Baby Steps

TW: This post may be triggering to people who struggle with low self esteem and body image issues.

Who I am as an individual is something that I've been struggling with recently. In particular, I've been obsessing over the question, 'what particular elements, experiences, and interests make someone who they are?'

It's depressing to say, but the most defining moments of my life have been plagued by turmoil, conflict and sadness. My psychologist tells me that this is because we, as humans, have a habit of hanging onto and remembering the bad memories rather than the happy ones. I just like to tell myself that without experiencing the lowest of the lows, you will never be able to experience the highest of highs.

In saying that, I have also been fortunate enough to have been defined by many exhilarating and joyous moments, but I've found that I've learned many more positive things about myself through the harder times in my life. 

Of late, I've been thinking a lot about my self-esteem which is something that has been so cripplingly low for over half of my life. I have been questioning what exactly lead me to think so poorly, about myself, my appearance and who I am as a person. There isn't one defining moment but rather it is a collection of fragmented moments of my past that have been weaved together by my brain. It tells me that whenever someone compliments me, they must be lying, it tells me that I'll never be able to pull off a crop top because I'm not thin enough, it tells me that if someone says that I look pretty, they must be saying it out of pity.

It's stupid of course. Why would someone go out of their way to say something nice about me, if they didn't truly mean it? I can rationalise it later, but in that moment, my brain is just telling me to ignore everything that nice that person says about me, all because little events in my life have told me otherwise.

Twelve years ago, I had a girl turn to me in class and tell me that my eyes are small. I wish that, as a ten-year-old, I could have shrugged it off and thought to myself, 'what the hell was she on about, my eyes are fine?' But instead that tiny, little, insignificant passing comment literally tormented me for years. I was incredibly aware and self-conscious of my small eyes, so much so that I spent a good portion of the time wishing that I could wear false eyelashes to school just so that my eyes would look bigger, which of course, is ridiculous. Even now, it's still something I think about. Although I've learned to appreciate and love my eye shape, I find myself thinking back to that moment in primary school, and for a second, I'm that ten-year-old girl again and it still hurts. 

One of my favourite sayings is, 'fake it til you make it,' and I fully take this on board when dealing with my self-esteem. I just pretend to be confident and eventually I start to believe it. For my 21st, I bought this slinky red dress with a plunging neckline. It was a piece of clothing so entirely out of my comfort zone and when I put it on for the occasion, I almost wanted to cry, lock myself in my hotel room and never come out again. I had to mentally fight with myself and had to repeat over and over again that I looked okay before I felt somewhat confident enough to leave the hotel with my friends. 

These events and my low self-esteem have dictated the way I live and how I approach situations for such a long time. I wish I could just shrug off my insecurities and live my life free of self-judgement and manipulation, but it's not that easy. I take one step back for every three steps forward, two weeks of self-loving is ruined by three months of self-hate. It's exhausting and sometimes I just want to yell at myself and say, 'ENOUGH, YOU ARE PERFECTLY FINE THE WAY YOU ARE,' but I never truly believe it. 

Over the past three months, I've begun to come out of my shell a little more. I think it's partly to do with where I'm at mentally with my anxiety, but also my general outlook on myself and who I am. There are things I can confidently say about myself that I couldn't this time last year, there are situations I'm more willing to put myself into now that don't make me feel so anxious. I'm taking baby steps daily and throwing myself fully into the little things that help me feel more self-confident; exercise, spending time doing my makeup, talking to positive people, listening to songs that make me want to dance.

So whilst I'm feeling as though past events and experiences that have lead to my low self-esteem are determining my life more than I'd like it to in this moment, I fully know that at some point in the future, I'll have the tools and knowledge to get over it, shake it all off and be the self-confident person I know is hiding behind all of those barriers. I just need to experience new, positive events that will overshadow the old ones.

In the meantime, I’ll continue taking selfies when I feel good about myself so that I can remember that it’s possible to feel happy and comfortable in the skin I’ve been given. 

personalCarolyn West