,
There’s rarely a time that I’m not thinking about it,
Nor a time where I’m happy with it.
I should be bigger here, smaller there,
Clearer there, and smoother here.
When it comes to the list of things I want changed,
I’ll take the lot.
If vanity is “excessive pride or admiration of one’s own appearance”,
What’s the opposite of that?
What is it called if you can’t stop looking in the mirror, not because of pride, but because you can’t stop finding things to criticise?
What’s the word for “excessive scrutiny or negativity of one’s own appearance” over and over and over again?
Vain insanity – Invanity?
That’s where I’m at.
For me it started early. In the teen years, where our bodies shift and change, and we fear being ‘different’.
At that time for me, I felt I had such a large target on my back because of my burgeoning sexuality, that I didn’t want anything else about me to stand out; to be another ‘smear’ on my reputation,
And that included my appearance.
Ronan Farrow calls it ‘Best Little Boy In The World Syndrome’.
Gay men feeling the need to “overcompensate” in certain ways, to ‘make up’ for their being gay.
While for Farrow, his overcompensation was directed into his work and career,
Mine would become an all-consuming focus on trying to blend in; to remain ‘universally accepted’ in everything I did in life,
Remaining middle of the road, never making any waves.
Instead of using this fear-driven ‘overcompensation’ to drive me to succeed at school,
It instead drove me to try desperately to grasp onto what was considered ’normal’, endlessly trying to be liked; dwelling forever on what other people thought of me.
And so that was me,
A teenager paralysed with fear, afraid to give out any part of who he was, who instead became a silent bystander in his world.
Being too scared to offer any semblance of who I really was, people took this mere reflection of me that they saw as all of who I was.
The real me became a ghost – something nobody could see.
With no other part of me accessible to the outside world, the bulk of this fear focused on the goal of not having hair, skin, or weight that stood out in any abnormal way, lest it be a target for someone else to pick on –
I made myself believe that I had nothing to offer, so to catch someone’s eye, to have something about me physically that was jarring to an eye, was simply an opportunity to invite their ridicule and so I did my best to not catch anyone’s eye.
Whilst I’ve since made peace with the knowledge that I’ll never be a picture of perfection,
And I’m happy with who I am inside,
What I haven’t yet accepted is that it’s OK not to be deemed perfect in the eyes of others.
A world where you fit into everyone’s ideals doesn’t exist.
I still fear that my features or my ‘flaws’ will draw attention for the wrong reasons,
And that the first thought someone may have when they see me for the first time is bound to be negative.
The wounds of a long gone teenager fighting to get through life undetected may have faded, yet the scars still remain.
And as this journey dragged on and on, I began to sink more and more of my time, my energy, my money and a fair chunk of my emotions into the pursuit of being accepted and looking acceptable.
Like a lot of people, I’m my own worst critic.
I’m the one who deems myself ‘not good enough’ every single day –
Not anyone else.
Sure, people have said things that they may or may not have known would have affected me negatively,
But rarely is that the primary source of the shame I have internalised and feel every time I look into a mirror.
Rarely has someone said something to me that I haven’t already said to myself.
The hurt I feel when they do, however, is simply because it is rooted in the fact that what they are saying, I already believe to be true.
Their words simply confirm my suspicions that what I fear inside, is visible on the outside.
We live in this fear every day,
A life of hoping people won’t notice the flaws we can’t stop focusing on,
We end up saying the hurtful things to ourselves first.
We beat others to the punch, and beat ourselves up before they can.
And so what I do is I pre-empt conversations that never happen,
Or thoughts of others that I will never hear.
Filling in the blanks of what I believe people think and say when they look at me.
Imagining how they must roll their eyes, or stifle a laugh.
Taking in who I am, and making a list of everything wrong with the imperfect body they see before them,
Whether it’s that spot on my face,
Or how I blush,
Or why there’s just some thing about me they don’t like.
I continue filling my mind with endless negativity,
Creating an onslaught of my worst fears told to me – by me,
And then I go and blame the world when I can’t walk the streets with my head held high and confident?
For the most part, the anxiety I feel is created from words that I never actually hear spoken aloud.
I am the one who is undercutting my chances of ever feeling strong, proud and confident.
I am the one who takes away any chance of that,
As soon as I allow a spot or a flush of scarlet across my face to send me crumbling down.
If something is deemed abnormal,
The negative stream is constant,
And the cycle starts again –
Talk bad, feel bad, look ‘bad’.
But in a world where we continue to believe ourselves to be imperfect,
(And others may well do the same to us)
There is a temptation to be sucked in, and to spread that same negativity outwards in a bid to deflect the attention from ourselves, in an attempt to keep our own heads above water.
Too often, in an effort to make ourselves feel better,
We fall into the trap of putting others down instead.
Insulting others to drown out our own negative self-talk,
Or to deflect the criticism of others to another ‘target’.
Convincing our minds through vicious comparison, that we’re ‘better off’ than someone else,
And that this should make us happy.
By pointing out in others what we detest the most about ourselves,
We may as well be talking to a mirror.
‘If I hate me, I’m going to make sure I hate you more.’
So every snide remark about someone’s appearance,
Or the assumption that someone’s body confidence is a sign of narcissism or arrogance,
Comes simply from that which we believe we lack –
Because no truly happy person spends their time trying to make other people feel bad,
And no one proud and confident within who they are seeks to make anyone else feel less than that.
It’s as simple as that.
Anything that comes out of our mouths with the intent of bringing someone down,
Can always be traced back to ourselves and our own issues.
So when that comment comes to the tip of our tongue,
And we act with the intent of making someone else unhappy,
The first place we need to look is inside, and try instead to see what we’re not happy with about ourselves first.
Because when we boil it down, who are we doing this for?
Who are we on a mission to impress, or be deemed ‘attractive’ by?
Is it for ourselves? Are we doing this in a bid to make ourselves feel more confident and our lives happier?
Because if it is, why are we being so consistently hard on ourselves?
Why are we our own worst enemies, constantly denying ourselves happiness and peace?
Relentlessly clawing toward a goal whose finish line remains always on the horizon.
Or is this for the ones closest to us?
The ones we love, and who love us. Who see us for who we are, and have not thought once about what we’ve looked like in the years they’ve known who we are behind our facades.
Those who, if asked, would care more about our happiness and how we’re feeling, than who we ever try to pretend to be for them.
Or are we trying to impress the others?
Whether it’s someone we know who doesn’t think we’re beautiful yet,
Or someone who we can’t actually put our finger on.
Are the people who don’t accept us as we are, the ones we really want to look good for?
Are these the kinds of people whose eyes we want to succeed in?
If our goal in life is to appease people who have something negative to say about us,
It’s going to be an unending road full of pain, stress, and heartache,
As we constantly strive to please those who cannot be pleased.
Because those who seek to bring you down,
Rarely need a reason.
And someone – perfect or imperfect –
Will be their victim if they decide it.
If this is who we’re trying to impress,
I want no part of it.
We model ourselves on what the perfect person looks like,
Believing that ‘perfection’ is ever an attainable goal.
We do our best to squeeze our bodies into the mould that wasn’t created for us,
Filtering ourselves for a world we believe won’t accept our reality.
Hoping that if we are somebody else’s idea of beautiful,
That we will be loved,
That we will be respected,
And that we will be happy.
Buying into the shell,
Believing that no-one really cares much about what’s below the surface.
It’s time we place just as much (and really, more) power and importance on our insides than we do our outsides –
And I don’t mean our gut health.
We should strive to be a healthy being,
Inside and out, in all ways.
Because if someone has all the ‘bits’ in the right places,
With a body that looks like it’s carved from stone, and a face free of a single flaw,
But insides that are the opposite –
They have nothing.
Because a ‘beautiful’ person who exists as a pool of cruelty and negativity,
Shallow and self-indulgent,
Who is never short of a bad word to say about someone else –
No matter how picture-perfect they may seem,
That beauty is a lie, and will always begin to sour and fall away.
It may not happen the first time we see them,
Whether it’s across the room or on our screens,
That’s when we’ll marvel that they have it all just right.
But as we get to know them,
And we begin to see past the blinding light of their beauty,
That’s when their true self becomes visible.
And if that true self is the opposite of their external beauty,
Soon the ugliness of their insides will seep to their outsides.
And we’ll be able to see them for who they really are.
It has become marketed and cliché,
But we can’t escape the very real truth –
That beauty will always shine from within.
And no amount of muscles, make-up or #goals can mask ugly insides forever.
Because at the end of the day, if a ‘beautiful’ person tells you that you’re not beautiful,
They’re the ones who lose their beauty – not you.
The way you feel about yourself is a complex game.
Because to feel peace and confidence,
you should like what you see in the mirror,
And You’ve also got to like who you are inside.
And while getting your daily dose of vitamins, and having rippling abs is all well and good,
We need to go deeper than that,
Are you happy?
When the compliments from others die down,
The likes on your picture are rendered meaningless,
And it’s you, alone,
Are you happy below the perfect shell you’ve honed?
If not, you’re not there – yet.
For me, after more than a decade of being stuck inside this endless, vicious cycle,
The negative self-talk became so loud that it began to drown out my inside voice telling me who I was, and who I wanted to be.
Any goals, ambitions, or passions came second to the voice that told me there was a list of things about me I needed to fix first,
With the promise that if I had that skin, that hair, and that body, then all of my dreams will magically fall into place – and I would be happy.
After too many years of believing this, I realised it was all bullshit,
And all I was really doing was constantly distracting myself from who I wanted to be,
And running out the clock in the time I had left to do it.
It took numerous runs through the same old cycle of ‘fixing’ one problem,
To realise that there was always another one there ready and waiting to take its place, and there always would be.
To realise it was not about the ‘problem’; the spot, the kilos, the smoothness,
It was always about my thinking.
That this thinking, and this endless goal chasing was what was taking away my joy and my peace.
That my insides, specifically the insides of my head, were the problem here.
So I began to set myself some boundaries,
About what I wanted in life, what I expected from myself, and the order in which these things really mattered to me:
Being proud of who I am and what I put out into the world,
Being a good husband,
Being a good uncle,
A good brother, son, cousin, nephew, grandchild, employee, boss,
I told myself that only once all of these were in order, running steadily and smoothly,
Only then would I allow myself the time and energy to worry excessively about my appearance,
And it turned out that there wasn’t the time.
There’s always more we can be doing to be a better version of ourselves,
And a face mask and a kale smoothie is rarely the way to be that person.
I said to myself that in the end, if I’m remembered as flawless visually, but flawed in my humanity,
Then I haven’t lived the life for me, nor the life I ever wanted.
Because the most important thing I have discovered when working through all of this,
Is that the deepest fears I have about the constant stream of negative self-talk I give to myself,
And the chronic unhappiness in my appearance I have,
Isn’t about me at all.
My biggest fear in all of this is that the negativity and obsessions I harbour within myself will overflow, and bleed out into the lives of those around me – of those I love the most.
That my own issues will start to adversely affect others,
And that I’d ever unknowingly become a negative force in someone else’s life.
That my self-centred world of hating myself,
May be taken as a critique on anyone else other than me,
That I would become someone bringing others down.
That my obsessions in changing, would mean someone important to me thought that they might need to change as well.
Because these are my problems, my issues, and mine to solve,
And mine to rid from my mind and my mouth.
They are mine: body and soul.
If things don’t change in my world,
And I remain in this toxic place,
Then it’s my husband, my family, my friends, my nephews, or – God forbid – my niece, who could end up suffering.
Because as it is right now,
It seems inevitable that my niece will grow up in a world that will tell her to pull, tuck, nip, tighten – change, everything about herself.
And as her Uncle,
It’s my job to play my part in not only shielding her from the crap she’ll be sold,
But to be one of the many in her life that will be there build her up,
So she knows not to believe what she’s being sold, too.
Because if she’s going to love herself,
In a way that is pure and impenetrable,
Then she needs to see those around her loving themselves too –
And that includes me.
Because it’s so much bigger than just me now,
And it always has been.
My negativity has the ability to affect others,
And working on myself, could mean saving others from being caught in my web,
Or a web of their own.
But this realisation was just the beginning here,
And it’s so much easier to write about these things when you’re on the other side of them,
When the lesson has been learned, and you can look back on the hard times in the review-mirror.
And yet – I’m still here,
In the cycle,
Right in the thick of it.
Working each day to be a little nicer to myself,
To look in that mirror and find a few more things to love about myself,
And to not look at any part of me or my body as ‘flawed’.
Because it’s the struggle of knowing what’s wrong,
Of knowing the way out,
But still finding yourself still stuck, groping around in the dark.
the reality is that I really do have better things to be worrying about,
The world has better things to be worrying about,
Than the trivial nature of appearance.
But that’s often the way with your worries,
You don’t pick them, they pick you.
And knowing the way out is half the battle,
It takes work to get out the other side too.
There’s so many things I hope to be remembered for,
Uncle. Husband. Human. Writer. Friend.
And if the only thing that stays with people once I’m gone is that “he looked healthy and well” –
So here I am,
Sitting in my reality,
Hoping it will change,
That my mind will get to a better place,
Where I not only accept myself,
But that I love myself –
Every red, spotted, different, beautiful part of myself.
And maybe this will be the boost I need,
Writing a promise to myself that I am far more than how I look,
And that how I look is not my best feature – in the best way.
Because I am far more than my exterior,
There is so much more of me that I have to offer the world,
And I like that.
What you see is not what you get,
The good parts of me are inside, and it’s time to stop keeping them hidden because of my fears of my outsides.
I’m the one I’m going to bed with, night after night,
I’m the one I am relying on.
Like everyone, the true magic of me is inside.
So maybe if I say it, write it, and read it often enough,
One day I might just believe it.