Kate is another one of my story sisters. I would call her a kindred spirit, a soul sister. She spurned in me the #fuckchiari hashtag, keeps trying to convince me to move to Oregon and moves me with her words and pushes me to write mine.
I love her dearly and here is her story.
In mid-January when I was thirteen, I filled a shirt box with trinkets and keepsakes, ticket stubs and notes from friends, and a letter written to myself. “Do Not Open Until January 23, 2012!!” I wrote on the box in sparkly purple gel pen, and I hid it at the bottom of a drawer.
At 23, I pull the now-dented box out of my closet, ten years and 600 miles from where I started it. The letter is in turns flighty and sullen, as you might expect from a teenager stuck in puberty and depression. I walk into my then-roommates’ bedroom. “Listen to this letter,” I say, “it’s hilarious.” We laugh about how I planned to get a horse and name her Arwen. I read on. “I’m fat and mostly ugly, and my clothes are bad but I am trying to dress better. What stores do you like? Did you grow up to be beautiful?” My roommates don’t laugh.
“That’s really sad,” M says.
“Did you really feel that way?” E asks. “I thought I was so pretty when I was younger!”
Somehow, until this moment, I didn’t know. I didn’t know most kids don’t try to be invisible because they don’t feel worthy of being seen. I didn’t know not everyone spends their adolescence feeling like an ugly duckling with little hope of ever being swanlike. I didn’t know it is unusual to hate yourself, to feel a stranger in your own body, to look in the mirror and read “not enough” in each growth spurt stretchmark and every inch of your waist.
“I was probably exaggerating,” I say to my roommates. “And I don’t feel that way now!”
That wasn’t fully true. No, I don’t hate myself like I did at 13, and 15, even 19. I don’t loathe my body. I still mistreat it in ways, but the reel of inner criticism doesn’t play nearly so often or as loud as it did then. I don’t write mean words against myself in my journals, in my letters, in my heart.
There’s this little nagging belief, though, still, that this is just pre-me, that this body will grow up to be more. I keep thinking one day I’ll wake up beautiful. What kind of beautiful, you ask? Skinny beautiful. Model beautiful. Princess. Swan. Unblemished feathers, elegant wingspan, a goddess of lakeshore sands and morning sun.
But it hasn’t happened yet.
I gained twenty pounds last year — from ice cream and Netflix, from I’ll-go-to-the-gym-tomorrow, from weird schedule and late night meals — and those wrong words slip back so easy. Fat and ugly. Unworthy. Disappear.
I try to trace back to some root, some beginning. What broke my sight? Was it trauma? Just growing older? What caused my eyes to notice the flaws that were and invent more that weren’t?
If it had a beginning, an end must follow.
So I keep thinking one day I’ll wake up enlightened. What kind of enlightened, you ask? The confessional blog post enlightened. The letter-to-my-body enlightened. The self-love manifesto. The feminist empowerment. The mirror shunning, mirror reclaiming.
It hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve read all these writers saying, “I’m enough.” They decry the standards, the expectations, the thinner-photoshopped-madeup-spanxed. They declare themselves beautiful. They allegedly have these moments, you know; these moments where the self-hate ends and they say, swan or not, they’re okay.
I am still waiting for my moment, for January 23, 2012, as I hoped it would be, opening a letter from some former version of myself and finding the words wholly unfamiliar. “I was ugly once? Ha! I was unconfident? Absurd!” I am still waiting for the moment I look at myself and accept whole and enough and beautiful and deeper-than-skin but while we’re at it the-skin-ain’t-so-bad.
It just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe by 2022?
It’s silly, isn’t it, how we want instant betterment, miracle transformation, overnight makeover? To fall asleep ugly and rise a swan. To step outside to greener grass.
These things take time, don’t they? In ten years, from thirteen to 23, it did get better, but slowly, as I chose different words to call myself. There was no moment, but there were steadier breaths, happier reflections.
Sometimes, the declaration precedes belief. The words create truth. The writing, the saying renews how you see, remakes how it will be.
This skin is all I have, with its marks and flab and scars. And maybe it is okay. Maybe beautiful, twenty pounds ago and now. Maybe enough, ten years ago and now. Maybe better every day.
Kate Schell is an Oregon journalist and a lover of all things cat and most things sci-fi. She blogs about faith and other stuff atkateschell.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kate_schell.