Almost every day on social media, you are blasted with self empowering messages:
"Don't Let Others Define You"
"Be Who You Are"
I look at those messages and I just don't get it. Obviously, the intent of the messages is supposed to be positive. These messages prove that there is a desperation in people to change the way things are in the world. I mean look at me, I want to change the way things are too. But have you ever heard someone say, "I changed the way I look at myself because of a BuzzFeed article."?
Reflecting on my own life, I began to realize that ever since I can remember, society has made me rely on external things or people to determine my self worth. I would find it hard to believe that anyone reading this had a different experience. In preschool, I would go up to my mom and say, "Look at my painting!" or go up to a teacher and say, "Look at my dress!" What was I looking for? I was looking for them to tell me how talented I was, or how beautiful my dress was.
In K-12, it was the same thing. In 7th grade, I was obsessed with perfection. I mean obsessed. I would drive myself to getting sick--literally throwing up before tests because I needed to get 100%. This was in 7th grade!!! This is just unbelievable to me in hindsight. Throughout school, I was absolutely addicted to getting good grades. I relied on that to feel good about myself. Bad grades absolutely destroyed me. And by bad I mean anything below a 90%. How messed up is that? Some of you may not have experienced it to that degree, but I think you would be lying if you told me getting a bad grade didn't affect you at all.
There were other things I yearned for this same approval and affirmation in. Sports, for an example. In swimming, I was constantly pushing myself to be better and work harder. I needed to see that personal record, or see approval on my coach's face. There are good things about this, don't get me wrong. We live in a society where competition and drive is absolutely necessary to be successful. This can be a good thing, but how far is too far? How much competition is too much? To me, the pressure can be suffocating.
Now with the age of social media, self validation and insecurity is at an all time high. We post pictures and selfies, looking for other people to like it. We look at our peers' profiles, and if we look long enough, we begin to feel less than or worthless. We are constantly bombarded with perfect images that have been retouched and edited. We look at ourselves in the mirror, staring at every imperfection, and hating what we see.
So how can you tell me to love myself, or don't let others define me? That is exactly what our society has set us up to need.
I would be lying if I told you that going through cancer changed this for me. It helped, but I am still a product of our society that craves self validation. There were times through my treatment that I hated myself. I hated that I was bald. I felt like a freak. I hated the scars and bruises on my arm from the PICC lines. I couldn't find the validation I needed. I felt worthless.
Now that I am better, although that feeling hasn't gone away, it has faded. I find joy and appreciation in other things, and obsessing over self worth doesn't take it's priority anymore.
You really do need to love yourself before you can believe anyone else does, but I have a feeling I'll spend my whole life trying to get there. I love the moments when I really am content with my self. These moments come and go, and when I'm in them, I feel on top of the world. I wish this blog post had a happy ending or some crazy advice that would change your life, but the problem is rooted much deeper than that and way out of my control.
For what it is worth, I believe that whatever makes you unique is beautiful. We have one life to live, so why spend it trying to change ourselves or push ourselves to be something unattainable?