I have spent most of my life unsatisfied with my body, face, mannerisms, voice, social skills, intellect, energy level, you name it, very self-critical. If I look deeply into my past, self improvement was motivated by a need to be somebody else. An image that I thought would be acceptable to others, bring me friends and enough people around me so I didn’t need to feel lonely. These changes, ideas and thought patterns were shaped by every little piece of information that existed around me, friends, family, entertainment, teachers, mentors, Teen magazines etc.
For example, I can remember a time when I started biting my nails because the “cool girl” in my elementary school did it. When my mom saw me, she asked “What are you doing?” and pulled my hand away from my mouth. Certainly she was wondering how I picked up that habit that she didn’t even exemplify.
In the 6th grade, my music class would sit on the floor cross-legged. My pants would ride up my leg exposing my hairy lower leg. I felt mortified by the ever so obvious black hairs on my legs. Most of my friends were blond with pretty peach fuzz that glistened in the sun. So I stole my mom’s razor and just shaved that little spot that could possibly be exposed. I think I grew up faster than my mom anticipated, her main concern was me bleeding out in the bath tub. I didn’t even realize how much I hated feeling different.
The uni-brow was also a very tragic part of my young life. My mom finally fixed it. A needed improvement. Although I resisted (she had to pin me against the wall to do it)… I guess I liked the uni-brow better than the pain…. yes, there was blood. Most of my friends were petite and beautiful with manageable straight hair and clear skin. Me on the other hand had these bold features. Wild black curly hair, thick dark eyebrows, thick eyelashes, oily skill which meant huge pores, lots of curves (“baby’s got back” later became my theme song). The funny thing was, most of my friends did get perms and spent hours curling their hair and I would have to just put a little gel and Viola! Obviously I couldn’t appreciate it at that time.
So when I had my own job and money, what did I do with it? Personal Trainer, waxing, hair straightening and highlighting, colored contacts, I went on the Atkins diet to lose weight, ate horrible protein bars (which I can not even look at now without gagging) and guess what…. I look at pics of myself… I have lines for eyebrows, dark circles under my eyes, the color of my hair is the same as my face… so I look pastie… like light brown paste. Not much of a smile. Couldn’t do anything about the oily skin even though I bought every product at the Dillard’s cosmetic department. Guess what? Still not satisfied!
So I left it all and joined a community of monk-like people. That means, communal living & eating, working for a common purpose, letting go of the self. Over a period of time, I stopped wearing make up, cut off all my crazy hair and wore baggy clothes. My original intention was do some breathing and yoga to relax because I was all tied up in knots, literally I would wake up in the morning not being able to turn my head. But it turned into completely checking out of life to focus on what I really wanted and what would truly make me happy. I got to the point of realizing nothing in the world was going to make me feel beautiful and complete. So I gave all my money to this community and worked for them for 13 years for half my professional salary to figure it all out.
Looking back, I went from one improvement extreme to another.I needed to reflect on this.Where was the balance? The middle ground? The sweet spot?
For the first time in my life, now at age 40. I am giving myself permission to be who I am and loving the image that is me. What do I love to do because it brings me joy and happiness? What times do I feel most connected in a way that is helpful to myself and others? When do I need ME time? Enjoying movement just to move, not to create an unrealistic body shape or image. How can I live my most authentic self today?
I ask these questions to myself regularly and check in. Now that I have experienced both improvement extremes, finding the middle ground is getting a little easier. That is where all the self love, self acceptance and unconditional love exists and it feels beautiful and complete.