I wish I was tanner.
I wish I was more petite.
I wish I was more graceful.
These are just a few of the many thoughts that invade my head each and every day, the thoughts that amplify when I am comparing myself to someone with the particular quality I feel I am lacking. What makes it worse are the days you can’t see the other side – the girl who wishes she was taller, or blonde, like you. And while I can sometimes dust away the negative thoughts and accept that certain facts will always be true, deliberately placing myself in a competitive environment that reinforces this mindset never helps.
I once dated a guy who looked like he was pulled straight from the pages of a Banana Republic ad. His outfits were always super put together, his teeth sparkling white, his skin perfectly tan and his hair was never a piece out of place. Secretly, I got a rush out of being with him, because I knew that other girls looked at him, and I wondered how I got so lucky.
And so, I learned to play the part – the perfect outfits, freshly highlighted hair, spray tanned skin, manicured nails. I could then, if you will, compete at his level. When we went out, maybe I wasn’t “good enough” for him, but I could pretend enough to get by.
We went to trendy restaurants and clubs, and life was a whirlwind of excitement and drama. It was as close to being popular as I thought I would ever feel. I thought that I was happy.
Then, I would try on 15 dresses one night getting ready to go out, thinking that each one exaggerated a different flaw. I look flat-chested in this one; my arms look huge in this one. And, no matter what, I always looked pale. Finally, I’d settle on the best in the lot, feeling insecure straight out of the gate.
We’d be in a club for 10 minutes before he’d wander off, dance with another girl half the night and leave me wondering what I could have done differently. Feeling again that I didn’t deserve what I had. I couldn’t have realized how emotionally exhausting the relationship was until it was over. Even then, I couldn’t see anything positive about myself – just what he had rejected.
Of course, as time progressed, I realized how broken he was. I thought about all the conversations we had and recognized that behind his facade of perfection, he, too, was merely trying to a play a role. He had mastered a life of color-changing – being whoever he had to be to blend into the situation at hand. If he knew anything about who he really was, no one was ever going to see that.
I re-embraced the person I was before him – the slightly awkward girl who loves her flip flops and will listen to The Cure any day over a top 40 hit. Back in New York, I realized that I didn’t have to be tan (still one of the best parts about living there) and that I didn’t have to be going to the trendiest bar in town on a Friday night.
And I could be happy. Authentically happy, because I was being myself.
Before I moved to Arizona, I was somewhat actively trying to relocate to California, San Diego being the penultimate dream destination. I recognized, however, that the job market might be more forgiving in Los Angeles. My mom told me that she didn’t think I’d be happy there – that it was too surface and too plastic. She couldn’t see me living happily amongst people who were only about looks and shiny objects.
In the meantime, living in New York fed a fresh set of insecurities. I started to realize that people dated their “own kind” – a girl who had attended an elite private high school in the City, a guy whose parents had houses in three states. I didn’t feel pretty enough or smart enough, and if someone found me to be either, I wasn’t going to be the girl he chose in the end. The dating scene was fierce and competitive – you slip up once, there are another few million girls he can replace you with.
I was so eager to move to Arizona, to approach my future with a brand-new outlook. I devoted myself to meeting people, to making good friends and to slowly build my life into one that I could be proud of. I was starting to see the good in myself that others would see in me. I was a person deserving of happiness and love.
I am loving and empathetic.
I am smart.
I make people laugh and love to cheer people up.
Slowly, I watched as the walls I started to build up began to chip away. I worry that if my legs don’t look perfect in a dress, that I”ll never meet someone. Because the girl next to me has breast implants, a perfect year-round tan and hair extensions.
And she’s the one everyone is going to notice. She, and the countless other girls who look exactly like her in the bars.
I start to fear that nothing matters but what’s on the surface. I start to think that if I could just change that one thing (fill in the blank) about myself, that someone would see the good parts about me. And I’m terrified that no one wants to see the parts of me that matter, that I’ll constantly be outshined by a lesser version in better packaging.
I’m never going to be the prettiest girl in the room. I’m rarely going to be the one you notice (unless it’s because I’m the palest). Yet I always think there is a fix. Always another version of me that is going to be better, another version of me that is going to make me happier. And once I figure out what I think this version is, will I ever be pretty enough? Smart enough? Or simply put – enough.