Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

‎As a general rule I try not to spend too much time contemplating what other people think about me. I would like to say that it’s because I’m particularly well evolved but, to be perfectly honest, it’s generally because I spend altogether too much time trying to figure out what I think about myself and it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

So I fumble my way through things, assuming that people see me the same way I see myself. I assume they can see that I get scared sometimes and shy sometimes and silly sometimes and that I basically have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

I assume that when I stand quietly, just outside the borders of the group, that they know it’s because I can’t find the words to make my way into the conversation and that it’s not because I’m aloof or stuck up.

I assume that when I don’t notice a new hair cut or a new sweater or five pounds now gone, they know it’s because I think they are beautiful before, now and in the future, and not because I don’t care.

I assume that when I’m curt or short or frank in my conversations that they know it’s because I’m feeling insecure and out of my element, not because of something they said or did to anger me.

I have gone through most of my life assuming these things; assuming that everyone else sees what I see. I assume they see me.

More and more though I’m beginning to question my assumptions; and the beliefs I’ve built on top of them.

How wide is the divide between what they see and what I see? And which vision holds the reality of who I am? Is it what they see, or what I see, or is it somewhere in the middle?

And if they don’t see me, the “real” me, is that their problem or mine? Does it mean I didn’t show them what’s on the inside, or does it mean they never asked to see it‎? Do I have a responsibility to ensure people have a true view of me, or do they have a responsibility to seek it out?

Obviously I don’t know or I wouldn’t be asking the questions. ‎But now that I have asked them, now that they have taken up residence in my head, I can’t seem to get rid of them. I sit across the table from a friend, a family member, and I wonder what they think of me. I wonder what they would say if I ask them.

But I know I won’t ask because I know, quite honestly, that I don’t want to know. Because once I know what they think I won’t be able to separate it from what I think. I know that when I look in the mirror I would no longer be able to see what I see, I would only be able to see what they see.

And if I’m only going to believe one version of myself, I would rather it be my own. For better or worse.

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I’ve been working my way through some of the great suggestions I received in response to my “stuck on repeat” post a little while ago and tonight it’s time for another one.  This time it’s one that came from my fab friend Fahrin, who is an amazing writer herself – check out her regular column “Behind the Brim” over at Little Miss Wife.  Thanks for the idea!

“Something you appreciate now that you don’t have it anymore.”

When I first read this prompt, one answer came to me immediately and I dismissed it.  No, that’s not right, I’m meant to be digging deeper and finding something very different than one my first instinct was.  I bounced it around in my mind for a few more days before deciding that I should have just gone with the first response.  First instincts are first instincts for a reason, usually because they end up being right.

So here it is, not deep or earth-shattering or soul-changing but the truth, as I see it right now anyway, for whatever that matters.

The thing that I appreciate now that I don’t have it anymore is…my boobs.

I know, probably not what you were expecting but it wasn’t what I was expecting the answer to be either, until I realized it was.

Growing up I was never particularly well-endowed.  I always looked on with envy at the girls who started wearing training bras early in high school while the most I could justify was a camisole.  I soon realized that was to be my lot in life and tried to focus on the positive.  They never got in the way when I was playing sports.  I never had to worry about embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions when out with my friends.  I never had to worry that a boy liked me “just because” of what I looked like.  To be perfectly honest, for most of my high school career I was skinny, shy, and possessed the holy trifecta of teenage wallflowers – the perm, the braces and the glasses.  If a boy was going to like me at all it was definitely going to be more about what was going on on the inside.

As I grew up, I ditched the perm, the braces and the glasses and slowly began to come into my own.  Well-endowed I would never be, but I was a comfortable B.  Nothing crazy but I was proud of them in their own little way.

Then I got pregnant and the world decided to provide me with what I had always dreamed of but was afraid to wish for…a solid C.  It was wonderful, so wonderful that I hardly noticed the growing belly that went along with them.  I was just so excited.  I could fill out tops that I’d only dreamt of wearing before and was actually more willing to be seen in a bathing suit than at any other point, expanding waistline be damned.

But, of course, as with so many other aspects of pregnancy and birth, I was not provided with the whole story.  I didn’t realize my beautiful C’s were not mine to keep, but were, in fact, only on loan. And the payment for my blissful year and a half as a woman with a “decent rack” was actually far higher than I ever expected.  When they went, they also took with them the beautiful B’s they had once been, leaving me with the chest of my previously 13-year old self.

I went through the process again when I had my second child, only this time I appreciated every minute they were mine because I knew how fleeting it was.  I wore tops that were perhaps a touch low-cut and maybe a tad bit tighter than they needed to be because I knew, soon enough I would be back into the land of push-ups and padded bras, faking what used to be there for real.

On the rare occasion when I decide to “treat” myself to undergarments that I don’t grab at the grocery store on my way to the freezer section for ice cream, I am disheartened to discover that I can’t even get my size in the store.  One day, after what seemed like hours spent combing the racks I finally gave up and asked the smiling sales girl behind the counter, only to be told that I would have to order “that size” online.  Sure, a DD they carry but a 36 A is just too much to ask?  Are you kidding me?  Has the entire world become more busty as my poor chest moves in the opposite direction?

Some days I try to be okay with it.  I try to accept the fact that that’s the way it is going to be and I tell myself it could be worse.  And it could, let’s be honest, there are about a million things more worthy of complaint that the sad state of my boobs but, at the end of the day, it matters to me.

I wish it didn’t.

I wish I didn’t care but I do.

I know that the sum of who I am can’t be measured in a cup size and that beauty of any kind is fleeting, I just wish I could have appreciated what I had while I had them, and rocked that string bikini when I had the chance!

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‎Each year at my office we do a used book sale with all of the proceeds going to charity. It is, without a doubt, my favourite work day of the year. About a month before the big event I start combing through my shelves and drawers, looking for some books to donate. Although I get most of my reading material from the library I still seem to accumulate a bunch I’m willing to part with.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been finding a few here and a few there, but last night I was overcome with the urge to purge and manage to pull together a few stacks. I took some from the kids shelves, ridding ourselves of the last of Dora and Diego, Max and Ruby and The Wiggles. I stopped myself when I got to Franklin. I’m not quite ready to let go of him yet.

I went through the armoire ‎in the spare bedroom (aka the reading room, aka the control your emotions room – that’s a post for another day) and came up with another stack. I sat back and took a moment to appreciate the purge before it hit me that I had forgotten the bookshelf in the basement.

I bounded down the stairs, turned on the lights and made my way to the shelf, crammed with knick-knacks and pictures frames and, squeezed in amongst everything else, a few non-fiction books I had been hanging on to for far too long.

The first one I pulled off the shelf was a Martha Stewart book. Martha’s Homemade Christmas or something like that. The picture on the front was of her from her younger days, holding a wreath she had no doubt made herself. ‎ Just looking at her, smiling back at me, made me feel suddenly depressed. I cracked the book open and flipped through it, past the chapters on how to sew cute little buttons on homemade stockings, or make a gingerbread house from scratch, or decorate cookies with icing that does not come from a tub I bought at the grocery store.

The more I looked, the more depressed I got. Why don’t I make my own wreaths? They look so beautiful and Martha makes it look so easy and yes, dare I say it, fun! I’m a reasonably intelligent person and I’m sure if I just had one of those paddles with wire wrapped around it that I too could make something worthy of hanging on my front door! If only. If only I had the supplies, the time, the desire. If only I was Martha.

But I’m not Martha.

And I could keep the book on my shelf for another five years and periodically contemplate making my own marshmallows, but who am I kidding? I don’t want to make marshmallows. I want to buy them in the bag at the store and take the other three hours and sit on the couch and watch episodes of Scandal. That’s what I want to do with my time. And I’m not going to feel bad about it.

I don’t judge Martha, or anyone who wants to do all of those amazing things that she does. There was a time when I wanted to be her, thought I could be here, and seriously contemplated what path I would need to take to get there.

But not anymore.

So I closed the book and threw it in the donate pile. And then I grabbed its companion, Martha’s Good Things, and added it to the pile as well. Maybe someone else will want them. Maybe someone else will actually make the wreaths and the gingerbread houses and the marshmallows. Or maybe it will just sit on their shelf, making them feel depressed.

Either way, it won’t be me. Out with the old. Time to take a breath, give myself a break, and let myself off the hook. ‎‎‎

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Today was a good day.

A good day for no other reason than the fact that it wasn’t a bad day.

It seems that when I scroll back through the days that have passed, day after day after day, there have not been many good days.

I have been sad.

There have been tears, so many tears. They blurred everything and I could not see the other side; I did not even believe the other side existed. I could not see how it would ever look different, ever feel different.

But it has slowly been lifting, so slowly at first that I didn’t even notice.

And when I finally did notice I was scared to think too much of it. Scared that like a timid rabbit, if I made too much noise it would scamper back into the hole it was peeking out of. After waiting so long I was terrified that if it disappeared again, this time it would be gone forever.

I started laughing because I wanted to, not because I thought I was supposed to. I stopped staring out the window and seeing only clouds and grey; I started seeing wisps of green and blue, the sun finally peeking through and warming what was previously only cold.

And today I woke up and realized I felt lighter. I felt like there was room inside for all things positive, inspiration, and hope. For so long I have been waiting for the next thing, the next bad thing, knowing that it would come sooner or later. Knowing it would come and fearing my ability to deal with it, believing that having to deal with even one more little thing would very well be more than I could handle.

Now I feel the strength coming back, the understanding that I am healing, that I have begun to take the first steps on this long journey back.

Today was a good day.

And that is enough for now.

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I closed the chute on the mailbox and then opened it again quickly, checking to make sure the envelope had fallen off the tray. I stopped for a minute, slightly shocked that I’d actually done it this time.

After years of thinking about it and a couple of false starts, this year I finally did it – I submitted a story to a short story contest.

Last year I wrote something, almost finished it actually, but decided not to send it in. Talked myself out of it, let the negative voices win, as they so often have.

This year I forgot about the contest, an annual one sponsored by a newspaper, until it was almost too late. I checked the website mere weeks before the deadline and almost let it end there. But I decided not to take the easy way out this time; instead I sat down and wrote something.

I know nothing about writing short stories. I’m sure there are things that should be considered and thought out and planned but I didn’t do any of them. For me, for this time, it was really about getting something down on paper and getting it in the mail.

I finished it about a week before I had to send it off, funny actually in this day and age that it has to be submitted in hard copy, no email. It means one has to factor in time for snail mail complications, on top of everything else.

But I thought I was in good shape, until the second guessing began. I read it over again and decided I didn’t like the ending, and then the beginning, and then every second sentence. I questioned the main character and why she was doing what she was doing; berated myself for not having a stronger plot or theme. What was this story even about?

So as the deadline ticked closer, the story sat on my computer, seemingly miles away from actually being put on paper and stuffed in an envelope.

And then I just got so sick of myself that I couldn’t stand it any longer. Sick of the excuses, the lame justifications, the ridiculous doubts. If I couldn’t write a story and send it to a bunch of people I didn’t know and have them offer criticisms I would never hear how could I ever expect to write anything that one day might actually be published?

So I found an envelope, I printed off the story and my accompanying bio, and stuffed it into the mailbox, wishing it well on its journey.

I know I will not win; that’s really not even the point I don’t think. The point is that I have proven, at least to myself anyway, that I am one step further ahead than I was last year.

And, as completely cheesy as it sounds, that means I have won.

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I turned my chair around, away from the table so it was facing the dance floor. I wanted a better view. There’s something so inherently entertaining about watching other people dance. Not professional dancers, not even particularly good dancers, just dancers.

Their limbs were loosened by a few rounds from the open bar and the bottles of wine placed on each table. Invigorated by the cheers of those around them, forgetting the limitations of their bodies. They would all be feeling it in the morning. The aching heads and tight muscles, the vague memories of an ill-advised attempt at the splits.

In university we coined the phrase “full points boy” to describe those who readily took to the dance floor, aware that what they lacked in skill, they made up for in enthusiasm. Their eyes would dart quickly across the crowd, making sure they weren’t doing anything too outlandish, too crazy, too much. Just enough to fit in, barely enough to get noticed. We gave them ‘full points’ for their effort, realizing even then that effort can make up for skill on so many levels. .

I sat in my chair, feet rebelling against the tights and heels that the occasion dictated. My dress, just a smidge too tight and my nails, freshly painted but already starting to chip on one finger.

A few hours earlier I stood in front of the mirror, trying to make room on the bathroom counter for my little makeup bag amongst the tiny toothbrushes and pink toothpaste smudges. One by one I took bits of makeup out of the bag, hoping they would work wonders on the pale skin, dark circles and dull eyes that looked back at me.

When I reached the bottom of the bag I sighed. No tricks left up my sleeve; this was as good as it was going to get. I thought briefly about the dozens of other women who, right in that moment, were doing the exact same thing. Wishing for the face that used to look back at them, wondering what happened to that girl. Choosing a hairstyle based on how much time was available before someone else needed in the bathroom, picking a dress dictated by which one you could get by without ironing, deciding on a lipstick because it was the only one you could find at the bottom of the duffle bag you refer to as a purse.

I sat in my chair, listening to the music and starting to smile. A man on the dance floor did a surprisingly-effective imitation of Gangnam Style. If only our kids could see us now; the room would be filled with hundreds of eyes simultaneously rolling.

The song ended and the next one started. I tapped my aching foot, adjusted my dress a bit to allow for a little more wiggle room and made my way to the dance floor.

It’s never going to be perfect; but I give myself full points for trying.

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For almost an entire week I told myself it wasn’t what it looked like. It was just a trick of the eye; a combination of bad lighting and a poor angle. There was no way it could be what it appeared to be. No way.

Until I discovered that it was.

My first grey hair.

I saw it first about a week ago and convinced myself that it was just really blonde. I have learned that being a redhead means having all kinds of crazy shades in my hair – all the way from black to platinum blonde – so I didn’t think much of it.

But every time I looked in the mirror my eyes were automatically drawn to it until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to know, for good or bad.

Why I chose that particular moment, standing not in the privacy of my own bathroom at home but rather in a public washroom at my office, I’ll never know. I just decided I had to know. It couldn’t wait one minute longer.

So I leaned over the sink and stuck my face as close to the mirror as it would go. And there it was, right there in the middle of my part, right there in the front. Looking closely there was really no way I could deny it. It wasn’t platinum blonde but rather an almost shiny white colour. I couldn’t pretend any longer.

And then I did what any self-respecting person would do in my situation.

I pulled it out.

I know you’re not supposed to pull them out, but seriously? Maybe there are people out there with more self-restraint (and self-esteem) than me but they certainly aren’t any people I know.

So there I stood, the hair in my hand, in a public washroom where one of my coworkers could barge in at any moment. And I didn’t know what to do. For some reason it didn’t feel right to throw it away. Instead I turned, walked out the door and down the hallway with it still clutched in my hand.

Down the hall, through two more doors until I was back in my office, sitting in my chair. I pulled out an envelope, stuck the grey hair in it, sealed it and tucked it in my purse.

I have no idea why.

What am I going to do with this thing? Carry it around in my purse for months? Yeah, that’s not creepy or anything. But something about it seemed so monumental that I couldn’t throw it out. A little part of me wants to tape it in a scrapbook, a baby book of getting older, if you will. Then I would have somewhere to keep track of all of these things, first grey hair, first day wearing reading glasses, first hot flash. All of these things that mean I’m getting older. How come there’s no scrapbook for those things?

Because we’ve been taught that getting older is something to dread, not celebrate; something to hide, not flaunt. And I’ve been a good student, I’ve lapped up all of those lessons and filed them away, so ingrained that I’m not ready to see this as a positive.

Instead, years of hair dye and root touch-ups flashed before my eyes. There is nothing graceful about my vision of getting older and I hate myself for it.

I wish I could have left that first grey hair right where it was, not caring who saw it, a badge of some kind, earned over the years.

But I couldn’t.

So it sits in an envelope in my purse, maybe waiting for a day when looking at it won’t make me sad.

Or maybe just waiting to be joined by grey hair number two?

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When I look at you, I see my baby.  I see the person who made me a mother.  I see my past and my future, all rolled up in one little person.  I see hopes and dreams and wishes come true.  I see everything.  When I look at you I see beauty.

But slowly I’m beginning to realize that maybe you don’t see the same things.

You are so young and yet I see the look that sometimes crosses your face when you look in the mirror.  I know that look because it’s the look I always used to see when I looked a myself.  It is a look full of questions; full of judgements.  A look that confirms that the reality of what you see is not what you hoped.  And it makes me sad. It’s too soon, I think to myself.  You’re too young to think these thoughts and have these doubts.  You should still be running around, carefree, careless, confident in your own skin.

We are lucky enough to live in a place in the world where your future is endless, stretching out in front of you without pre-conceived boundaries set because you are girl.  You can go to the moon, you can be Prime Minister, you can find a cure for cancer or paint the most beautiful picture in the world; you can do all of that and more, whatever you set your heart to.  But I fear that although you can (and will) accomplish so much, you may still never be happy with the reflection you see in the mirror.

I remember being a young girl, wishing that I could change, critiquing every inch of myself, hoping I was different.  Wanting to look like the girl in the magazine, or the girl on tv, or the girl on the other side of the room.  Wanting to be anyone but who I was.  What I didn’t realize then is that each of those girls was also wishing for something else.  Wishing for someone else’s hair, someone else’s nose, someone else’s thighs.  Because that’s what we do, and more than anything, I wish I knew the words to tell you so you won’t spend your youth wishing for what you do not have.

Of all the things I want to teach you, that is the one I hope for the most; and yet it seems to remain out of my grasp.  I don’t know the words to say because I’m only just learning them myself.  I’m finally learning to appreciate and yes, even cherish, all the flaws that look back at me every morning.  All of the lines, the bumps, the scars, the lumps.  They are all a part of me, a part of my story, a part of what has made me who I am.

But it has taken me 35 years to get there.

I wish I could teach you all that I have learned so you can skip over the decades of self-doubt that lay ahead of you.  I wish I could just wrap you up in my arms and carry you as we skip over age 12, when your arms and legs will seem too big for your body, age 14 when so much of what is going on you won’t be able to understand, skip over braces, bad skin, bangs, clothes that never seem to fit properly.

But I know I can’t do that.  I know that without experiencing all of the bad, you will not be able to appreciate all of the good.  And I know you will make it through, I know you are strong enough and confident enough to make it through.  I’m really more worried about me; I’m not sure that I can live through you living through it.

I hope, for both of our sakes, that your path is short, and that I can be there to help you over the tallest bumps, to pull you out from the deepest holes.  I hope I can somehow find the words that will make it easier for you.  That some day when I say “you’re beautiful” that you will understand what I mean and that you will understand where the words come from; that I’m not just saying them because I’m you’re mother.

One day you will see what I see.

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I didn’t want to buy a pair of skinny jeans.

In fact, I was very much against the idea. So far, I had managed to ride out the trend and hoped that maybe next year would be the year of the boot cut, the year of the boyfriend jean with ample room through the hips and thighs. The year of the anti-skinny jean.

I always thought skinny jeans are for girls with legs that resemble twigs; not for women like me who have legs that look more like tree trunks.

That was what I thought until last Saturday.

I had never considered even trying on a pair of skinny jeans before Saturday. They never even crossed my mind or came under my shopping radar. They remained “over there” along with the mini-skirts, crop tops and gladiator sandals; on that shelf where I choose never to look.

That was what I thought before the dark brown riding boots.

For the last few weeks everywhere I looked, people were wearing brown riding boots. Amazing, wonderful, beautiful brown riding boots. I found myself coveting the boots like nothing else I could remember. I needed to have a pair. And then the realization hit: if I wanted the boots, I would need to buy a pair of skinny jeans to go with them.

Beautiful brown riding boots need skinny jeans tucked into them to be seen in all their glory. Hiding them under a wide-leg, boot cut would be a crime against fashion. Nothing but a skinny jean would do.

Fast forward to Saturday morning as I stood in front of the mirror in a change room at Old Navy, staring at my reflection for the first time ever in a pair of skinny jeans.

I did not like the view.

I thought I had done a good job selecting a this style of skinny from the wall of jeans, having really no idea what I was doing. I picked one that was supposed to offer more ‘room’ through the hips and thighs which is a good thing. I’ve given birth to two children, I need all the room I can get.

However, standing in the change room I realized it had been a bad choice. From the hips down it looked as though the jeans had been painted on to my legs and the waist gaped in the back. Anyone standing behind me when I bent down would get a show, and not a nice one. Let’s be honest, I don’t think it would be physically possible to actually bend down in these jeans but I felt the need to flush out every possible issue. I stared in the mirror and felt the dream of the dark brown riding boots slipping away.

That was until I met Mary.

I cracked open the change room door looking for my hubby so I could vocalize the horror of the pants but he was nowhere to be found. I ventured further out but still I couldn’t find him.

“How are those jeans working out for you?”

Oh darn. The voice behind me meant that I was going to have to speak to the change room attendant who, if past experience was any indication, would probably be a 17 year old child on whom a size zero would be baggy.

I turned around and was pleasantly surprised to see a woman my own age and size, with kind eyes and a quick smile.

“Not good,” I said, showing her the gaping waist of the jeans I had tried on.

“Yeah, I can see what you mean,” she said. “But if you go down a size in that style to fit your waist, you won’t be able to get them on. You have large calves, just like me.”

I probably should have been mad.

Her comment probably should have started the predictable downward spiral of self-loathing as my self-image and self-confidence tanked. But for some reason it didn’t.

The way she said it was just like she was commenting on any other aspect of my appearance, like “you have green eyes” or “you have long fingers.” She was just stating a reality of my anatomy, without judgment or ridicule. And in that moment we became sisters, fighting a battle against skinny jeans. If anyone could help me, it would be Mary.

Less than five minutes later she was back, her arms weighted down by no less than eight pairs of jeans. As she laid them out on the bench in my change room, I looked at the size she had pulled and expressed my concern. It was at least one size smaller than the ones I just tried on.

“Don’t worry'” she said. “These are all beginner skinnies; they don’t fit quite as tight through the leg. It’s what I wear. I promise they’ll look great.”

So I tried them on and surprisingly liked what I saw, not because of how I looked in the jeans necessarily but because of how I felt in them. I caught a glimpse of someone I used to be, before being self-conscious took all the fun out of shopping. A time before the idea that a mother of two needed to wear a ‘certain kind’ of clothes dictated all of my fashion choices.

I rocked those skinny jeans (if I do say so myself), along with the dark brown riding boots I later bought to go with them. Large calves and all.

Thanks Mary, I couldn’t have done it without you.

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