“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” ― Dr. Seuss
I know I’m not alone when I say that Grade school really did a number on my self-esteem and self-image. It would have been difficult enough to create and develop my identity alone, but to be surrounded by hundreds of kids going through the same thing really was a challenge. Now that time has passed, it feels like a lifetime away. Thinking about how the younger Me acted and reacted to those situations, it’s hard to believe that she grew up to be who I am today.
When I was 11, I got the worst haircut of my life. “Helmet Head” became a nickname that would take years to shake. I looked like a boy, and my classmates had no problem saying so. Nothing I tried to do worked – it was too short to style. I remember telling myself – “By April, it will have grown out and the sunshine will be back and I will be pretty again.” I was in the 6th grade.
The torment continued over the years. In the 7th grade – it was “Itty Bitty No Titty Committee.” 8th grade – “Chicklets” because my teeth are small and square. Middle schoolers are ruthless. But high school was the worst – I’ll never forget that first week when I got “Butterface.” Everything is hot, BUT HER FACE.
Insults and rumors and bullying did a lot of damage on me internally.
I put on a smile and pretended everything was fine but on the inside, I was always obsessing over the physical parts about me that I could control. I wanted to be skinnier or be more in shape so I would binge workout. I wanted to be blonder so I started dying and highlighting my hair. I wanted perfectly tan skin, so I went to the tanning bed several times a week. I wanted bigger boobs so I wore a padded bra.
And like so many girls (and boys) of that age, I was unhappy, so I would starve myself or throw my food up when I was in high school and into my freshman year of college. It was like I had no idea what self- love, personal style or individuality was, and even if I knew then, I was scared to try.
At the time, I was very anxious about what life would be like as a newly certified Adult.
But things started to change, and then they continued to change. When I was accepted into the art program at the University of Kentucky, and later when I moved to Los Angeles, I was exposed to ideas and environments and people that changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I felt like I could be myself. I now lived in a world where being covered in paint, drinking green juice, practicing yoga, hiking, and attending creative functions with other artists were encouraged. Suddenly, playing with my style, collaborating with others and focusing on health and wellness became the usual – not being skinny, labels, fitting in and trying to impress people. I remember describing to a friend that I could put on the wackiest outfit, with the most ridiculous hairstyle and whatever makeup – and walk down the street, and be completely normal.
This isn’t to say that my insecurity didn’t rear its head when interacting with the “Insta-Famous” Barbies in Newport Beach, or the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Those kinds of situations definitely made me uncomfortable on plenty of occasions. But the longer I lived there, the anxiety slowly and gradually faded.
Don’t get me wrong – I still have issues.
Societal norms are tough. Expectations are tough. Beauty standards in the media are ridiculous. Perfection is impossible but it seems to be everywhere.
For as far back as I can remember, every time I mentioned anything about my appearance, my thoughts or concerns were quickly dismissed, ignored, or even criticised.
I’ve heard the same comments countless times – “Shut up, you’re so pretty.” “I would kill for your body.” “I’d trade you any day of the week.” But to me, I didn’t see any of those remarks as a compliment. It felt like an open invitation for more self-doubt. Telling someone my genuine thoughts and being shut down made me feel like I shouldn’t say my insecurities aloud. It felt like I should bury them instead, and silently strive to reach perfection.
Hiding an eating disorder isn’t very difficult when the people around you have already put you in the “naturally skinny” category.
Sexual compliments from men were even worse. “Your body is perfect” does not generate the response one would think. My first reaction – “No I’m not, because of X, Y, Z.” I wondered why this person would give such a shallow and generic compliment with the hopes of presenting themselves as a sincere person.
I don’t understand why some people think that just because someone is younger, prettier, blonder, taller or whatever – that they must be super confident and have high self-esteem at all times. If anything – this compounds the problem as a whole. Putting pressure on those who already fit societal norms reinforces the idea that they have to fit societal norms.
As for me, at this time of writing I’m 5’7” and 135 pounds, and still very frustrated that my body type somehow renders me unable to address my physical insecurities. Somehow I’m vain for being uncomfortable with my lower belly fat, upper arms, inner thighs, and forehead wrinkles. Someone recently “explained” to me that my lower belly fat will probably never go away because, at 30, my body wants to make a baby. “It doesn’t matter how much rope you jump, you’ll still be 30.” Talk about adding insult to insecurity. The most irritating part of that little conversation is that I don’t picture myself having kids. That comment still doesn’t sit well with me.
Am I embarrassed to say that I struggle with these issues? Yes. Am I aware that it sometimes sounds or appears ridiculous to others? Yes. Does admitting those things change the way I think or help the problem? No.
YOU ARE ENOUGH, LISA!
Los Angeles started this process of waking up to a new lifestyle… and growing into who I was meant to be. But this past year – I have worked harder than ever on my self-love, care, and esteem. I have adopted some rituals that I find have changed my life for the better.
When I first wake up in the morning – I set my intentions for the day and I say 3-5 things I’m grateful for to give thanks. Sometimes to god, sometimes to mom, sometimes to the universe. Lately, I have added saying 3-5 things that I love about myself, and then give thanks to my body by stretching.
This 15-minute routine has worked wonders for how my day goes and how I interact with others, starting from the moment my feet hit the floor. Drinking a hot water with lemon or tea and what I eat for breakfast is next. I consciously remember to nourish my body after sleeping and give myself fuel for the day. What I listen to when I leave the house is also important to really get my energy up. After I get through this mindful routine – I let go and set into the day. They aren’t all amazing – but I do my best to do something awesome every single day – and I write it down before bed. Something that I am happy I did. Something that helped me grow.
When I have a clear mind and can block out any negative internal dialogue – I know that I am beautiful, inside and out, and I’m full of possibilities.
I’ve realized that my confidence comes from conscious thinking and self-care. A healthy mind and body along with my creativity and working well with others makes me feel really good about myself. Taking pride in my accomplishments, no matter how big or small is so important. My confidence also comes from gratitude.
When I look in the mirror, I see a work in progress. I see an artist and an individual. I see a unicorn. I see someone who is mad and sad but someone who is growing and searching and coping with grief and working through self-doubt. I see someone who wants to overcome all of her insecurities. Often, I tell myself – Embrace your stars. They are constantly rearranging. Trust the process. I see someone I am proud of.
I remind myself that people aren’t automatically born with confidence. Confidence comes from self-awareness, and then self-acceptance.
These things can only be learned through experience, and there are no shortcuts. If I could travel back in time to give my 6th-grade self advice, I would tell her, “Give thanks in the morning, stretch, eat a healthy breakfast, and don’t give a fuck about other kid’s opinions – if it’s on the surface. Embrace your weirdness. It’s okay to be different. You are enough!”
I certainly have a long journey ahead of me, but that idea doesn’t scare me so much anymore. When I was younger, I made the mistake of letting other people decide if I could be confident and love myself. And even though I’m still learning, I won’t make that mistake again.