Welcome readers, old and new. For the first time, My Happy Heart is hosting a guest blog. What you are about to read has been written by Lara, Founder of The True Beauty Project. I trust that her words will touch and inspire you, as they have done me. ❤️❤️
My Path to discovering True Beauty
2016 has been a big year for me. I got married in February, and just a couple months after that my new husband and I packed up our lives and moved to Asia. Most recently, I turned 30. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the drastic life changes I’ve experienced this year, all the time I’ve spent on my own in a new country while my husband is at work all day, or just the impending milestone birthday, but in the last few months I’ve been going through something of an existential crisis.
In truth, it probably built up over time, but it felt as if it came on suddenly. At some point, I became aware of how unhappy I was about myself, and it all started with how I looked. I looked in the mirror every day and saw hair, a face and a body that didn’t look the way they were supposed to. It frustrated and upset me. My hair never behaved, my skin was so hard to keep clear and pimple-free, I had a pot-belly, my breasts weren’t big enough, and on and on the list went. I wanted to look a certain way, but I couldn’t achieve it. Every day I looked in the mirror, saw my shortcomings, and felt worse and worse. I began to feel like a failure, I began to feel ashamed of myself. I started asking questions like if I can’t look right, if my hair doesn’t look like this, if I don’t have makeup on and I don’t have nice new clothes, what’s the point of anything? It sounds ridiculous and overdramatic now, but at the time it was something I was legitimately asking myself, it was all I could think about.
Words like worthless, nothing, unimportant and valueless were circling around in my head. Why was the way I looked so important? At some point it occurred to me that there must be other things about me that are of value. I must have qualities within myself that are beautiful, things that have nothing to do with my appearance. But I couldn’t think of what those things were. This really scared me. I was sure that I was a good person, but I couldn’t find anything within myself to love. I realised that somewhere along the way I had become so concerned about my appearance, that I had lost myself.
This is about when the real tears started. My husband would come home from work to find me in on the couch sobbing. I tried to explain myself to him, but he couldn’t understand. He told me I was beautiful, inside and out. But that didn’t help, because the problem wasn’t about how others saw me, it was about how I saw myself. I had lost myself behind all these superficial things, and I didn’t know who I was anymore.
So what was I to do? I knew that I had to find those great things about myself that I had lost touch with. But how could I do that when I was so worried about how I looked? How could I find things to love about myself when I felt so ugly and worthless? I wanted to be able to look into the mirror and know the woman I was looking at, not see unreached beauty goals. I felt an overwhelming need to let go of all my superficial expectations of myself and of beauty. I felt like I had to take away all the things that really don’t matter, perform a kind of shedding process, and see who was left after all that superficial stuff was removed.
The first thing I thought to do was to cut off all my hair. I have always been somewhat attached to my hair. Most of my life I’ve had it long, and although I rarely styled it, it was important to me. It was as if it were a symbol of my identity, when in reality I knew my hair had nothing to do with who I was. I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of pixie cuts, and watching videos of women who had shaved their hair off as an act of freedom. Each one left me in tears. It touched me so deeply and I knew that cutting my hair was something I had to do. But I wasn’t ready for it.
Realising that the shape of my body actually had no bearing on who I was as a person, I felt like I needed to face my insecurities and embrace my body as it is. I found a tight, body hugging dress in my wardrobe, a dress that I hadn’t felt comfortable to wear in the last two years. I put it on, stood in front of my mirror and took a photo. Just this small act made me realise that I was constantly, subconsciously sucking my stomach in. I forced myself to relax, I adjusted and let my stomach sit naturally, and I took another photo. This time it clearly showed my pot belly. I uploaded that photo to Facebook and Instagram, announcing to my friends and family my mission to love myself as I am and to find beauty within myself. I didn’t have to start this journey publicly by sharing that photo on social media, but I felt that doing so made me accountable and committed.
Makeup was another thing that I felt was holding me back from finding beauty within myself. I had reached the point where I was so ashamed of my skin, that even a short trip to the supermarket required a full face of makeup. I felt worthless without it. So I decided to stop wearing so much of it. For a 30 year old who still gets pimples, this was a big deal for me, but I was determined. Now, most days I put on very minimal makeup, if at all. Sometimes it’s just a little mascara, sometimes just a little lipstick. And usually, if I’m only going to the supermarket, it’s none at all. I haven’t given it up completely, sometimes it’s fun to put makeup on, and sometimes I still feel insecure about my skin and put it on to feel better about myself, but every time I put makeup on now I take the time to ask myself why. Is it for myself? Is it for others? Am I feeling insecure? I don’t always like the answer, but it’s important to me that I remain self-aware. I don’t want to sink so far back into that dark place again, so the sooner I can figure out what my insecurities are, the sooner I can work on them.
I once heard the phrase “trade in fashion for style”, and I knew this was a philosophy I had to take up. Previously I would dress for others. I would alter my outfit based on who I would be seeing that day, I needed to buy a new outfit for every special event, and I felt a sense of failure if I wasn’t constantly keeping up with every fashion trend. So I made the conscience decision to stop trying to keep up with outside influences, and instead dress for myself, according to my own sense of style. The first time I did this I felt like I was breaking an unwritten law, and it was much harder to do than I expected. I wanted to wear a comfy band t-shirt, and a flowy, floral skirt. It felt wrong to wear these items together, a grungy t-shirt doesn’t match a feminine skirt, according to the set of rules I had applied to myself. What would people think of me if they saw me dressed that way? How would they look at me? I put them on anyway, and I went about my day. And what happened? Not a lot. No one looked at me funnily, no one said anything, and why should they? I was clean, presentable, and had all the necessary body parts covered. I did feel great though! I was wearing two pieces of clothing I loved, exactly as I wanted to wear them, and by ridding myself of those expectations and rules I had created, I felt liberated. I felt that by dressing how I wanted I was finally being myself, that I was exploring a part of my identity I had previously kept locked away.
After doing all this, I still had my hair on my mind. It continued to be so important to me, I was so attached to it. Even when I couldn’t style it and it wasn’t behaving, I had so much pride in its length, as if it was a symbol of my womanhood, my femininity and my value. With so much importance placed on my hair, it seems counteractive to cut it all off, but the importance and amount of self-worth that I placed on my hair was exactly the reason I knew it had to go. I don’t want all my self-worth and my whole identity to be held in my hair. I want to be able to look in the mirror and not see all these symbols that represent what I am meant to be, but to look in the mirror and just see me, the real me, a blank canvas so I can find who I really am. I spent several weeks browsing through pictures of pixie cuts looking for inspiration and working up the nerve to go through with it. I carefully chose pictures of the most plain and bland styles I could find to take with me to the hairdressers. It was important to me that I was doing this for the right reasons, to strip myself back to just plain old me. I felt that if I chose a style too stylish, that I would be getting this haircut for superficial reasons. There’s nothing wrong with getting a haircut to look good, but that wasn’t my aim this time around, my aim was to find beauty within myself, without getting distracted by the way I look. Calling to make that appointment was far more nerve wracking than I expected it to be, I picked up the phone several times before actually making the call. When I did finally call, they informed me that they had had a cancellation that day, and asked if I could be there within the hour. I took that as a sign.
I expected the act of cutting my hair to be emotional. I honestly thought I would cry, not because of my attachment to my hair, but because it felt like such a monumental step in my journey of self-discovery, the final act of shedding. But sitting in that salon chair I was surprisingly calm and happy. I sat with a huge smile on my face, and as more and more hair fell to the floor I silently said hello to me. Not to a new me, but to the me who has spent so long hidden behind unattainable beauty standards. For the first couple of weeks after getting my hair cut I couldn’t decide what I thought of it. Some days I loved it, other days I hated it. But what I finally realised is that whether I love it or hate my hair, it doesn’t matter. It’s not me, I am not a hairstyle; I’m so much more than that.
So what have I learnt from this? Did I find out who I really am? Well, the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that the way I feel about my appearance doesn’t matter if I don’t learn to love myself as a person. Whether I love my body or hate it, whether I’m comfortable in my own skin or not, none of that matters if I can’t find any beauty within myself. Self-love needs to come from the inside first, before I can come to love my appearance and my body. The truth is that my journey of self-discovery and self-love is not over. I am still searching for those parts of my personality that make me beautiful, I’m still trying to value myself more as a person rather than a spectacle. I don’t think it will ever be over, and that’s okay. Because I know that the day I stop getting to know myself, and the day I stop searching for things to love about myself, is the day I’ve lost myself in superficial expectations once again.