Usually, when this happens, it is because of an outside force meeting the immovable object that is my self-esteem and my inability to truly believe, over long periods of time and through swamps and over hills and down into valleys and in ditches, that I have good qualities. The story goes how I was feeling fat/ugly/weird-looking/zitty/strange/dumb, but someone looked at me and said Wonderful Thing about my Beauty, either Inner, Outer, or Both, and I had an epiphany about my true, excellent self, and I felt that this was a real turning point for the way I feel about myself and the way I carry my little pea brain around inside my pointy head.
And it’s a magical story full of wonder, and you want to cheer about how beautiful it is to truly understand and have faith your goodness and your expression of that goodness in the world and how sometimes, when someone sees something in you, it is the most meaningful connection you will ever experience with a human being outside of one you have either just birthed or who has given you a pony.
But the holy grail of self-esteem, the goal and the point and purpose of developing a strong sense of self, a core, a line of pure white light that burns up your center and explodes out the top of your head, is absolute autonomy. To not worry what other people think about you, to not rely on the opinions of people who are not sharing space in your head, to be utterly self-sufficient and absolutely confident, to be a pillar of self-fueling, flaming awesome that will never burn out.
It’s terribly rare for most people, I think, and that is a terrible thing. You look in the mirror, and you want to say “Oh my god, I am so hot I want to make out with myself immediately.” You want to say my god, I am sexy, good lord I am lovely, check out those gams and would you look at those nicely turned ankles and madam, truly your eyes are the spectacular double-hung bay windows into the very best soul the world has ever seen. Except that you have a sense of modesty, and a sense of absurdity, a sense that you’d be kind of an asshole to say anything complimentary about yourself. That you need to wait around for someone to point out your good qualities before you are allowed to have any. You don’t need to be told to believe anything else in your life—why do you need to be told to believe that you are beautiful? Why do we wait? Why is it so often hard to admit to ourselves, and then so impossible to admit to anyone else?
Usually I wait. I say oh, thank you! And I blush. That indicates that I have never thought that I had Good Quality, and thank you for bringing Good Quality to light for me! Today, though, I surprised myself into it. At the nail salon, a before-the-wedding event for E’s soon-to-be sister-in-law. I was paying, and I glanced up to find the other ladies in our party of Ladies Who Lunch and Also Get Sparkly Pedicures, and I noticed a girl at the other end of the room and I thought man, she is so cute, as you do, and you know how this story ends—it was me, in the mirror, disoriented by the angle and the unexpectedness of the mirror being there across from me and the light and the sun in my eyes and the Astroturf.
But there is no getting out of it, when you are startled into truth. I walked over, pretending that I was examining the rack of scarves and bags but what I was doing was staring in Fascinated Wonder. Hey, yo, holy crap. Look at me. I am a girl you’d think “wow,” about. I am beautiful, right there in the mirror. I would make out with me, and I wouldn’t even have to be that drunk. I really am beautiful, and no one had to tell me.
Of course my sense of self-awareness kicked in pretty rapidly, and I felt like a jackass and embarrassed and stupid and then I thought no. Fuck you, sad little organ-grinding part of my brain. You are taking the night off. You’re going to say it out loud. Say it. Say it. No? Okay. Maybe we will let you off the hook with the self-affirmation exercises in the mirror.
Writing this feels pretty much as naked and absurd—oh my god you guys, I am so totally pretty! But listen—this is something you want to do. This is something you want to think about yourself. This is a five minute stretch you want to put in, in front of a mirror. You want to say holy crap, I am a golden god, just the once. I promise you it is an amazing feeling. An amazing, no-bullshit, tell-it-like-it-is kind of exhilaration. It feels good, and it’s so good for you, too. Please tell me how pretty you are.