I spent at least two decades hating myself.
I can’t remember looking into a mirror and liking what I saw. As far back as I can remember, I hated having my picture taken, or just being looked at in general. My self-esteem only ever went downhill, with each phase of my life punctuated by “well, it can’t get worse than this, right?”
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born hating myself. I don’t think I plopped out and immediately decided that this flesh prison is the worst thing ever. I don’t think I decided all on my own to hate my skin or my face, my build or my height. It had to have been taught or impressed on me somehow.
From elementary school and throughout high school, I was surrounded by influences that made me hate what others saw in me, or that made me feel entirely invisible. The tall white pillars of masculinity that paraded around on TV and the silver screens. I thought that’s what I had to look like to belong in society. Growing up in America, I never saw people that looked like me, I only ever saw exactly the opposite.
There was a very clear image of the ideal person that companies pushed out, an image that they tried very hard to sell. You’re not good enough unless you look like this ripped dude in this magazine, and with our new diet plan, you’ll be just like him we promise.
I think much of the “self-help” world takes this to insidious levels. There are so many people out there who wanna sell you this book that’ll change your life. They swear that they cracked the code, and with just this one book, you’ll get everything you ever wanted. But they also have like, ten other books they wrote that say pretty much the same thing.
That’s what I think is the core of it. People can make money off of suffering. If someone can make you hate what you are and believe that you’re not enough, then turn around and sell you some kind of answer, that’s an easy profit. Nobody who’s making money off of you actually wants to help you. Because if you get better, if you come to like yourself, you’re not giving them any more money.
But we’ve made a few steps forward since then, right? There’s a lot more diversity in the media we consume now, in terms of race, sexuality, gender expression and so on. That’s great. But at the end of the day, they’re still for-profit companies trying to make a buck. You’re still being sold to, just instead of “you need to be like this, so buy this product,” it’s “you’re so great just the way you are, and if you wanna keep feeling great you need to buy this product.”
The value of something, anything, is hard to determine in a bubble. You can’t really tell how much something is worth if you have absolutely nothing to compare it to. And a lot of the time, as unfortunate as it is, we’re the same way.
So many of us, myself included, can’t help but compare ourselves to others. To the people we pass by every day, to the celebrities we’re fed a constant stream of content and news from. And I think the fact that we live in a society that rewards ruthless competition over cooperation just makes this even more apparent.
A lot of my struggles with self-image came from me pining after what I thought was the “ideal self,” the self sold to me by companies, and by a society long indoctrinated by those companies.
Eventually, I got lucky enough to meet people who like me for who I am. Well, they tolerate me at least and that’s basically the same thing. But being around people who are just accepting of me helped me a lot in being comfortable in my own skin.
That’s also still relying on external validation and I have learned nothing. Maybe validation from your friends and loved ones is okay. I dunno, I feel a little better nowadays, so just let me have this.