People everywhere are constantly telling us to love ourselves. Especially now that body positivity is a “trending” topic. I really dislike the word and concept behind the word “trend”… It often feels hard and challenging to love ourselves, and I’ve written a little bit about that reality in my experiences with that here.
How do you start to love yourself?! A question not easily answered. So I decided to briefly share how I have come to the place where I am starting to love myself. I’ve talked a little bit about how being visible helped me to actually see myself and start to accept myself. At the core of my self-love and acceptance journey is the understanding that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.
I have been pushing my boundaries with fear as of late. Once upon a time, I thought my “pride” and fragile ego were my biggest curse. But now I think it was my fear, or even terror, at being humiliated and hurt that drove me to inaction in any and every part of my life for a very long time. It was really the fear of being seen, the fear of being judged, the fear of being maligned, and most of all the fear of feeling that I deserved those things that stopped me dead in my tracks. My fears of being hurt were realized early on and often. Those hurts stripped me down over the years.
I remember the highlight reel of pain well. When I was six and in the first grade, my classmate called me the n-word on the first day of school, and I hurt purely. When I hit puberty and my father shamed me for showing my body with what I was wearing, my hurt stung. When I was a teenager, my predominately white affluent high school classmates started arguing that the Holocaust was “worse” than slavery, and my hurt erupted into anger. When I was harassed by my white male supervisor at work for two years and I went to my union, my manager, my co-workers who had witnessed it all, and no one stood up for me — my hurt bore rage.
I became afraid to authentically engage altogether. What was the point? I wouldn’t be seen anyway. I was afraid to try altogether, and putting myself in pain’s way was counterintuitive.
After years of existing, I eventually started to remember the things I loved to do just for myself. I started making. I started sewing. I started making precious headpieces and sharing them with the people around me, and then opened up an Etsy shop. And then I started selling my wares in person and meeting other creatives. I took a patternmaking course and met more creative women. I started to seek out other communities where I could celebrate the things that gave me pleasure with people who accepted me and authentically saw me.
Eventually I stopped focusing on others who did not see me, recognize, support, or value me. And as I let go of those hurts and actively sought out my joy, I started to recognize my own value.
I decided that I was of value and stopped looking for others to recognize it. In a fairly short time, that recognition of my own worth led me to share more of my authentic self, and slowly but surely to move past my fears and try new things. I started yoga and sharing images of myself doing so. Facing fears, and then embracing my fear, has become lifesaving.
Exposing myself to scrutiny, opening myself up to judgment, and most importantly revealing myself and being vulnerable has attracted kind, genuine, like-minded folk into my life. This is key. The presence of supportive people reinforcing that positive self-image and radical self-love is key. I am growing my community and getting the support to shine. Soulshine.
I recently heard an amazing analogy: Confidence is like a muscle. If it’s being exercised, it will continue to grow. So these days, I practice building my confidence by overcoming my fear. Whether it’s a fear of not getting the job, having an unfinished project, or a fear of someone seeing my body as it is.
To be brave is to be afraid and proceed anyway. I got brave and posted my nude yoga pictures in a recent Yoga Instagram challenge. Letting go of what might happen if I posted them was the thing. Letting go is the thing. I believe that my hurts have gifted me compassion and empathy. My not having felt seen in the world gives me an ability to genuinely see other people around me for who they are. I have realized that for all of the growing pains I experience, once I let go of the pain, growth is, was, and always will be left behind.
Pushing past my fear of being vulnerable is the thing that propels me forward. I understand this now, and am on a mission to continue to let go and get free, overcoming one fear at a time. Oh, and #EffYourBodyStandards.
Vanessa Leigh is a self-taught milliner, designer, and cinephile, among other things. She writes about making, refashion, style, radical self-acceptance, feminism, and social consciousness at SweetLeigh Sewn.