I don’t remember the exact age at which I started to feel self conscious about my body, but I know I was twelve when I began to feel that how I was wasn’t just different, but not good enough. All through highschool I yearned to look different, to look and feel like the thinner, casually pretty with hair up in a messy bun and the ever present eyeliner girls in my school. And yeah, high school is an awkward time and who doesn’t feel self conscious and long to fit in better during that time–men and women? But for women, why does this doubt and inadequacy so often center on appearance?
I’ll say now that I have a heap of questions on this topic, and few answers. What I’m most interested in is hearing your thoughts and responses to these questions.
I feel that my story is like that of so many (all?) women. My teenage years held a lot of angst and deep feelings of unworthiness because of how I looked, but I grew past much of that. I accept and appreciate myself and my body far more than I did when I was 16. So why are these feelings of unworthiness and doubt so easy to dredge up? Why are my feelings about my body so deeply tied to my mood, and vice versa?
I think we women try to tell ourselves that caring about our appearance is purely natural, that it’s just vanity, that it’s shallow. And yeah, sometimes that’s a part of it, sometimes even a big part. But I don’t think that that’s nearly all of it and the deep seated sense of not being “good enough” in women seems intrinsically tied to our appearance. (The prevalence of eating disorders is a testament to this.) How we judge our appearance and feel about our bodies directly affects how we feel about ourselves as people… and vice versa: how we feel about ourselves as people determines how we feel about our bodies.
And so my big question is, what does it take for YOU to feel beautiful? And I don’t just mean liking how you look, but feeling truly and deeply good enough?
As much as I want it to be the answer, this sense of enoughness doesn’t come from others. I have many supportive and affirmative people in my life and an awesome and aware husband who loves and regularly compliments me, so why do those affirmations feel so needed each time? Shouldn’t I know by now that my husband thinks I’m absurdly beautiful? Shouldn’t I know that I am wanted and loved and appreciated as I am?
I have thought before that because women are created to be beautiful, when we don’t feel beautiful we on some level feel like we’re failing at being true women. At least I think that’s how I’ve felt at times–as though I’m letting down the cosmic feminine standard. I’m not [blank] enough to be a true woman. Is this vanity? A mind-game from the hells–something to distract me from the source of true beauty?
I do know that I feel the most confident and comfortable in my own skin, the most beautiful, when I feel like I am doing something with my life that is of worth. When I let the Lord into my life through being active and useful I feel alive, and I feel good enough, and that makes me feel beautiful. But even that isn’t a quick or one time fix, at least not yet. As a nursing mom my body is more tangibly useful than ever before, and there is a power I feel in nourishing this tiny person who came from my body. But there’s also the fact that having children in some ways makes your body even less your own, and pregnancy and motherhood leave irreclaimable physical changes. I am still far happier in my body now than I was as a teenager, but I was surprised that I had to grieve my pre-baby body too. Shouldn’t the clearly higher use have outweighed any sense of loss? Isn’t raising a small person a tangible and powerful enough use that any doubts should be blown out of the water? Shouldn’t I never have to doubt again?
I wonder too if this a dilemma of youth. Will I grow past this as my aging body forces me to redefine beauty and accept myself on new levels? Do I just have to reach a different stage of humility? Must I reach a truer understanding that I of myself, without the Lord, truly am NOT enough so I need to stop trying to be?
I don’t have an answer, but I would love to hear yours. What is your experience with the use, beauty, self-value equation? What makes you feel beautiful? What makes you feel like you are enough?