Loving Myself Radically and Intentionally

I have always had a love/hate relationship with myself. Early on, it was mostly physical. I hated my curly hair that set me apart from the beauty standards I saw; I hated my nose and the beauty mark under my lip; I especially loathed my weight and being called gordita. While it was said as a nickname and with cariƱo, being “the little fat girl” led to some of my darkest moments of self-hatred.

I even hated things about myself that would be considered good, like having 20/20 vision. For some reason, I wanted glasses SO badly as a child. Maybe it coincided with seeing myself as a nerd. I was ecstatic when my cousin gave me a pair of non-prescription lenses from her job at Pearle Vision. They were extremely hideous and unflattering on my round, chubby face but I didn’t care. I was so excited to finally have glasses that I wore them to school. I was in third grade and none of my classmates noticed my new look, even though I was bursting with excitement. My teacher must have acknowledged them because I remember feeling like a fraud because the glasses were not for improving my vision. I was so wracked with guilt that I asked to speak to her privately. I wrung my hands together, stumbled over my words and took deep breaths to keep from puking as I confessed that the glasses were fake. This was before fashion glasses were a common accessory and I felt as though wearing them was somehow tricking my teacher into thinking I was someone I wasn’t. While I don’t recall what made my eight-year-old brain jump to that conclusion, the feeling of regret is still clear and I never wore those glasses to school again.

Instances like that made me feel ugly on the inside. I attended a religious school and my family went to church regularly where I was told that my thoughts should be positive and pure. Mine were far from that. I concluded that I was as ugly on the inside as I was on the outside. Without realizing it, those feelings manifested into one of unworthiness, not feeling deserving of love; interpreting kindness towards me as pity and fearing that one day all the positives in my life would be driven away by my ugliness.

I don’t recall loving anything about myself except my academic prowess. In school I excelled and it led to positive attention from the people I loved most. While doing well academically is a good thing, I took it to the extreme. I felt like it was the only constructive thing about me so I overcompensated in that area of my life. I felt sick to my stomach thinking that I might get anything lower than a B, no matter the subject. I spent hours memorizing materials, making sure my assignments were as close to perfect as possible, and stressing about my grades. This persisted from elementary through high school. While it opened doors for me, it was also an obsession. I gave myself zero grace for failures. When I attended a highly competitive college prep high school my feelings of inferiority intensified in that environment of wealth and microaggressions.

Thankfully, college turned things around. For so many years I had such razor-sharp focus on getting into college that achieving it felt like I had conquered a mountain. It carried over into my self-esteem in many ways, allowing me to make lots of friends and a ton of wonderful memories. But I was far from loving myself. In fact, it was when I struggled the most with my looks. During my undergrad years my eating disorder spiraled out of control and even at a size 4 and dating “popular” athletes, I didn’t feel pretty. 

College graduation gave me more of a sense of purpose and worthiness. It was the end game to what I had been working towards for as long as I could remember. It helped me see myself as a go-getter who didn’t give up. I loved that in others and began to love that about myself. But loving oneself is so much more than warm baths and indulging in decadent desserts. It meant getting help for my eating disorder, one of the scariest things I had faced in my young adulthood. It was ugly and painful but I needed that tough love from within to turn my life around.

As I worked on my health, I met a man who loved me in a way no one had. It was whole and genuine and I felt completely undeserving. His love was also relentless and I had no choice but to take notice. I admired and respected him so much that I began to believe what he loved about me. He saw so much more in me than I had ever seen in myself. I learned so much about being loved that it influenced the way I love myself. How could I love myself less than he did? That didn’t make sense to me.

Healthy self-love didn’t happen overnight or in the course of our courtship. It continues to evolve. Knowing that I could be loved so fiercely and unconditionally changed how I viewed myself. Paired with the tough love I had practiced to survive my eating disorder, I began to love myself deliberately. It was a conscious effort to let go of guilt I had no business carrying. It allowed me to create space for myself in places I had formerly felt unworthy to occupy. I began apologizing less for things that truly didn’t call for an apology, and I took steps towards finding true joy in the things I pursued.

Prioritizing myself is way out of my comfort zone so it often feels as though I am rebelling against my nature.

For so many years I spun my wheels trying to be the person everyone wanted me to be and never felt accomplished. Yet, being myself had attracted an extraordinary person into my life when I least expected it. Little by little I learned to accept myself as he did. I realized the value I brought to his life and it was empowering. It set the stage for a gentler form of self-love to form inside me. Just because it was gentle, doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It hurts, but the pain is temporary and the gains are immense and timeless.

Loving myself means that I know I am better than the person I was yesterday and that is my reward. It’s a work in progress every day to be as kind to myself as I am to others, and to give myself the same grace I am quick to extend to those I love. It is a radical way of thinking that has come with age, experience and awareness. 

Loving myself means constantly reminding myself that I am enough and I don’t need anyone else to love me, but that when I love myself with abandon I also attract love. 

Being conscious of the people who show love and seeing it for what it is has been one of the biggest gifts I’ve gotten from loving myself. It has highlighted the many ways one can be loved that has nothing to do with romance or sex, relationships or bloodlines, but is just as fulfilling and validating.

Years ago, when someone told me they loved me my first thought was to wonder why and brush it off in incredulousness. Today, I embrace it and think, “Yea, I love me, too.”