I didn’t care about how I looked until I was in middle school — eighth grade, to be exact.
I remember sitting on the blacktop, in my P.E. uniform, waiting for Coach Moreno to come out. My legs were stretched out, exposed.
One of what we would call “popular girls” sat beside me, and started making fun of my unshaved legs.
For weeks, she and her friends would ask why I didn’t shave them, and suddenly I felt insecure about something I hadn’t even thought of before.
Those same girls laughed at me on the last day of middle school when I walked in with what I thought was a pretty dress. I rolled my eyes, but I felt the stung anyway.
It wasn’t just my looks they made fun of. It was my serious attitude, the fact that I was in the orchestra, and even how I never took off my sweater. (They didn’t know my family couldn’t afford new, white shirts that didn’t have black stains under the armpits.)
They even laughed at me for being a virgin. (Remember, we were thirteen.)
I went into middle school, careless about my looks. I’d never once thought about my body or whether or not I was pretty. But I came out caring so desperately about what people thought about me.
That followed me through high school.
While cliques were terribly defined in middle school, it was less so in high school. That didn’t stop us from being able to tell who the more popular kids were, though.
And I wanted to be a part of their group.
From the ages of fourteen to seventeen, I pretended to be someone I’m not.
I cared too much about people’s opinions. I couldn’t even say I liked listening to Bruno Mars or One Direction because I was afraid people would think I was uncool.
I didn’t stand up for myself because I didn’t want to be a bother. I let people walk all over me without ever saying what I truly felt.
I was a follower — not a leader. I was constantly judging people for things I did too or for being too weird because it made me feel special and better.
But I never let any of that show. People always told me that they loved how I didn’t care about people’s opinions. I only acted like a didn’t.
Deep down, I was deeply insecure and only looking to fit in — even if it meant pushing down who I really was.
And I did.
I reached a point where I judged every part of my body, the words I used, even the books I read. No part of me was good enough — except for the false parts, so I kept those.
People always talk about how self-improvement books are bullshit. “They don’t really help,” they say.
But when you give a book like that to a girl who dislikes everything about herself, your entire fucking world changes.
I was seventeen when my parents gifted me You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero for my birthday. Who knew a book could alter my journey from there on out?
By the end of the book, I was convinced, I was a badass. I started growing my confidence little by little, starting with being more honest about my likes and dislikes.
It was a small place to start, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
I started looking at the parts of myself I appreciated. I recognized the person I was at home until I was able to be that person in school.
During my senior year, I started a self-empowerment club. I was terrified, nervous, and still kind of scared people would judge me, but I did it. And about thirty people showed up on the first day.
That boosted my confidence like never before.
I read more books, figured out how to stand up for myself, and eventually, I discovered who I really was. Now at twenty-one, I’m more self-aware than most young people my age because I put in the work.
The process of falling out of love with yourself is not your fault. It is, however, your responsibility to do something about it.
I didn’t mean to dislike myself, but once I realized how toxic I was personally, I knew something had to change.
My journey from the time I was fourteen until now has been about self-improvement, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days.
I still have times when I look down at my belly and wish it’d be slimmer. I still wish I was more outgoing and less shy. Sometimes, I think I’m boring because I don’t drink and hate parties.
But the important thing is that you try to love who you are a little better tomorrow.
Self-love is a never-ending journey, a rollercoaster that’ll take you on a wild ride. You just have to keep trying to love yourself a little more every day and push through the hard days.