I spent many years of my life wishing away my looks, wishing away the qualities and traits that make me me. I wished for tanner, smoother skin (as opposed to light, pale and blemished). I wished for a flat stomach and a different face. I wished for different clothes and different hair.
I wished so badly to fit in.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Recently, Sarah Von Bargen of “Yes and Yes” posted an important message on Instagram. Here’s an excerpt:
If you’re a mom with three young kids and no spare time, you don’t need to curling wand and contour yourself into looking the way you did 7 years ago. You can look like who you are: a busy mom with three small kids.
If you don’t live a particularly fashion-centered, cosmopolitan life you don’t need to google “How to not look like a tourist when I go to New York.” You can look like who you are: someone who’s excited to be exploring a new city.
If you’re about to meet up with your old gothy, art school friends, and these days your aesthetic is more “Office-appropriate J Crew because I can’t be bothered to have two separate wardrobes” you can go ‘head and wear that blue button down. You can look like who you are: someone whose fashion sense has changed over the last 15 years.
If you’re a 68-year-old grandma or a 42-year-old suburban dad or a 25-year-old anime fan – it’s totally okay (awesome, even!) to look like that.
I know that accepting what we look like can be complicated. It takes time. There may be wounds to heal. But it helps to remind ourselves that we have permission — all the permission in the world — to look the way we look. We don’t have to transform ourselves to fit some ideal. We don’t have to force ourselves into clothes we don’t want to wear. We don’t have to force ourselves into performing certain habits or rituals if we don’t enjoy them or we feel like we should do them (and again they just don’t feel right). We don’t have to force ourselves into anything.
We don’t have to look like anyone but ourselves.
And if we are doing a whole lot of forcing, I think it helps to pause and ask ourselves why. It helps to explore our motivations and intentions. It helps to explore whether our reasons actually make sense to us.
In this season of resolutions (“New Year, new you”), let’s focus on habits and rituals and practices that support and uplift us, that honor who we are, that help us to feel more comfortable in our own skin. That doesn’t mean we can’t experiment with new styles or wear makeup or buy clothes. But it might mean that we put down the rocks and stop pummeling ourselves with insults or “I wishes.”
It might mean that we stop engaging in habits that feel forced and focus on habits that don’t. It might mean that we embrace ourselves and become comfortable in precisely who we are today, right now, in this moment — whether that’s an out-of-place tourist, a grandma, a newfound J.Crew fan, or a very busy mom or dad.
Just saying that we intend to embrace ourselves, to honor ourselves, is a powerful first step in practicing self-acceptance. And our second step can look a lot like self-compassion.