I am six years old, staring at the mirror, knowing there’s a difference between pretty and ugly. I know who’s “pretty” and who’s “ugly;” even my six year old self, learning to write e’s and j’s, to paint rainbows with my fingers, knew the difference.
My starry-eyed child’s thoughts were clouded with this message, and then I was blinded. “Pretty” or “ugly”—which category do I mold myself into? What’s it matter? I became convinced that I would one day see myself clearly in front of the mirror and prevent the self-body hate train from making a one-way trip to my station.
But guess what? I’m two years in recovery, recovering, and still pondering my appearance. I think about mornings before school, closed bathroom door and scrutiny, rejected all my body did for what it didn’t look like. I am done feeling confused. I demand answers, demand them from myself because I’m the only one who’s in my own head.
While my Pinterest board was filled with wisdom about “inner beauty” and “a pretty face is nothing without a pretty heart,” I felt flummoxed by these words. These were the words social media screamed yet I knew looks matter. I want to stop caring about appearance but I don’t think I can.
The problem was never me caring; it was to what extent I cared about my appearance. Breaking news: looks do matter. They’re part of what makes each of us ourselves. But to what extent are you letting your looks define who you are? Stand in the mirror and stare because you, you are worth reflecting on. Your teeth aren’t pearly white and your nose is large, that may be true. Why are having these attributes suddenly something we have to LEARN to accept, as though accepting them isn’t already intrinsic? Your body doesn’t have to be a battleground for the war fought in your mind.
I accept that my eyes may never see “pretty” on my skin. Maybe that’s what we should accept, that we may never see what we think we should see. I’ve spent so much time grieving an appearance I was convinced could exist. Placed my hands on my hips to push them in before I placed my hands on my heart. You cannot plant the seeds of the world in your skin expecting beauty to prosper. Those roses blooming out of your skin are tended by the gentle hands connected to your arms. Don’t break down on the floor because you can’t love the way your hips fold over your jeans—you can accept your hips without loving them.
There’s pressure in our community to unconditionally love who you are, but what’s wrong with loving some things and accepting others? Acceptance transitions the focus from the things you cannot love to letting those things be. There’s love in you and you don’t have to extend that to every part of yourself. I haven’t accepted parts of my recovery body.
One day, I will accept the new layer of skin on my tummy and the extra “me” added to my hips. Maybe I won’t love those parts of me, but I do love other parts of myself and that love defines my appearance. My lack of acceptance for my hips and tummy is not me. And neither is yours.
Gillian is a 20-year-old sophomore English major at Luther College in Deocrah, IA. She is in the process of learning the very essence of who she is.