When I was in the first grade, I failed a homework assignment. It was a short spelling exercise and I had spelled ‘foxes’ wrong. I only remember that because I can still feel how the thick green carpet in my living room scratched my back as I writhed around, crying about failure at the ripe age of 6.
In the seventh grade, I didn’t do so well on a math test. I only remember because of the panic that sat heavy and clawing on my chest as I told my dad.
“Colleges care about this stuff you know,” I said. I was 13.
I can’t remember how old I was when I started hating my body, but let’s just call it Most of High School and All of College to be safe.
I guess someone somewhere once told me to be perfect. I guess I forgot to tell them to fuck off.
We are a generation of Complimenters. We are Post Likers and Tweet Favoriters and Sayers of “you are my BFF!” and “your hair is so pretty!” and “I need to lose 5 pounds to look as good as she does.” We throw our friends elaborate birthday parties, we shower our boyfriends with love, we rub our sisters’ backs when they cry on the couch, their broken hearts leaking onto the cushions beside us.
Yet when I look around me, at my friends and my family and my own life, I don’t see this same kindness extended inward. I would never tell my best friend that her value has lessened because of the pudge in her stomach, but I scold myself in this way every day of the week. I don’t think that my roommate’s future depends on her GPA, but I can remember the nights I stayed up crying for this very reason.
I used to think this kind of mindset was normal, even though my mom would ask me why I only looked for the negatives about myself.
“They’re not “negatives,” Mom,” I used air quotes like she was crazy. “They’re just the truth!” I’d retort with a smile that was meant to convince me more than her.
But lately I’ve been listening. Listening to my friends as they beat themselves up or go on a diet for all the wrong reasons. I’ve been listening to the guilt that squawks in my head when I skip the gym, even though I know deep down that it’s ok to lay down your bones and rest once and a while. It’s necessary, even.
So lately I’ve been listening and I’ve been wondering: what happened to us along the way? Where did we learn to be this way? Why do we think the only way to lift others up is to push ourselves down into the mud and muck of self-doubt and criticism?
Right around New Year’s, I saw a hashtag on Twitter that caught my attention– #DateYourself2k15. It probably came about because New Year’s Eve, like most holidays, can remind you just how single you are (or aren’t), but it usually accompanied positive, encouraging tweets like “Don’t hate yourself…#dateyourself2k15” and other similar declarations of contentment with being alone.
How cool is that? I found myself thinking. And even though I’m not single, I still wanted to be a part of the hashtag. I want to date myself, too! I decided. Because I would never let my boyfriend call himself ugly or fat or a failure. So why should I let myself?
We are a generation of Complimenters, and post-likers and tweet-favoriters and that type of kindness is important. But maybe we need to start being a generation of lovers–the self kind. The kind that takes the goodness we find in other people and turns it back inward on our own lives, our own worthy selves. The kind that recognizes beauty in someone else’s profile picture and then likes our own for good measure. Because at the end of the day, we’re all pretty beautiful aren’t we? We all laugh with our mouths wide open and wake up with creases in our skin and drool on our pillows, don’t we?
Now, I am 21. I am out of college and, having survived that failed foxes spelling worksheet, slowly realizing that being imperfect is normal, acceptable. Now, I am 21 and pasting my imperfections onto my shirtsleeve with glue, messy and here for all to see: I overeat. I am rigid like an ironing board whose legs screech when you pull it out of the closet; if you change my plans I melt down. I have an overwhelming fear of being rejected, prompting me to ask my boyfriend of almost three years if he loves me at least 13 times a week. I might be neurotic. Or maybe too relaxed. Or somewhere in between like a bowl of cake mix that hasn’t been stirred, the powder sitting stagnant on top of yellow, bubbly yolk yet to properly stirred.
I insult myself too much and I am too superficial, tying my happiness to stupid things like dress sizes and the weight of a resume and how many people wish me a happy birthday on Facebook. But this year, I might just cheat on my boyfriend and date myself. Rub my own back (metaphorically of course) and buy myself a present just for getting through a tough week. I’ll keep supporting my friends, spreading kindness like warm butter on feel-better toast, but this time with just a simple piece of advice: Treat yourself like you treat others, the ones you hug when things get tough. The ones to whom you promise it will be ok and mean it.
Date yourself. Love yourself. Because whoever told you that you need to be perfect was a lying bitch. Because whatever corner of the universe makes you feel inadequate should be boxed up and shot into outer space.