I remember the first time I had ever been told I was ugly.
It wasn’t by a family member or a friend, but by a total stranger. A little boy. It wasn’t even a shouted insult, or a rebuttal in an argument. It was almost a whisper, a muttered word in disgust. His eyes raked over my body, my legs curled to my chest, trying to hide. Just one word.
I stopped mid laugh. His mother, my camp counselor, was sitting a foot away from me. She hadn’t even heard, he had said it so quietly. So randomly.
Maybe that’s why I remember it, or why it had made my heart drop to my stomach. What did I do? What did I say? I had never said anything to him before.
I was seven years old.
Most of my childhood I had been bullied for being overweight by family members or kids at school. I had grown accustomed to hearing things like “you could stand to drop a few” or “your shoulders wouldn’t look so bad if you’d lose weight”. But rarely, if ever, had I been told I was ugly.
It was like that one pebble started an avalanche of mean words.
“You’d be so much prettier if-”
“If only you’d fix your hair-”
“Why do you wear those clothes?”
When I looked in the mirror, even for years afterwards, I could see that little boy’s disgust, see his mouth form the one word that had cut me to my core. I couldn’t see past the filter that had been placed in front of my eyes.
How can I be loved when I look this way?
That day, I couldn’t even summon my voice to recount what he had called me. What he had labeled me after two seconds of knowing me. My voice caught in my throat, and felt like a hard lump.
That lump stayed in my throat for years.
It’s strange, because I never had trouble speaking death over my self around that lump. It’s like it allowed evil words past it, but the moment I tried to say something good, it was choked down. The filter would cloud my vision, and I would become that sad seven year old girl again.
I grew older, I wanted boys to like me, I wanted to feel beautiful. But how can you feel beautiful when you’re constantly dogging yourself?
I would pray to see myself in a better light. How could God create me and not make me beautiful? How could I not see anything to love about my body or my face?
It felt like I was under water. I could only hear the noise under the waves, and not what was being spoken over me on the surface. You could say to my face that I was beautiful, but I would only hear the vicious, hateful voices that were boiling within.
There’s no exact moment I can pin point when I stopped listening. I wish that I could tell a story of a girl bursting out from beneath the surface of self-hatred and embracing a life of love. But there just isn’t one.
My story goes something like this.
A man stands at the edge of the water, reaching into the depths, pulling the girl towards Him. She clings to the bottom, afraid of what’s above the loneliness and sadness she’s known. Over the course of time, she allows herself to be pulled from the underneath and brought to open air. The fresh air is exhilarating and confusing and beautiful. The man’s eyes pierce into her soul, calling forth truth.
I had given up my ashes, for His beauty. My mourning for His joy. Every day is a new day to declare His truth over my life, and that’s how I maintain my self-love. He removed the filthy filter from my eyes, and opened them with His own.
When I look in the mirror now, I don’t see myself through the eyes of a little eleven year old punk. I see the creation that God so carefully, so lovingly put together. Though my body is by no means perfect, it is beautiful.
He had pulled me from the waters, wrapped me in a robe of His glory, and called me His own. I have been called lovely, beautiful.
It’s a daily process, and without Jesus, without His truth, I wouldn’t be able to love myself. The world can’t show me who I really am, because it doesn’t know. When I let go of the weight of lies and deceit that had been piled over me, I could hear the voice of God, telling me I am meant for more.
I am meant to love God. I have been set and had eternity stamped on my eyeballs.
I have been told I am beautiful, and I believe it.
Self-love doesn’t hit you overnight. It doesn’t come through constant tears, or begging for people to love you. It comes through accepting who you are, and allowing yourself to surrender to truth. It comes by letting go of whatever had you bound.
I hope you can rise above the surface of the hatred you’ve fallen under. I hope you can let go of the bottom and allow yourself to be pulled to the top. It probably won’t come like a burst of air, like a majestic explosion, but when you do taste it, it’ll be sweeter than anything you’ve ever experienced.