It's funny how sometimes one life experience correlates to another in a really profound way. My weight loss has amazing correlations to my struggle with self-esteem.
I've struggled since the fifth grade with intense self-esteem issues regarding how I look. I remember that during middle school, I would literally cringe if I caught my reflection in the mirror. That is how badly I felt about myself. That's how ugly I thought I was.
I went through a whole lot of mental anguish and torment for years and years. I dealt with a great deal of foolishness from men because of how badly I felt I looked. I spent lots of time thinking I had to settle because most likely, that was the best I could do. I really believed that the world valued beauty much more than intelligence and so I was out of luck, despite how bright I might have been. I classified myself as an ugly person and going through life, I also categorized other people. I empathized with other "ugly" people and felt really low around "beautiful" people. Being dark-skinned didn't help my cause at all. Growing up, pretty usually meant being "fair" skinned with cooperative hair. I didn't fit the bill.
Anyway, long story short, I'm in a place now where I can look in the mirror with ease and I like what I see. Sure, there are times when parts of my body irritate me (like my post-pregnancy belly) but overall, I'm happy and satisfied with who I am and what I look like. I wouldn't change anything. Ten years ago, I had a whole list of things that I would love to be different.
I think to myself that getting to this place where I'm reasonably comfortable with myself was a real process, a journey. Sometimes I think folks who haven't struggled with these intense mental issues surrounding their look have a hard time understanding how paralyzing and difficult it can be to deal with those issues and also how daunting it can be to recover. They often offer up simplistic explanations that boil down to "Think positively."
For me, it's been helpful to devise small techniques to train my mind to think differently and to encourage myself when I feel down about myself. My Buddhist practice has been tremendous in helping me to get here because finally, I realize down to the bottom of my soul that my worth doesn't have much to do with how I look. To the contrary, I am inherently valuable. I don't know what it is about the way Buddhism teaches this that resonated with me but it did and I got it. This doesn't mean that I don't have to meditate on this truth consistently. I really do. Accepting my inherent value has also helped me do something that I had heard forever: stop comparing myself to others. Instead, when I feel like I'm about to get super critical of myself in light of how someone else looks, I just observe the person's style and think about ways that I could maybe do something like that. Negative thoughts are never far but doing this helps redirect my attention and I'm able to stifle those thoughts that would tear me down. I also started to avoid certain publications, websites and books and surrounded myself with books like Meditations to Heal Your Life. I read these kinds of books so much that they played like tapes in my head. I got to the very root of my self-esteem issues and in so doing, was better able to heal myself.
There are many other little things, baby steps, I've taken to move myself along on this journey to total self-acceptance. I'm still on the road and I love it when I'm able to add other tools to my toolbox.
It's kind of like weight loss in that way. It's difficult to fathom dropping 30 or 40 pounds. But if you take it one pound at a time, one meal at a time, one bite at a time, the daunting becomes so possible.
When I first decided I didn't want to feel so badly about myself any more, I was totally overwhelmed. "Just love yourself!" "Just know that you are beautiful!" "How!?!" I would ask desperately. But it's the same as weight loss. One thought at a time. Step by step.