Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning to accept "You're Beautiful"

For some reason it's the sweet old lady who told me I have a cute butt at the laundromat all those years ago who stands out in my mind even today as the one who gave me the most exceptional compliment. Perhaps it was the incongruity of the moment.

Why is it that everyone who compliments me gets labeled "creepy" in my mind?... even sweet little old ladies.

As a teen I felt certain I was plain. Not ugly. Not lovely. Just ... invisible and sometimes gross or annoying. Boys didn't notice me much. The explanation seemed obvious.

At first X called me beautiful like it made him look better, too. Wandering hands as proof of his words. Yet he worried constantly about how I was letting myself go, pointed out I shouldn't eat certain snacks or gain weight, complained about my preference not to wear makeup, fought to put me in "sexier outfits" ... so I'd look closer to his ideal.

He was always pushing for change.

My overall impression was that he felt I needed fixing to be presentable, and in the end his compliments couldn't reach me through the scars of everything else he thought of me.  I was unacceptable to him, and at some point I came to believe than anyone who gave me a compliment must have ulterior motives.

I sometimes wonder if the elderly church ladies noticed when I tensed up under their comments. "You're so pretty!" "You look so good in that outfit!"

"Why don't they compliment something more intrinsically who I am?" I used to sigh.

I couldn't take them seriously as anything other than nice people offering social flattery. But it turns out I have a hard time accepting compliments on my thoughts or actions, too. I still freeze up when Nick compliments me on an insight or thanks me for help, even though I know without a doubt that he's 100% sincere. 

I feel like explaining or apologizing for somehow misrepresenting myself as having value.  It took a lot of work to learn to simply say "thank you" and even longer to realize people are sincere.

So when my new friend D recently told me straight out, "You are objectively beautiful....You could be a model." I felt that internal shield blaze up under the challenge of his words. He became a suspicious person before my eyes. It took a moment to quell that sudden push-back, and I took the easy way out by reminding myself he's an artist.  Artist's are allowed to have good imaginations, right?... and to see value where others do not.... 

I'm still learning to make space for the things I struggle to believe by repeating the new story people live out for me. It takes time and experience to replace the ingrained, habitual thought pattern. I have to consciously take compliments out of the spam folder in my mind, dust them off, and recognize them as serious input. 

Do I trust D?... I don't know him well enough to do so without hesitation.

However, I'm not going to learn whether he is trustworthy by tagging him "suspicious" over a simple compliment. I've learned it's better to give people space to be who they are, and to recognize their complexity as innate. He has many friends, and I think part of that is because he informs people when he appreciates something about them. 

I'm actually more worried about being rejected for who I am.... If I link D to this blog what will he think of me? His response won't change what I'm learning from our interaction now, though ...

I wonder why it even feels important. I told Ree the other day that maybe this is what bothers me....

WHY?

Why on earth does this self-awareness that is only a value-less comparison to air-brushed ideals prevent me from interacting with people without those thoughts intruding? It would be good to feel comfortable with my body like I am with my clothing style.... Only in this case, I have what I was given from birth. I don't want my kids to see themselves this way. I want to demonstrate a better path.

The only thing I can change is my perspective.

I became confident in social situations by acting confident and learning I can pull it off.

I made friends by trusting and caring first, until I found those who would not betray me. 

This is one of the reasons I choose to model for friends's art and take self-portraits. If I put myself out there in a place where my view might be challenged, I can see myself through other eyes.

I like what my friends see ... so eventually, I may find a new perspective through the art they make and the words they speak.

Until then ... I'll keep wondering and over-thinking it, because that is what happens between not-knowing and knowing ... and KNOWING. I suppose it's a sign of growth that I'm even willing to challenge this long-held view of myself. 

I model for Miha from time to time.... (because she's my best friend, and I trust her.) She has been working to gradually erode my resistance. D's compliments have taken their place as external confirmation of her words.

Maybe I will see myself as art someday ... or maybe it has already started.