What I see when I look in the mirror and what I imagine myself to look like in my mind’s eye have never been one in the same. Never ever ever.
This is not always a bad thing. There are days when, for whatever reason, I feel very good about myself: maybe I had a hard workout the day before and I am sore in that way that tells me I did something good for myself; maybe I listened to really great music on my morning car ride that got me going on a path of positivity; maybe I just had a good sex dream and started my day with an imaginary ego boost. WHATEVER. The point is, on these blessed days when Pamela likes Pamela, I could have frizzy hair, no make-up, dark circles under my eyes, and be retaining approximately 7 gallons of water, but I’ll think that I look fabulous. I have found myself strutting–fucking strutting–in the mall, confidently making eye contact with strangers like I’m just the shit, and then walked past a window and scared myself because the face I am seeing is grotesque compared to the one I thought I had. But while that might be a little embarrassing, the fact of the matter is, I’d much prefer to look like a troll but walk like royalty rather than look like I’m worth a million dollars but feel like the cheapest trash on the block.
But usually, my body image issues manifest themselves in the usual feminine-beauty-dilemma fashion: I’m not “fat,” per se, but I see myself as a total cow. Now, for most of my life, could I have used to lose a few pounds? Sure. But even at my heaviest, I was never even medically speaking “overweight.” My BMI was always technically in the healthy range, I just found myself drifting towards the higher end of that spectrum. But right now, I am as close to my happy weight as I have ever been in my whole existence. And if I look in the mirror and try to see myself for what is actually in front of me, I can say that I look pretty good. On certain days I might even wager that I’m hot. But so often, I don’t see that version of myself in my mind.
First of all, I often still feel like the grade 10 version of myself: a girl with bad skin, who had yet to grow into her Polish nose, and who thought a frizzy bob made her look cute when it really just made her look dweeby. I can’t seem to completely shake that mindset. I once ran into some boys from high school in a bar in Canada, and I literally watched jaws drop. It was a fantastic feeling. But I felt wrong standing in their presence: I was Pam Wall, nerd, weirdo, unattractive, unwanted loser and they were the popular boys that were mean to me but that I still always sort of liked, or at least found *does Valley Girl voice* totally and completely dreamy. And now three years after that experience, I still sometimes wonder why anyone would want to look at me EVER. I know that’s such an obnoxious thing to say–it’s the sort of thing I would try to slap other girls for–but it’s true. Sometimes I remember that my skin is clear, I did grow into my nose, and my hair is now long and soft and age-appropriate, and then I think I’m a decent sight to behold. But most days I’m still just 16 and invisible.
I also have serious problems seeing my body clearly. I found myself this evening coveting the legs of middle-aged women on my mother’s soccer team. Now, I may not love my thighs, but they ain’t enormous. And yet I’m looking at these mothers thinking, “I wish I had her quads.” How fucked up is that? I had to step back and say, “Uh, hello? That lady is 30 pounds heavier than you. And probably wears Mom Jeans. What are you thinking?!” (Not to criticize these Soccer Moms, because they all look amazing for their ages. And kudos to them for being active and fit when society still expects them to drop their every want and need for their families.) I had to go in the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror, I had to literally look at the size tag on my jeans, just to get my thoughts back to a healthy place. It was a frightening moment, there.
What causes this disconnect between what is and what we believe to be? I know I am not the only woman who has ever seen herself in a completely different light than the one others see her in. Most if not all women (and plenty of men) struggle with body image, I’m sure. But I’m not asking, scientifically, why does this happen? I’m more asking, as a gender, as a people, as a community of humans just trying to better themselves, why do we allow this to happen? Yes, images of beauty and fitness and thinness and perfection are thrust upon us from the moment we exit the womb, so that naturally is going to screw with our views of ourselves, others, and the world at large. But why do we keep letting it? At what point do those of us working towards wellness and self-improvement not only say, “I can’t compare myself to her or to him or to you. I am an island, and I can only determine what’s right by me on terms of me,” but truly believe it and act accordingly. I tell myself every single day that my happy weight shouldn’t be determined by a number on the scale, it should be determined by how I feel. But then I catch an episode of Top Model where they mention that some chick is 5’11” and 116 pounds or something sick like that, and I can’t help but find myself drifting casually towards the bathroom to weigh myself.
I hate myself sometimes, I really do. I want to be better than this. I want to be the woman who stands up and tells others that you can look at yourself and love what you see and feel truly at home in that body. I want to be the one who encourages others to aim for nothing more and nothing less than to be as healthy as possible, and fuck what you look like. But I’m not that girl. I want to have slender thighs just as much as the next girl, if not more so. I want to walk past a mirror and scare myself, not because I’m so hideous, but because I’m so nauseatingly pretty that I am taken pleasantly taken aback by my own face. I am not proud of these desires, but I would be doing myself and my readers a disservice if I didn’t put these thoughts out there because, damn it, I know I’m not alone.
And I would give anything to be alone in this struggle. I would love if I could save every other poor soul from being plagued by these nagging hopes and dreams by accepting all of your struggles as my own. I would hate every inch of my body for every second of every minute of FOREVER if it meant you and you and you could love yours.
But, unfortunately, we’re all in this together.
A little elf in my favorite Christmas movie once said, “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.” Maybe it’s a little bit of both.