So many people ask me how they can improve their self-esteem.
Sometimes I don’t know what to tell them.
I want to tell you, anyone who has asked me, you, that it’s not a mountain you climb. It’s not a platform you reach. It’s not a tree you’re scaling, a river you’re crossing, or a boulder you’re pushing. It’s none of these things and all of them. It would be a lie to say that self-esteem is any journey with an end or any obstacle with a summit. It’s something you carry around with you — or rather, it’s something I carry around with me. Sometimes it is a balloon so high and bright it lifts my heart with it, and sometimes it is a stone so dank and heavy I can barely leave my house.
It’s a process. It’s something I fail at all the time, and something I succeed at all the time, and something that is not the same for any two people. For me it is the memory of avoiding looking at our touching my body underneath the conscious decision to look at and touch my body all the time, to walk around in my underwear among people or alone, defiant, chin up and spine straight. For me it is consciously looking in the mirror, meeting my own eyes, finding three things I like about myself that day and remembering all the days I couldn’t do that — and feeling today, another day that I can, as a triumph for myself.
It’s knowing that my body is my own and my relationship with it is the only one that matters. It’s never being able to forget that for most of my life I treated my body as a sack of meat that shunted my brain through the mud, something that was to be ignored, something that was shameful — it is knowing that peeling this outer layer of grime away from myself as often leaves me raw and vulnerable as it does clean and fresh and new. You find a way to use a scar as armor, for it’s thicker and doesn’t feel as much, isn’t as sensitive; you find a way to gentle yourself, think of yourself in sweeter terms, find pride in the stretch marks that make you feel like a tigress prowling through the night, as dangerous and beautiful and rare. You find a way.
Sometimes the way is hard — sometimes you are feeling raw and vulnerable and you are at once numb and too exposed, and there are stones to step on in bare feet and branches to lash at the face you can’t look at.
And sometimes the way is beautiful. Sometimes I am overwhelmed at how beautiful. Sometimes it’s the sunlight against your skin, your own reverent hand purring over your thigh, your fingers a tangle in your hair. Sometimes you skip, and you are weightless, and you are strong. More and more often, the way does not seem as hard.
We walk it together, I want you to know that. We never walk it alone. You find someone to walk beside you, and when you need to be helped, you reach out and we clasp hands.