Accepting myself was like learning to ride a bike.
I spent my early twenties convinced I was a fraud.
Something about the first digit of my age magically rolling from a one to a two had me convinced I was supposed to be an adult, and with adulthood came a whole host of responsibilities I was in no way ready for; living on my own, getting a job to pay rent, making doctors appointments and handling insurance accounts.
In between all of that, I was still growing, still learning about who I was. It would be a few years before I figured out that who we are is constantly evolving, but my first priority was figuring out how not to hate myself.
Everyone goes through feeling like they’re worthless, or understanding that some part of them is inherently flawed and needs to be corrected, but I feel like women feel it a little more acutely. We spend our whole lives being told that we need to slim down so we can be seen in public over the Summer, that we need to buy anti-wrinkle creams so we don’t age – something that mysteriously seems to be appropriate for men, and we’re supposed to be happy enough with ourselves that we don’t ruin everyone’s mood, but we’re also supposed to hate at least one thing about ourselves, just enough to need to buy a product or service to correct it.
I understood what was going on, that I was being taught to hate myself. Unfortunately that didn’t do much to change the fact that I still felt worthless. The realization didn’t overnight magically transform me into someone who was built on self-love and acceptance. So how did I do it?
I faked it.
When I was in highschool my handwriting was terrible. It was barely legible to the point where I was getting points marked off of papers simply because my teachers couldn’t read what I had to say. So I studied letters that I wanted to be able to write, and slowly, deliberately, changed the way I wrote them. I’d mess up sometimes and write a letter the way I used to, but I’d catch myself and make myself go back and fix it whenever I could. Gradually I picked up the new habit, and while my handwriting still isn’t fantastic, you can read it now.
So it made sense to apply the same principle to my self-esteem – every time I caught myself thinking something deprecating about myself, I’d go back and override the thought. I wasn’t too fat to be seen in public; everyone just needed to get over the fact I wasn’t going to look like a model when I went to the beach. My eyes weren’t too small and beady – in fact, I was going to learn new eye makeup techniques to show them off.
I would imagine what I would say to friends and tell that to myself. And much like my handwriting, it didn’t work right away and it didn’t work every time. I slipped up plenty of times. It took a while for the voice to take too, in part because insecurity has a way of eroding our inner voice. Sometimes I’d have to say the things out loud too. I’d make a post on Facebook or Twitter, or I’d go drag a friend out clothes shopping. Sometimes I’d have a sleepover where we all rolled around together and talked about how great we were.
Somewhere along the line, I bought it. I don’t struggle with whether or not it’s a lie anymore. I certainly have my dark moments and my insecurities, but they’re far fewer than they were in my twenties. While I was faking my confidence, I gained a lot of friends who happen to think these amazing things about me too, and that helps. In my darker moods, I remember that even if I can’t see this particular positivity in me at the moment, my friends do. And my friends aren’t idiots. There must be something there I’m not seeing.
It’s not a perfect method, but it worked for me. I’m still applying it to new insecurities and it’s helping me clear the air. It’s helping me distinguish between the things I feel like I’m supposed to change about myself, and the things I actually want to improve on. And faking it until I got here was totally worth it.
Comment: Did you struggle with self-esteem in your twenties? Are you still working on it now?
Natalie is a former Texan currently living in LA who enjoys politics, cooking, video games, comic books and spending more money than she should at ModCloth. She takes her nerd title as seriously as she does her writing and believes anything's a good story if you tell it right. Follow Natalie on Twitter and Facebook.