HATED MYSELF WHEN I WAS ANOREXIC. I HATED MYSELF WHEN I WAS ?bulimic. Now that I’m somewhere in between, I’m waiting to feel the love.
Sylvia, a fiftysomething woman, tells me, after the fitness class I teach, “I hate the way my fat jiggles in the mirror.”
“Oh, me too,” Holly chimes in. She hunches over and grabs her thighs for emphasis. “If I could just lose these flabby tree trunks I’d be thrilled.”
I’m used to this conversation. I expect this conversation. Self-hatred seems to be our favorite pastime. If these beautiful older women self-destruct with the same intensity of my beautiful college-aged friends, am I doomed to a life of self-hatred? I hear the anthem from locker rooms to college dormitories. We seem blind to our own worth.
Women ask, “Am I pretty enough? Am I worth loving?” Men feel inadequate, as if they’ll never measure up to what the world expects from them. They wonder, Do I have the strength I need? Will I come through when it counts? Women want to feel beautiful, and men want to feel strong. We want to feel good enough. Why is it so hard to see the good inside us? Why is it so difficult to tolerate or even like who we are?
Our generation has grown up in the most nitpicky, perfectionist culture yet. Digital retouching removes blemishes and liposuction vacuums remove fat. From the availability of Internet pornography to the rise of eating disorders, humanity is hard to find in a world that seems to favor perfection. But we are humanity. We make up this culture.
Have you ever met anyone who seems completely content with who they are? I haven’t. The closest person to me to show self-love and respect is my sister, Ashley. So I asked her, “Do you love everything about yourself?”
“No, of course not,” she answered quickly. This surprised me because I’ve never heard her beat herself up the way that I do. Instead of joining the defeating chorus of self-hate—which she could, because, like everyone, she has her own insecurities—she makes a decision to try to accept herself anyway. Perfection is not her goal. She’s consciously choosing another path.
I sought perfection when I stopped eating in high school. My small, withering body of skin and bones wasn’t good enough. Upon adopting bulimia, I believed I lacked self-control and had to throw up what I ate as punishment. I couldn’t see the truth. Now I am a recovering perfectionist. Being human means accepting who I am and where I’m at, even if I have zits, cellulite, three late assignments, and a grocery list of other flaws the world may see as what is “wrong” with me.
On the day you were born, God made you perfect in every way. Only as life went on did people start labeling you. Stop waiting to lose that weight, to ace that test, to get that girl. Avoid people who force harsh standards, weights, sizes, and performance. Instead, surround yourself with nourishing people who encourage you to be you. Take time to share your burdens with the One who created you.
We are part of the culture where we live. We can make small steps toward a more accepting world for others and for ourselves.
We can’t point the finger forever. Gandhi said we have to be the change we want to see in the world. Start a mind-blowing revolution: stop hating yourself. Revolution takes time, but the truth is, through God’s grace, you are good enough. And before we can love others, we have to love ourselves. You might not feel the love right away; it takes intentionality and time, but you are everything you need to be because you are human, and that’s always enough.
Heather Bohlender writes from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she is a senior. This article was published May 20, 2010.