No, this is not a narcissistic confession. No, this is not intended to brag about the things that make me THE BEST. This is a call to action for you all to write one of these yourself: an ode to the imperfect pieces of yourself that comprise the whole that people love you for. This is a way to express gratitude for being here and for being who you are. Here goes...
I love the way you feared learning how to ride a “real bike” — the one with hand-breaks — and you rode down a mountain and flipped over the handlebars into that river. You scraped your knee so badly that you still have the scar, but that’s when you learned what it’s like to fail first. You found persistence somewhere in between that moment and your sixth grade math class, found it tucked into your leotard when you face planted on stage in the middle of your dance recital and in between guitar strings in your living room at age seven. You listened: listened to the way those failures made you feel, and, with scraped ego and scraped limbs, turned tears into laughter and laughter into trying that math problem once more, that turn once more, that song once more.
I love the way your jeans don’t quite fit right around the top anymore. Thank you for looking in the mirror and no longer wishing your eyelashes were longer or your cheeks thinner or your forehead smaller because you look better without bangs. You look better without doing everything to make yourself appear thinner and prettier, trying and trying to escape that person you know would rather just show up as she is. You look better that way.
I love the way you let yourself cry when you’re sad. Thank you for your vulnerability, for opening up to others when you’re crying so hard that your cheeks get blotchy and you feel like you need to breathe into a paper bag. It shows that you care, and you care that you can care rather than feel nothing. Thank you for feeling the things that matter to you. They do.
I love the way you show the people close to you that they are important. You always do that. Whether you hide little notes, or make pancakes in the morning, thank you for showing love to others when they need you most. And perhaps more importantly, thank you for showing love when there’s nothing special going on: no special occasion, no major panic, no birthday celebration. You value people and they know it — every day of the week and without question.
I love the way you show up and the way you work hard. You stay up late at night if that’s what it takes to learn and demonstrate that progress. You go to class even when you don’t feel your best, and you help the people that are relying on you to get things done: maybe a club reading books to local children or demonstrating ballet for a ballet teacher who can no longer lift her arm.
I used to hate the way I looked when I cried, and the way I felt after eating a french fry, and the way I couldn’t solve math problems. Though these are only small pieces of myself, just little bits of the “me” I felt like I didn’t know, they add up. They stack up until your perception of yourself is overruled by the things you hate. Once they stack high enough, you can’t see through to the other side, the qualities of yourself that positively influence those around you. It’s like a brick wall, and you can either climb it or remain dumbfounded by its immensity and opaque finality.
But this, after all, is a love letter. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t gotten completely “better.” I haven’t figured out how to fully accept the parts of myself that don’t meet my own standards and the standards of the world around me. But by writing a letter to the imperfect parts of myself, I am reminding myself that being hard on yourself — letting those failures overshadow your accomplishments — only gets you in a place of low self-worth, worry and fearfulness. I learned how to ride a bike. A real one. I learned how to ask for help in school. I practiced guitar until my fingers were indented, I did ballet until my feet bled, and I finally learned how to eat, for the first time in my life, the way I wanted to without worrying about how it would make me look.
It’s a stupid thing to say, “Just love yourself.” Enough of this “self-love” and “self-care” without real change. No skincare face mask replaces the need to drop our real masks and give ourselves the time to reflect on ourselves today, and in the past, and how much we have accomplished in getting from there to here — to now. Choose to actively love the things that you once hated by accepting they’re there and learning how to grow from them. Affirmations are the first step, but self-love is rooted in action — difficult, real action — reflection, apologies, laboring, mourning. Find some reasons you love yourself. Most of all, love yourself for being here to love yourself. You should be valued, not just by others, but first, by yourself.