In second grade I wore dresses over jeans, a trend that spread like butter and confused every parent.
In third grade I cut off all my hair. Because I wanted to.
In fourth grade I went to school in costume for no reason. I dressed up as my favorite literary character and wouldn’t even answer to my own name. I was Stargirl.
In fifth grade, something shifted: I noticed my body.
Looking back, I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment I first became aware of my body. Was it when a boy poked my boob with a pencil? When I got called “thunder thighs” and cried in the bathroom? When I finally graduated from the Kid’s section and was able to shop the highly coveted Teen department? When an old ass man whistled at me from his car while I was walking to the bus stop?
I deeply, deeply wish I knew. What made my unwavering self-love come to a halt? What hindered my confidence and made me uneasy and uncertain of my body? When did I start to value my appearance over my abilities? What made the young girl, who was so sure she’d save the world, turn her back on herself?
At age 9, girls are assertive and positive. But by the time they reach adolescence studies have found they have poor self-image, less confidence and low expectations from life. 60% of girls in elementary school reported being happy the way they are, a figure that drops to 30% in middle school. By the time a girl reaches high school, her dreams of being a doctor or president are replaced with “I don’t look the part” or “I want to be a size 2.”
Girls are both forces of nature and delicate beings. Fearless, funny and figuring out their place in the world. No matter how old we get, I don’t really think we ever stop being those girls. We do, however, start viciously criticizing our bodies and stop loving ourselves unconditionally.
I fucking love myself. I am kind and smart and fun and creative and hardworking and enthusiastic and honest. I love my dainty wrists, my stomach that is usually always filled with carbs, and my ass that just doesn’t quit. This is weird to put on paper because we are taught to never be conceited or unapologetic, and also because it’s not the same love I once felt. I used to love myself, period. I just did. I was me. No one else was me. I thought that was just the coolest thing ever.
At 21, I still think I’m the shit, but there are times where I feel like crap. Some days I mentally and physically pick apart my face. Other times I notice a fresh batch of stretch marks on my inner thighs and think, Fuck yeah! I’m becoming a bodacious woman! Those days rock, and it breaks my heart that a lot of the women I idolize rarely have those days.
We talk about self-love not just because it’s so important, but because it has become a job. A daunting task we have to remember, to work on incessantly, to strive to achieve, instead of something that simply was, a feeling that radiated from a sacred place deep inside us without any effort or thought.
Today and every day, let’s try our very best to thank our bodies for all that they give us, from hands that heal to first kisses to LIFE, instead of compare them to a socially constructed ideal. Let’s embrace the girls we once were, full of unabashed self-love and vivacity, and the women we dreamed of becoming, bold, brave, beautiful and badass. Let’s celebrate the intangible traits that make us us. Let’s be as gentle with ourselves now as we would have been when we were young, and let’s love ourselves just as much, too.