Learning to Love the Girl in the Mirror

By Sarah Scarisbrick-RoweApril 14, 2016

I can’t remember the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I can’t recall the first time I judged myself and found I was lacking. I don’t know when I first gave myself the label of ‘not good enough.’ But I do know how it has shaped my history.

I was a perfectionist who believed that if I could put on a faultless performance then maybe I would be OK. I had to be the best. I needed to get the best grades, be the best-behaved student, and plan the best future for myself. I was desperately trying to convince the world that I deserved to be loved, trying to make up for the truth that, deep down, I didn’t love myself.

No matter what I achieved or how well I did, nothing seemed to help. It didn’t change how I saw myself. The affirmation from those around me never felt true. I knew the girl in the mirror intimately, and I hated her. The love and encouragement spoken by my friends and family didn’t match up. So I let their words fall through my fingers, like they could never belong to me. I thought I knew better.

After years of striving and working hard, failure hit. I’d tried my best, but it wasn’t good enough. I’d fallen short of perfect. The school of my dreams rejected me, and I found myself unravelling. I slipped into the grip of anorexia, which pretended that it held all the answers. It gave me a feeling of control, teasing me with the lie that happiness was just one more dress size away. I clung to the belief that if I could change myself, then maybe I would finally love the girl in the mirror. Maybe then I would be good enough. But the deeper I drowned in the depths of my illness, the less love I had for myself. It wasn’t the answer. I had to fight my way back to the surface and find a future for myself.

I was struck by something a friend told me during my recovery, that the first step to loving yourself is to treat yourself like you’re worthy of love. She said you had to start acting with love toward yourself if you wanted your emotions to match up. So I began to care for and nurture my body. I gave myself the nutrition I needed and allowed myself to enjoy food once more. I learned to celebrate on the good days and offer myself comfort on the bad days. I started to look in the mirror for long enough to see past the perceived imperfections, to really see the girl in front of me. I began to accept her.

I have learned that it’s difficult to accept truth from my friends and family if I believe lies about myself. Because while the words of love from those around us are important and special, they don’t hold as much weight as they would if we were able to speak those words of love to ourselves. The words we tell ourselves have power: to crush or comfort, to build up or tear down, to heal or hurt. If we, who see the best and worst of ourselves, are able to speak acceptance and love into our lives, then we can handle anything that life throws our way.

I had to accept that my view of myself was flawed. For too long I had rejected the positive things about myself and only held on to the negative. I judged myself far more harshly than I would ever judge anyone else. I was quick to forgive the mistakes of others, while my own seemed unforgivable. I realized that nothing I did would ever be good enough, not unless I adjusted the way I looked at myself. It was time to open up my eyes and try to see myself clearly for the first time.

I used to believe loving yourself was reserved for when you had life all figured out. For that ever-elusive time when you’d ironed out all the creases and flaws in your personality. When you could say, with confidence, that you had become the best version of yourself. I believed that one day, once all my troubles were behind me, I’d be free to make peace with myself. That once I had painted over the ugly parts of myself, I would finally look in the mirror and like what I saw.

But now I know that day may never come. I will never be perfect. There will always be parts of myself that I don’t like and that I would rather others didn’t see. I may always be on a journey of recovery, of traveling toward complete healing and wholeness, toward full acceptance and love. Some days the past weighs heavily on me, threatening to overwhelm me. In the tough times I’ve learned that it’s OK to be not OK, to admit that I struggle.

However, loving yourself is about taking a step back and seeing the rich tapestry that makes up who you are. It’s about recognizing those unique and precious things about yourself. To look and see those parts of you that are loved by those around you and to learn to appreciate and embrace them. Loving yourself isn’t just about warm fuzzy feelings but about treating yourself with care and compassion, even on the days when you don’t want to. It’s about acknowledging that we are all flawed people. We are stories still going, each chapter a chance to begin again, to love ourselves once more.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not all the way there yet. I still have days where I struggle to see the good in myself or show myself love. I often find it hard to accept the praise of others, and I get weighed down by insecurity. I’ve found that learning to love myself, like learning anything, takes practice and hard work. I may have a way to go, but I’m taking a step closer every day. I am making peace with the girl in the mirror. I’m learning to love her as she is, through her successes and failures. We’ve been through a lot and somehow come out braver and stronger than anyone would have predicted. We’ve fought and won many battles together, and now it’s time to lay down the weapons and learn to live and love together.

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Comments (17)

  1. Matt

    “I have learned that it’s difficult to accept truth from my friends and family if I believe lies about myself.” – so true. I feel your pain. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Jennifer P.

    Sarah, I can totally relate! You described my life exactly. I’m in recovery and learning every day to be as loving to myself as I truly am with others. It’s difficult to shed the lies we tell ourselves. Accepting myself feels absolutely unacceptable and foreign. But I hope to find comfort and self-worth, as I hope the same for you…

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  3. Jennifer

    Beautiful message of recovery, thanks for sharing ❤️

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    1. Jennifer

      It’s speaking the truth of recovery too. Thank you again.

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  4. Des

    Sarah, thank you so much for sharing. This truly hit home for me.

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  5. Kayla

    Wow. Someone understands. Thanks…I really needed this tonight.

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  6. Stefs

    Totally saw myself in your words. There was a time that I used to be so perfectionist and all the failures pushed me to the darkest place. It was ok to be there for a long time, but I started not treating myself right because I compensate all the wrongs in my appearance. And then came an eating disorder, I lost track. Now, I still feel that I’m in recovery, because, sometimes, you just remember those scars, but at the end of the day what matters the most is treat the girl in the mirror with kindness and love. Like you said, we fought a lot together and it’s not right to give up. Your words spoke to me, so thank you. I wish you all the strong forces of the universe.

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  7. Munchkim

    Thank you.

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  8. Bellla

    As a fellow former self hater, I’m very grateful to read this
    Whilst my story didn’t play out through anorexia, the story remains true for many of us
    I’m proud of you
    God bless

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  9. TM

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s hard to believe I’m going to be turning a big number in a couple of months. I have an 18 yr old and 16 yr old twins. I had a tough time as a teen, never recognizing that it was a feeling of unworthiness that shadowed me. I just knew something was wrong with me. Although I was a teen runaway, somehow I managed to survive. Like a beast, as my kids would say. And success, personal & professional followed. Yet – the feeling of being a fraud; that “I would be found out”, always stayed.
    I wasn’t a fraud.
    There was nothingb to hide. Well, there were certainly things I chose to keep to myself, but I’ll leave that alone….. and My whole life I felt like a fraud. The years I was most myself, most filled with self worth, were the years I spent helping others, being of service. Finding a community.
    And the reason for my comment is that like with many things, our self worth is like a muscle. It can atrophy if not stretched, or worked out. Mine has. To a level, or depth I’ve never experienced. I’m at a low. And I can change it. But it takes work. And the work needs to be a daily practice for me. Because when I stop being good to myself, placing the oxygen make on me first, things don’t really go well. So thanks for the nudge. I needed to read that today. Xo

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  10. kayla

    Thank you for sharing this. I can totally relate here.

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  11. Angelica

    This touched me. Thank you Sarah for sharing this because I’ve been hated myself for about 5 years and this just encouraged me to make the decision to try and love myself. I’ve tried before for about a month and given up but I’ve learned from your post that it’s not an easy road and it’s going to take wayyy Longer than a month. Thanks for the motivation. I’ve finally found someone that feels the way I feel.

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  12. Angelique

    I love the way you finished this piece: “We’ve fought and won many battles together, and now it’s time to lay down the weapons and learn to live and love together.”

    Reply  |  
  13. Susan Arledge

    This article and story is amazing and you are beautiful inside and out! You got this I the bag! Keep striving for the better positive you! I believe in “YOU”!

    Reply  |  
  14. Miriam Torres

    I love this article. There are many of us like this. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
  15. Angela Browne

    I don’t know exactly how I came across this post but it was what I needed to read. It touched me because it is so close to home, Thank you, I feel less alone.

    Reply  |  
  16. Pingback: Body Acceptance | Hope Whispers

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