Stressed, depressed, well-dressed

If it were to name a thing that makes life bitter, it was our ordinary perfectionism. Today is no wonder if you’re telling someone that you’re a perfectionist. The shock will be if you’re not. We’re taught from early in our lives to strive for perfection. To try to make things as good as we can, both in our personal and professional lives. To give our best day after day, so that, one day, everything will be perfect.

A perfectionist’s “career” begins early, in the family. From what I’ve noticed, the whole ride starts in school, with comparing grades. This is the most frequent way that kids learn they need to be as close to perfection as possible, to be loved. That’s how the self-doubt shows up, as a subtle inner voice asking the same question over and over again:             Is my best good enough?

And with that simple question, everything takes form. You begin to question your self-worth, your experience, your littlest decisions. But, above all, you begin to question your body, as your first attempts of building a social image appear.

I can’t even say that this is an exclusively feminine issue anymore if I have a second thought about all the men judged by their looks every day. We are, as nasty as it could sound, being judged by the way we look, dress and…pose. And this is more than visible on Social Media.

This is why we develop, from an earlier and earlier age, a sense of self-consciousness that is simply overwhelming. We are deeply aware of every little change that occurs in our bodies- a pimple, an extra pound, everything gets to be noticed and criticized by our childhood inner voice. And that voice is merciless.

But this is not the big deal. The big deal is the fact that we are getting into a vicious circle where nothing that we do or are is ever good enough for ourselves, in the first place, yet expect other people to show up and prove that we’re good enough for them. How messed up is this kind of reasoning?

It is, somehow, a mental health epidemics, where we are, all of us, trying to look as close as the mass media-served beauty ideals as possible. And this has a few bad, really bad side effects for our psychological well-being.

First of all, we tend to compare ourselves. Compare, compare, analyze, and then compare a bit more. And we’re never comparing ourselves to our equals. We compare with the augmented versions of the popular kids in our teenage years- the Social Media influencers, the celebrities, and generally the people who seem to have the perfect lives. Oh, our so beloved perfection, how damaging it is!

The aftermath of the comparisons is low, low, low self-esteem. Because let’s be honest about it, you will never win a mental battle between your current self, as imperfect as it is, and the thoughtfully crafted, long studied social images of these people. We compare ourselves with other people’s jobs, as they have some awesome teams behind those photos and stories that we’re comparing our bodies with, and they live by the money they make promoting different stuff and looking in a certain way. And this affects us in ways that we’re not even aware of.

After losing the game, we change the way we talk with ourselves and our self-perception. We become the toxic people we warn our friends about, but only when it comes to ourselves. We enhance the negative self-talk, we label ourselves as dumb, meh, not good enough, and the list could go on and on forever. We’re so accustomed to the negative labels, that we don’t even blink when we hear them from somebody else. What surprises us is the kind, flattering, polite type of discourse.

It is a common narrative, as one has to be, to be seen as successful, stressed, depressed, but well dressed. It doesn’t matter that much if you’re stressed and depressed if you don’t look like someone stressed and depressed. You have, and this is a silent prerogative, to look like your ideal version, not like your real one.

The fact that this kind of attitude has an impact on how humans perceive each other is no news. By now, it is well-known already that we judge the others in the very same ways that we’re judging ourselves. And that means forgetting the simple truth that there’s no such thing as two people with the same background.

It happened to me as well. Being a plus-size girl since literally forever made me understand better how self-talk and peer labeling interact. I’ve been called big, fat, obese, nasty, made compliments like It’s a shame of that beautiful face and I am proud of you for losing weight, as nobody thought you would. But, above all, I’ve never seen myself as a beautiful girl. Of course, there were things I liked about myself, like the lips, but the ones I was disliking outnumbered them effortlessly. Maybe that’s part of the reasons why now when someone tells me I look beautiful, or that I’m a good-looking woman, I tend to answer that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman, and I, in my best days, am decent. But this came after a long time of hating my body and comparing myself with other women, that I’ve known for real or not.

Actually, this came when I got tired.  Because there comes a point in one’s life when you get tired of labeling yourself as good enough or not good enough, as proud or disappointed of who you are, depending on how close or how far you are from that ideal image. At first, you try to change it, you are revolted, and would do anything to fit in. You start to look more carefully in the wardrobe, see what good outfits you can mix. You become interested in makeup, and try to be more…like a girl, even if you feel uncomfortable at first. You’ll even try to diet, at a certain point.

And you will reach a point where your energy will be desperately needed elsewhere. Maybe it is the career, maybe it is emotional healing, it can be whatever. But, sooner or later, you’ll reach the point where the image displayed socially is no longer a priority.

From that point, things become easier not because you’ve become wiser, as it is not always the case, but because you became relaxed, and that’s a game-changer. When you relax and stop comparing and labeling everything around you, with the task journal in hand, eventually, ready to check some bullets, life becomes easier.

Maybe it has never actually been that complicated as the continuous race for the perfect social image made it appear. Maybe life was always an easy thing to understand, but we’ve made it become something complicated by adding useless ideas and questions to it.

I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to this. But the thing I know for sure is that you see life with brighter eyes when you’re aware of yourself for good. When you know and respect your limits, when you know and put in the spotlight your strong points.

Because, at the end of the day, it is all about the individual. Mental health is an individual set of actions, with a collective impact. There is no such thing as a healthy society formed by unhealthy individual and there’s no mentally healthy individual that keeps comparing itself with the other people day after day.

And, no, the perfect look is nothing achievable in nature, without interventions, so stop chasing illusions and enjoy your bodies, because that’s a bigger deal than living your life surrounded by an army which has as its only purpose to make you look good, regardless of what that good looks like that season. You’re more than just that, way more.

New times opening new doors: when self-love fades away

There aren’t many things that can compare, when depression comes into one’s life, to the loss of individual’s self-worth. And, today more than ever, this loss is visible, impacting especially the way that the person thinks about her appearance and body. If this used to be a girls’ thing, now it’s a collective problem, affecting us all. Because, yeah, when depression comes, the self-love starts to pack and fade away. When you’re in a bad place for your mental health, all the insecurities that you thought there are long gone, start making their comeback into your life. This is how you know that things are getting rough again.

For as long as I can recall, my most difficult relationship was the one that I’ve had with my body. It was never good enough for me, with the extra-weight and all the other things I used to hate about myself.

Because I’ve been hating myself and the way I look for way too many years. I used to say that it’s enough that I’m ugly, and tried my best to achieve what society defined as beauty. Obviously, this led me to a whole bunch of debatable decisions. It was in my early teenage years where I started to feel unworthy. Unworthy of being seen as attractive, beautiful, of receiving compliments regarding my looks, of feeling…I don’t know, feminine, maybe?

As any story, this one reached its peak when I’ve reached my biggest weight, and my lowest self-image. It was 6 years ago. At that time, I was sick of seeing my own body, and started to avoid every mirror or reflection of it. Looking backwards, I can’t explain how comes that I didn’t developed an eating disorder, but it must be some magic involved.

But at that time, the self-hatred started to fade away, even if I was stuck with the guilt. That’s why, when a weight-loss plan was proposed to me, I’ve accepted it: because I wanted that guilt to stop. And, as I was getting thinner, the guilt was leaving room to confidence.

It didn’t last as long as I wished, though. As the depression made its comeback into my life, so did the insecurities regarding my body, and the mindless eating. Yet, it was something different in this comeback.

And the difference was that I knew that I can do better. That it is a period, not something that would last a lifetime.But this doesn’t mean it has not been one hell of a journey, because it totally was.

Being aware of the fact that I was, at a certain point, capable to do better, was a thing that really enhanced the hurt and frustration. The if I was able to do it then, why am I not able to do it now mentality wasn’t helping me at all, it just helped me  become more frustrated and guiltier day after day. A big part of the recovery journey was a fight.

Fighting the guilt, the frustration, the thought that I failed myself by not reaching my goal. Trying to come back to a disciplined way of eating and living, and failing every attempt. The more radical it was, the bigger and quicker the failure. Add this up to the already old battle with my feelings of hurt, numbness, being unworthy, and lack of purpose, and here we go: a big, beautifully dramatic depressive episode.

But as nothing’s ever built to last, neither was this thing. One day, I gave up on the diary where I was rating my weeks, in the attempt of becoming more aware of my progress, understood back then as a comeback to the life I’ve had until that summer, and stood still.

I stopped trying to force things and, as letting life flow, I’ve understood one important thing. The most important relationship I will ever have is the one with my own body. It is the ultimate relationship, as it sets my demands and expectations from interacting with other people, my relationship with the society, my long term well-being. It was a huge revelation, understanding the fact that I don’t have to love myself in order to genuinely care about myself.

And this is how things started to change again. Not on the scale, but on the inside, as I’ve finally understood that what I deserve and the way I look like should never correlate and, if they do, it is a sign that I’m in the wrong context.

If it was to choose a point, some kind of milestone that marked the beginning of the real recovery, this was it. Understanding that I may not feel beautiful, I may not love my body, because I didn’t reach that point yet, but that is not my right to bring it harm. That food is not going to help me get over the bad times, or make the depression walk away.

That was also the moment when I’ve noticed how depression alienates me from my body. How it made me sleep, eat and behave was totally opposed to what I knew. But not unexpected. Because when the pain comes, we gotta deal with it somehow. And here this meant lots of sleeping, eating, isolating and crying. It was not the best thing to do, and definitely not the wisest, but it helped get through the period as safe as possible.

Can’t say that I’m proud, or that I’ve made it. I’m still looking at what the society calls beautiful, and then I look in the mirror. I still notice how far of the social beauty I am. But the achievement is that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I am aware of the distance, but I don’t feel guilty for not fitting in anymore.

It might sound sad, and almost cliché, but it took me 25 years and a serious depression to really aknowledge the fact that I can still be pretty in my own way, regardless of what society claims as beautiful, feminine or attractive.

This period brought the clear image of all the ways society made me feel bad about myself, by constantly telling me that I’m not enough. That my body doesn’t look magazine-worthy enough to allow myself to feel beautiful or eat my favorite foods without shame or guilt trips.

That I can’t afford being picky about my clothes, friends or men, because I don’t look beautiful enough to afford having my own standards. But I suppose that this is also a part of growing up, the development of the ability to give no damn about what is inoculated as a general standard. Not in one’s personal life. And any attempt of personal life begins with the relationship we have with our bodies.

There is no universal recipe to do it. Just spend time with yourself and the people who love you, ask them about the good they see in you, because we often tend to see our bad parts before we see the good ones, do things that really make you happy. Dance, eat, smile, enjoy any kind of pleasure. Don’t get stuck on façades that have nothing to do with your own image about yourself, and explore.

Explore the internet, the fashion history, the subcultures, the aesthetic of your favorite decades, you name it. Explore, document yourself, pick your favorites and try to integrate them into your wardrobe, and give up on feeling guilty about who you are.

This was my recipe, mixed with lots of moments when I’ve just sit in front of the mirror, naked, analysing it, as an attempt of getting familiar with it without the judgment. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes did not, but for sure it led me to an intimate connection between me and my body, happening as the attachment to the socially-promoted ideas was fading.

Of course, this story has no ending. Every depressive episode shakes the balance and brings up physical insecurities. It is part of the process, as well as learning the lessons which are unfolding in front of our eyes. But, as I know more about my body, managing depression becomes easier. Because, at the end of the day, I know, deep down, that between being worthy and looking like you’ve stepped out of a fashion magazine covers, ain’t no correlation.

We are all in this, fighting all these constant pressures daily, and we are all worthy. Worthy of love, acceptance, care. But, first of all, we’re all worthy of having a good, intimate relationship with our bodies. And this is something I hope that each and every one of us, men or women, will achieve, in its very own rhythm.

Because there’s no outer relevant shoulds and what ifs when it comes to one’s personal journey towards well-being and balance, and we should never let other people drag us into journeys that are not ours. And this is something that applies on the way we get to know our bodies as well. Or especially there.