DEAR KELLY: I hate my body. I hate my hair. I have ugly legs and my hair is too thin and frizzy. I think I have a big nose and I always seem to have dark circles under my eyes. I see other girls at school and they are so pretty and their hair is so straight and perfect all the time. I hate wearing shorts because my legs look so bad. No clothes really look good on me. Other people look so happy all the time and I think there is something wrong with me because I’m not. I probably won’t get into the best college because my grades aren’t perfect. I hate posting pictures because even when people say you are so pretty or something like that I think they are lying to me and it makes me feel worse. I actually hung a towel over the mirror in my bedroom because I hate seeing myself every time I walk by. I watch YouTube videos about how to love yourself or be happy with yourself and nothing seems to help for long. It helps for a little, but then things go right back to the way they were and I see everything I hate about myself.
Please tell me I’m not a lost cause and that hopefully someday I will be able to look in the mirror without being disgusted by the person I see. Why am I so weird?
DEAR TABI: First: You are not a lost cause. Not even close.
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Second: I think there is a lot of hope for change because you want it and you are aware of what you do to yourself.
Third: You are not weird. You are very normal. My guess is a lot of people will relate to your letter.
Self-hatred is a dark hole that is easy to fall into. It stems from self-judgment or self-attack and is rooted in comparison and shame. Your generation especially, thanks to social media, has set incredible expectations on themselves to look perfect, act perfect, dress perfect, take the perfect picture, have the perfect caption and to simply be perfect. Trying to hold yourself to a standard of perfection will result in spirals of self-loathing. It doesn’t take a scientific study to know that a self-esteem deficit occurs in our society. Your generation seems to be hit the worst.
I have appreciation for you wanting help to stop all the negative messages you tell yourself. If you can figure it out now, you will be ahead of the game. The awareness to the feelings and the direction it is causing you to go in your life means you are know it is not good for you, but you don’t know how to embrace it in the long term.
The first thing to realize is that we are not our critical inner voice, and we are definitely not the person our critical inner voice tells us that we are. Of course, we are all flawed in certain ways, but when we listen to our critical inner voice, we tend to exaggerate and berate ourselves for these flaws.
Recognize that beliefs do not equal truths. Try this technique called “The Three C’s”: Catch, check, change. Catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself or telling yourself that you aren’t good enough. Check whether your thought is really true or just a perception. Change it, if not. You can talk back to your negative thoughts. Challenge them. Just because we ourselves experience these self-hating thoughts does not mean that they make up our real and honest point of view. Here is an example of catching yourself: “I hate my body.” Challenge it: “I really don’t hate my body. I wish my legs were different but I love the color or my eyes.” Change it: “My body is perfect the way it is. No one loves every part of their body. My body is healthy. There is no one like me and I am worth loving.”
Embrace the concept of being “good enough.” Good enough is just fine. Many people feel they should be perfect – never angry, always happy, never critical or wrong, always positive and so on. These expectations deny that imperfection is part of being human and only makes us normal and healthy. Stop comparing yourself to others or to the image they present. No one is perfect. People photoshop pictures all the time so don’t compare yourself to an altered false image.
Instead of self-hate, practice self-compassion and self-care. It can be hard to turn that hatred into love but so worth it when it comes to actually living a life worth living. You will feel so much better about everything when you learn to free yourself from all of that loathing and turn off those false beliefs. It is a process. It won’t happen overnight, but it is possible with some hard work and determination and the belief that you are worth it. Remember, it is not what you are that holds you back, it is what you think you are not. Embrace you and all that makes you exactly who you are, imperfections and all.