Because of the absurd length this post reached, I have done a 15-minute audio recording in case you have other things you need to be doing.
I was raised to hate myself.
Maybe it was accidental. Maybe it was on purpose. I’m starting to disagree that hindsight is 20/20. More often than not, hindsight is colored by our intrinsic optimism or intrinsic pessimism. One of the few blessings of being bipolar is that I can see the past from both sides, depending on the day.
You’ve probably been told a lot of the same things I’ve heard. Let’s recount the basics:
- “You will never be as good as I was.”
- “You will never be as pretty as I was.”
- “You need to try to be as thin as I was at your age.”
- “You aren’t funny. Stop talking.”
- “You aren’t smart enough to do that.”
- “There’s nothing you can do that will make your life worth anything.”
Is it any wonder teenagers rebel? Is it any wonder we have anarchists and counter-cultures? I haven’t been “bullied” in the traditional sense since I was six. I can’t even imagine what those kids go through.
Get comfortable, guys. This is going to be a long one.
You will never be as good as I was.
I never got lower than a B in school, and that devastated me. I can’t believe you find a C acceptable. Just wait until you have your own kids–you reap what you sow when you have your own kids.
I got my first F in 4th grade. It was on my project for the science fair, which I was super excited for. I felt like the project was incomplete. I never turned in an incomplete homework assignment again until college–which often meant I didn’t turn in anything and accepted the zero.
I got my second F in 6th grade, again, it was on my project for the science fair. My teacher rounded it up to a D because she felt bad for me.
In 10th grade, after my first serious bouts with what I know now was bipolar II disorder and gastroparesis, I failed third-term Biology. Those grades were my reality, and if I didn’t blow off the seriousness of the failures, I would have gone crazy. I already believed I was crazy because of my depression.
You will never be as pretty as me.
By the time I was your age, I was modelling. Your aunt and sister and I were just talking about how you dress like a homeless person. Your eyebrows are hideous. You should really get those fixed. I can’t believe you haven’t shaved. Seriously, though, why would think that outfit looks good? You should wear makeup. Not like that though–ugh, you have no idea how to use it, do you? Stop dressing like a tomboy. You look like a lesbian.
Image. This society is so goddammed obsessed with image. Here’s a few facts about me and my image:
- I started playing with my mom’s make-up when I was tall enough to get on the bathroom counter and get into the medicine cabinet. I played with her make-up for hours at night, after everyone had gone to bed. I always ended with foundation–I couldn’t get the stuff to wash off, and the foundation made it look like I wasn’t wearing anything. As I got older, I got braver with the make-up I did wear, which meant experimenting, which meant I “didn’t know” how to use it.
- Most of the time, I was too lazy to put make-up on.
- I never had a problem with acne. A few pimples from age 12-13, a few blackheads junior year. That’s it.
- I plucked my eyebrows once. I do not believe in that “beauty is pain” bullshit. That is also why I’ve waxed all of once.
- My fashion sense didn’t really change from age 10 to age 15. For the record, that’s 5th grade to junior year of high school. I love skirts, and I have always loved fashion, but the clothes I want(ed) to wear don’t/didn’t exist. I dressed like a “bag lady” because I layered skirts, which looked awesome. My mom was embarrassed to take me to church.
- My “tomboy” phase was pulling my frizzy, gross hair into a ponytail because I didn’t want to deal with it, and wearing a huge ratty denim shirt over my clothes to hide my “fat.” The funny thing? The “you look like a lesbian” thing was because I dressed like my older cousin (a completely normal thing for kids to do) . . . who turned out to be transgender and was promptly cut off from the family.
When I buy my own house, the first thing I’m doing is taking down the goddamn mirrors.
You need to try to be as thin as I was at your age.
Eat this. Don’t eat that. Carbs are bad for you.
There’s this funny thing with genes: you get them from BOTH of your parents. I got my mom’s willowy bones, and my paternal grandmother’s metabolism/breasts/hips. I was 5′ 7″ at age 12. I topped out at 5′ 9″ at 14. I was 149 pounds and a size 10-12 on my 12th birthday. I remember because my dad asked.
(Unrelated: my best birthday ever was the one I spent in a different country from everyone I knew.)
After that, I was on every fad diet my mom tried. Atkins was the big one. I spent 7th grade eating less than 20 carbs a day and packages of Buddig deli meat. I got into over-sized clothes so people couldn’t see my fat.
10th grade was when my mom discovered “portion control” through LA Weight Loss. I wound up with my own pamphlet of diet-tracking “portion bubbles” to fill in. My weight had skyrocketed to 190 due to a fabulous combination of birth control pills (to “regulate my hormones”–that’s an entirely different post), gastroparesis, and depression. I got really into jackets and sweaters.
(I’m still really into jackets and sweaters.)
You aren’t funny. Stop talking.
That one doesn’t even need additional examples. It’s also the one that hurts the most.
I’m a serious person, so when I make a joke, it’s probably a pun or something with a dry twist. I freaking love puns. I am very tuned into sarcasm, and it’s easy to get me to laugh. Someone can make a joke that no one else gets or no one else finds funny, and I will laugh. Or, I used to laugh. For the most part, I just smile encouragingly these days.
My cousins, the ones I never see, have a pretty similar sense of humor to mine. The rest of my family . . . does not. I cannot count the number of times my sister has glared at me and changed the subject after I’ve made a joke.
Siblings, though–that’s to be expected. Where I didn’t expect it was from my boyfriend.
I don’t know if he ever found me funny–I mean, he did in the beginning. At the very beginning, before we started dating, which was about 3 weeks. More often than not, my jokes were met with a blank stare. His best friends always laughed–Greg or Eric and I would share a snicker that my boyfriend didn’t see. At home, he flat out told me that I wasn’t funny, and I would never be funny. God forbid I not find him clever as hell, though.
After he was old enough to start drinking, he started saying those things in public. He told me to “stop trying” in front of his friends, so I started ribbing on him. His friends sure found it funny. He didn’t and asked me one night, at home, to stop doing it because it made him feel like shit. I stopped. I still wasn’t good enough. Eventually he became an asshole to anyone who shared my sense of humor.
Funny how it’s the people you can’t please whose acceptance you want the most, huh?
You aren’t smart enough to do that.
After my grandmother died, I wanted to figure out how cure her disease. That was my goal for all of three months, until the science fair rolled around and I remembered I suck at science.
Science classes in high school, as graded by O.W.L.s examiners (as I remember them–remember that hindsight is not 20/20)
- Geology – Exceeds Expectations
- Meteorology – Acceptable
- Astronomy – Acceptable
- Plant Biology – Outstanding
- (Whatever second term Bio was) – Acceptable
- Human Biology – Troll
- First & second term Chemistry – Outstanding
- Third term Chemistry – Exceeds Expectations
I retook third term Bio my junior year of high school, in exchange for taking Philosophy my senior year of high school. This meant I took Bio and Philosophy with people my own age–which was a goddamn relief. You see, in spite of my clearly inferior intelligence, I started high school at age 13. Not 13, turning 14 in September. I turned 13 eight days before 9th grade started. Guess who rarely got along with her classmates?
I wanted to go to Ivy League, but didn’t have the grades or the SAT scores (or a mom who encouraged going out of state). 640 in critical reading. 640 in math. 610 in writing. I ended up at community college, getting a degree in You Can’t Make Up Your Mind.
Eventually, I started university and studied Architecture. I loved it, more than any program I’ve ever studied. I decided that if I managed to stick with school long enough to get my bachelor’s (I get bored easily), I would apply to Yale for my master’s degree. My university grades were finally good enough, and if I pushed myself just a little harder. . . .
The one person whose opinion mattered laughed at me. I didn’t even bother applying for the milestone to get into second year.
There’s nothing you can do that will make your life worth anything.
No matter how hard you try, you will never add up. No medication will ever make you better. No amount of exercise or dieting will give you the peace of mind you’re looking for. We try, we all try so hard, to “find ourselves,” but the truth is we are all too lost. We are completely powerless.
I felt like this one would wrap things up nicely, because it’s one that many of us hear from the day we’re born until the day we die.
It’s the rhetoric of the Christian church.
From the time I was 4, I was told I was imperfect. I was told it wasn’t my fault, but it was inescapable. I was told that this was due to my “sin nature.” I was told that if I gave into temptation–lying, doing something Grandma said I couldn’t (like reading under my blankets), teaching boys–if I gave in, my sin nature had won and I wasn’t really a Christian because repenting meant I wouldn’t do those bad things anymore.
I was 4, guys. I still had a lifetime of bad behavior ahead of me. Granted, I never did drugs. I never slept around. I obeyed my parents for the most part. My rebellious teen years lasted all of age 14 to age 14 and 6 months (again, birth control pills, gastroparesis, and depression were factors during this period). I didn’t start swearing until I was 12, and I didn’t start using the “really bad” swear words until I was 16 or 17. I didn’t use the blasphemous ones until I was almost 20.
I do appreciate the moral compass the Church gave me. I don’t lie (often). I don’t sleep around. I don’t do drugs (caffeine and lamotrigine excepted).
I hate the way the Church taught me to treat other people. I was an asshole. I dropped out of choir because the lyrics of “Rock Around The Clock” were bad. I was in 3rd grade. I cut off my childhood best friend because she wasn’t a Christian. I judged and debated and “educated” people whose opinions deserved my respect.
Things got bad when I started getting more intellectual than my Sunday School teachers . . . when I was 12. I was the only girl in my grade 7-12 class. I was taught by men, because women weren’t allowed to teach “men,” which included boys over 13. That year, I started an internal battle of whether I believed or not. On the outside, I was fighting ever harder to make people come to my way of thinking. On the inside, I was tearing apart and hating myself for it. That struggle continued for 6 years, until I walked away from the church just before I turned 19.
These aren’t one-off examples. These are things that shaped my attitude towards myself and the way I relate to other people. I still feel the ramifications. I still find it hard to lead men or speak my mind because I am well aware of my station as a woman. I can’t wear certain clothes because of the way my body is shaped.
This is the reality of the society we live in. Not American society, mind you. Not even European society. Attitudes like this are global. Every culture has determined what is “acceptable” and persecuted whatever doesn’t match those standards.
None of this surprises you. None of my experiences are unique. You’ve probably had at least one of them. We’re all taught to be ashamed of ourselves, and we all handle it differently. That’s why we’re so fucked up.
So how do we prevent ourselves from passing these issues on to our children? How do we prevent these insecurities from manifesting in our relationships, romantic or platonic? How do we prevent this society from breaking us with the standards it requires we meet in order to be accepted?
How do I stop hating myself?