Reaching self-acceptance

For some women, self-acceptance seems like an impossible goal to set. For just about anyone, it might reek of ego or self-importance.

Smiling woman looking up and relaxing at home.After all, as women, we’re told from childhood to put others first, to sacrifice, to make others comfortable and well-fed and content, and then tend to ourselves later.

Along with this social conditioning comes a steady diet of advertisements and images telling us no matter what we are, we’re the opposite of what we should ideally be. We’re too short, too fat, too tall, too skinny, too light, too dark, too plain, too trendy…

The end result feeds a self-doubt we may not even be aware we’re carrying around with us. Some days it’s more obvious than on other days, but we’ve all felt it at some point. That is, unless we’re one of those rare and fortunate ladies who is possessed of a self-confidence which never wavers. Ever.

Well, I’m not. I’ve struggled on every level, at every age. From the unintentionally unkind words of a parent to the hateful taunts of classmates, from the cold, disapproving gazes of potential employers to the cruel criticisms by a romantic partner and beyond – I’ve heard every insult imaginable. Sadly, I all-too-often took those words to heart, even when I thought I hadn’t, until the damage they did cut me down to a point where I struggled to find happiness or satisfaction anywhere.

My own lack of self-acceptance led me to marry too young, to the first man I ever seriously dated. It led me to leave him, too, and then to pursue another unhealthy relationship after that. I had no idea what I needed to be happy, because I thought I didn’t deserve to be. I gained weight, dressed carelessly and drifted from one menial job to another, miserable and unable to write the stories which had, at one time, given me a sense of solace and purpose no matter what else was going on in my life.

Weight-loss

I finally got fed up with being overweight and, as they say, “got tired of being tired”. Finally determined enough to take action in what I hoped was a positive direction, I joined a weight-loss group. It made sense at the time – there was a location close to my workplace in town and they had meetings at a time when I could go after work. It was perfect!

I only went to four meetings, even though the plan worked for me, and I did lose some weight. During one meeting I listened while others shared their goals and plans for after they’d lost the weight. One woman stood (they were all women at these meetings, although I had seen a few men when I signed up) and said, her voice shaking: “When I lose this weight, I’m going to give myself a special treat. Some new clothes and a new hairdo. I can’t wait until then, because I’ll deserve it.” She smiled, though she looked close to tears, and everyone applauded quietly as she took her seat.

One of the counselors thanked her and said we should all make similar plans – some perk or treat down the road to serve as a motivator. She asked if anyone else had something like that in mind and several hands went up, and a few more folks shared similar ambitions.

I found myself saddened as each woman stood and spoke of herself in disparaging tones, some of them refusing to look down at their own bodies as they talked. Again and again, they spoke of things they would do or buy when they “deserved” them.

When my turn came, I stood and suggested that maybe everyone there should consider permitting themselves something nice now, in addition to rewarding themselves later for reaching a difficult goal.

“Why wait to love yourself?” I asked. “If you’re doing this, you’re doing it because you love yourself, right? Allow yourself something nice, now – you’ve already earned it. Don’t hold back until some unknown date to care. Do it now.”

The look the counselor gave me was not particularly friendly, though a number of women applauded me as I took my seat again. Clearly I’d overstepped some boundary I wasn’t aware of.

The meeting resumed and the talk went back to the usual topics, discussing portions and what to do about cravings and how to tally points, etc, etc. All the while I became more and more upset. I hated thinking of these women postponing their lives until they fitted some ideal in their head. I was doing this because I loved myself, not because someone else thought I should do it or some pressure from society demanded it.

Or was I?

Taking Control

It took time before I realised I had crossed a boundary – but not the one at the meeting. I’d gone from actively loathing myself (a habit I’d had since my teens, when low self-esteem took over) to giving a damn about my own happiness. I did things I wanted to do, because I enjoyed them. I allowed myself to enjoy them, and it felt great.

Miracle of miracles, I started trusting myself and my own judgment. In time, I moved to a new place, broke off a long-distance relationship which wasn’t working, quit a job which was draining me emotionally (and held no promise of a future) and found myself feeling inspired again. I began writing a novel and shared it with a few good friends and some co-workers at the bookstore where I’d started working.

I wasn’t making much money and didn’t have a clear idea of where I was heading in the grand scheme of things, but I was happy. In fact, I found I was actually serene, which wasn’t a word even my best friends would have used to describe me before that time.

Eventually, I made a decision: I would be happy with myself, and happy in my own skin. I wouldn’t allow others to make me feel worthless any more. I would love myself and that was good enough. It still is.

Of course, I don’t always manage this. I have bad phases and good ones. I’m just like anyone else in that way. But the best parts of my life didn’t happen until I allowed them to. They couldn’t come to me until I was willing to accept them, by first accepting myself. When I quit allowing others to dictate how I thought of myself, I was able to grow and change in the ways I knew I needed to. In many ways, that was its own reward.

But there were other perks: I’m in Italy now, married to a wonderful guy (who has his own quirks, naturally) and struggling along as a writer in the best way I know how. In spite of the ups and downs – and there are many – I’m happy, which is something I never thought I’d be.

And I deserve it, which is something else I never thought possible, once upon a long ago.

About Kimberly Menozzi

I am an American author who has lived in northern Italy with my husband, Alessandro, since 2003. When in the United States, I live in east Tennessee, close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A writer since childhood, I have published my first novel, 'Ask Me if I'm Happy', in 2011.

  • Great article. Someday I hope to get to trusting myself and my own judgement.

    • I know you well enough to suspect that you will get there, Charlotte. You’re certainly braver than a lot of people I know!

  • Michelle Spoken

    “… happy in my own skin. I wouldn

  • Thank you, Michelle. I’m afraid I’d have to agree with you – we cut ourselves down without even realizing, sometimes. It’s a hard-fought battle to learn to accept ourselves.

  • Gail Caudill

    KIM, wish we older women had reached your maturity. We have a lot more years of hurts to overcome. You keep up with your encouraging ways.
    Your mom’s friend Gail

    • Thank you, Gail! I intend to keep right on with these “encouraging ways”, and maybe, with a little luck, I’ll be able to convince a few other women they deserve to love themselves no matter what. Thanks for coming by and commenting, too!

  • Audrey

    Wonderful article! You are a very talented author, and an inspiration to me.

    • Thank you, Audrey – that’s music to my ears, and inspirational for me, too. 🙂

  • Cindy

    Kim…you are such a great writer. Always have been. This is such a great article. Very proud of you!

    • Thank you, Cindy – that means a lot to me. And I’m especially pleased you enjoyed the article.

  • Kathryn

    Kim, I agree with what you have to say. I too try my best to accept myself and have joined a MA in Writing course. However, I am still very overweight and need to lose weight to lessen the impact on my knees.
    Kathryn

    • Hi, Kathryn. I’m so glad to hear that you’re being positive and caring toward yourself. I hope you’ll enjoy the writing course as you take that on.

      Naturally, taking care of yourself is a significant part of self-acceptance. As long as you don’t neglect or deny yourself, I think you’ll find your goals are clearer and easier to reach.

      As for losing weight, I wish you good luck and great health. You’re beginning a long journey, and though it may be tough at times, just remember you’re doing this because you love and care for yourself, and there are many, many of us pulling for you to succeed.

  • Penny Coggins

    Beautifully written! I was very fortunate to have family who taught me to respect myself for who I was. I still felt very self conscious in elementary school… to the extent I thought the majority of the kids disliked or even hated me. In retrospect that was quite a self Important perspective on my part, as most to the other kids probably couldn’t have cared less either way. From high school my outlook improved a bigger pond and all. I like what you said about allowing yourself some rewards without condition. I have never been one to preface getting things I want with deserving them. My view is: if I can attain it and it is not a detriment for me or someone else, I’ll go for it.

    • Thank you, Penny! I suppose that sense of insecurity is part of growing up, isn’t it? What’s really tragic is when people can’t leave those feelings behind and realize they’re figments of an immature imagination – and I say that as someone who went a long, long time carrying around those misconceptions about myself.

      I’m pleased that you have managed to get past that in your life, though. More power to you! 😉

  • Marion

    great article – thank you – our motto is ‘helping you to be your best’ – and we work with lots of women who lack the courage you have – but we can help – and at the same time help ourselves to reach our dreams

  • heather_russell@hotmail.co.uk

    I think we can all relate to this Kim – thank you for your honesty. In particular I think us girls struggle with feelings of inadequacy – or maybe we are just more pensive, and honest. What I wish I had known when I was younger was that while we want to act in ways that respect the dignity of others, we must not live our lives worrying about what others will think. If we live by our own code, we can to an extent, afford to dismiss the crowds! And that is liberating.

    • Kimberly Menozzi

      You know, Heather, when it comes to this topic, I really couldn’t be anything other than honest, particularly when I see women all around me suffering through the struggle to be what everyone else *seems* to want from them. Until we understand what *we* want from ourselves, and then work toward that, our happiness and self-esteem are especially fragile things.

      Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts. I hope you continue to live by your own code and are all the happier for it!

  • heather_russell@hotmail.co.uk

    I could not agree more. I wish more young women knew how important this is – it would save them a lot of wasted energy – and heartache. Sometimes even our closest friends and family don’t understand what we are doing and it takes courage to do it anyway.

    A life lived controlled by others’ expectations is sad, whereas a life of integrity and courage is an exciting adventure. Even if we occasionally have to take it solo!

  • Margaret Watterson

    I really relate here. The first part of the storey is my story too. I never felt good enough and l still dont. My expartners have stripped me of my confidence of where and what l want to do even down to what makes me happt. I keep trying to get positive but lifes blows still keep knocking me back as l struggle to cope with depression and now have started to have panic attacks but l will not them take over my life x

    • Deborah

      I am so sorry to hear that Margaret and wish you all the very best. Do keep positive xx

      • Margaret Watterson

        Thank you xx