I clearly remember crying myself to sleep when I was about 10, devastated that I was not as clever as my brother and my sister, or as beautiful as either my sister or my cousins. I wished I could be more like my best friend, more like characters on the TV, actually I wanted to be anybody else but me.
When I was about 12, I picked up a book whilst waiting in the queue at the library. It was called something like ‘A new you’ and I remember it contained tips to banish cellulite, recipes for face masks, exercises to burn fat and make up techniques to even out a troublesome skin tone. I didn’t borrow the book but I remember it vividly because the idea of a new version of me sounded very appealing to my insecure 12 year old self. The message of this book, that I was not enough in my natural state and needed to be improved, has stayed with me, frequently being reinforced by magazine articles and masses of advertising.
‘You need to change. You are not good enough and need to disguise parts of yourself that are undesirable. Some parts of you need to be much smaller. Some parts need to be much bigger. Straighten your hair. Curl your hair. Cut out fat. Eat more fat and less sugar.’
This drive to change, to improve myself on the surface has emerged as one of the strongest narratives of my life. If only I could lose weight I would be happy. If only my hair would grow I would be happy. I just need to buy more make up and use shading to disguise my largish nose and then I will be happy…
I missed so many potentially wonderful experiences after deciding that I was not improved enough to enjoy myself yet. I developed a short movie in my brain starring a new version of myself in a grand unveiling- like Cinderella entering the ball or the Biggest Loser being revealed. I imagined that one day, when I was that new version of myself: prettier and thinner, I would relax and start to have more fun. I would try new things and feel happy. I would be worthwhile and worth loving. I could let people through all of my barriers as they wouldn’t be so disappointed when they got to know the real me. Of course I never became the version of myself that I constructed in my brain, all glossy and perfect and fresh. All that time I spent thinking my life would really begin when I was ‘A new me’ was time wasted, or at least it would have been had it not helped me on reflection to see myself, life and my place in it in a new way.
I used to feel that I was not enough right inside the core of myself, so I tried to fix myself on the surface thinking that if I could change the packaging it would disguise what was underneath and make it more palatable. I should, however, have looked inside myself all along and challenged the thoughts that said I was not good enough. Where do they even come from? I have no idea- they are like a poison that festered inside my head for years and I don’t have any idea why they are even there.
These thoughts made me susceptible to ridiculousness, to the negative messages put out there in the media by companies who make millions of dollars out of the insecurities that we all have as human beings to some degree.
‘You are unhappy? Buy a new handbag, colour your hair, go on a detox and only eat cabbage, get a spray tan, buy underwear you can barely breathe in, pull out your body hairs, bleach your teeth, have a surgeon cut away parts of yourself and inject poison into your body to iron out those wrinkles.’
It makes me sad to know that I have fallen for it, that I was looking for what I needed in completely the wrong place. It also makes me sad to know that there are millions of other women and men who have had their natural human insecurities hijacked and manipulated in this way.
Slowly I have realised that there is nothing wrong with me at all.
I don’t need a new version of myself, I just need to continue exploring the me that has always been there, in the silence of my soul and in my heart. The me that knows I am more than flesh and hair and stuff. The me that knows I am a human being made in the image and likeness of God and that therefore I am perfect.
I am slowly learning to listen to myself, to block out those polluting ideas and focus on what it is that I really know- I am perfect, we all are. We just need to slow down for long enough to remember.