Time was suspended as I stood there weeping softly, hot tears rolling down my cheeks but I didn't feel embarrassed in her presence. I was overcome with emotion but shame was not one. With her standing there I I felt strong and powerful. We knew my tears were tears of acceptance, joy, gratitude and love.
I cradled my head in my hands and cried softly into my palms trying to muffle the sound of my sniffling as I did not want other Target shoppers to be alarmed by my emotional state. I didn't call anyone, I didn't text anyone, I didn't reach out to ask anyone to come experience this tender moment with me. I needed to experience this moment alone and so I did.
29 years she asked me to love her and I tried, I swear I did try...I pretended I did, some days I even believed I did but the feeling was fleeting and despite my best efforts I just could not love her the way she deserved to be loved. She has done so much. She has worked so hard. She may not be perfect but she is genuine; she is real and she is deserving of my love.
But I resented her for not being someone else. I couldn't understand why she had to be so different. People didn't like her growing up because she was fat, then she had acne, then she struggled with depression. She was awkward, an outcast and she felt so lonely. She felt like no one loved her and because they didn't I couldn't either. So I abused her like they did.
I was mean, insulting, degrading. I'm so sincerely disappointed in myself for the things I said and did to her. She should've broken but she didn't. Somehow she managed to hang on. Some days she hung on by a thread and some days I thought "this is it! I've finally gotten rid of her. Thank god!!" I hated being around her. I hated the way she looked; her deformed fat body, her blemished skin, her thin hair. Everything about her made me feel sick. I didn't want her around. I didn't want to be associated with this awful, vial creature. I just wanted a chance to get away from her and start fresh. I wanted to go somewhere no one knew her so they wouldn't think that I actually liked someone like that. She was unlikable.
But it seemed no matter what I did she was not going anywhere. She was always there. I tried so hard to disassociate myself from her but it didn't work. No amount of torment would get her away from me. So I slowly but surely learned that I'd need to accept her. I didn't have to like her, I was never going to love her, but I could try to accept her.
I started pointing out the good things about her. I started with her eyes. They were pretty enough. A bluish green. Then one day I noticed she has a yellow gold iris that make her eyes look like she has sunflowers in them...it was that day that I realized maybe I could like her. But I'd never love her. Despite her pretty eyes and our long history she was just too flawed. She didn't deserve my love.
She started eating better, she started working out and she lost weight. She became more tolerable and I continued to like her. I felt a little less embarrassed to be associated with her, especially when other people complimented her or paid her attention. I suppose if other people thought it was cool that she was running I could think it was cool too. Even if she did run slower than molasses. If other people said she was an inspiration I was like "yeah! she is!" But I struggled to like her when others didn't. If someone didn't mention that she looked pretty I didn't tell her she was pretty. I wasn't going to lie to the poor girl. Obviously she isn't pretty, or strong or worth a compliment because if she was someone would say something nice to her. I didn't need to do that. I liked her, but not enough.
Sometimes I told myself just to fake it. Pretend you love her and see how it goes! She deserves a compliment and just because everyone is too wrapped up in their own lives to say "you look great!" or "I really like your haircut" or "you're doing a really great job at work!" it doesn't mean it's untrue. It just means people are busy and preoccupied with themselves. So occasionally I'd tell her she looked great or I'd compliment her on a work achievement but every time I did this she got so excited that I was paying attention to her and she wanted more! She practically begged me to love her! It was sickening so I kept my compliments few and far between; occasionally seconding the opinions of others but more often reminding her that sometimes people tell lies to make us feel good and she should take everything with a grain of salt. Except all of the negative comments of course. If someone said they didn't like her hair or made some other snide remark about her I'd be there to constantly remind her. If she posted a selfie #GreatHairDay I would not-so-gently remind her that just the other day someone assaulted her for her style and color choice. If she posted a gym pic with a flexed bicep I'd ignore the bulging muscle she was so proud of and focus on the bulging roll in her midsection that she forgot to suck in. I wasn't being mean though. I was being helpful. I liked her so I wanted her to remember that if she's going to share her victories she should probably wait until she has something worth sharing. No one wants to see a fat girl in the gym mirror with a grin as big as her midsection. When she had a six pack she could post a picture that she could be proud of. And maybe then I could love her. Of course I knew that wasn't going to happen but I liked her and she was lucky that I did. It was really hard for me to like her but I worked at it everyday.
Until Sunday when she caught me off guard. She decided to try on a bikini despite the fact that I insisted it wasn't a good idea. I knew she was going to look in the mirror and see stretch marks, cellulite and failure. I knew it was going to set her back and she was going to be heartbroken. She was feeling really confident despite my attempts to keep her humble (by attacking her appearance and downplaying any success she had) and as much as I didn't love her, I didn't want to see her crumble either. But she went to Target and she found a bikini on the rack. It was adorable...I'll admit! A high waist black bikini with a halter top. Another girl would probably look absolutely amazing in it but not her. I tried to convince her to try on a one piece but she wouldn't. She picked up a tankini top with a solid bra top and a panel of lacy fabric attached that would mostly cover her pale fleshy tummy and we compromised. I'd let her try on the bikini if she'd try on the tankini too. I mean, it was wasn't a solid piece of fabric, you'd be able to see some skin so it would be like wearing a bikini...without actually wearing a bikini. I'm trying to protect her from people staring, laughing, calling her fat. A bikini does not offer much coverage and there is no way she would be able to hide her numerous imperfections in one.
But she tried it on anyways...and when she did she fell in love. It was the craziest feeling and one of the most amazing moments in her 29 years of life. She will never forget the day she stood in the Target dressing room looking at herself. Admiring herself. Seeing her strength and beauty despite her flaws...maybe even because of them. She was stunning. Absolutely radiant and proud. She was beautiful outside but not because she had a toned stomach, tanned flawless skin and a thigh gap; she was a different kind of beautiful. She was genuinely beautiful. She stood there staring at herself and admiring herself and she felt herself smiling; caught off guard by how she was feeling! She was almost a little ashamed admiring herself this way. But she didn't reject her admiration; instead she smiled back at me and before she knew it she was crying.
As I stood there surrounded by mirrors I cried tears of sorrow because I was so mean to myself for so many years. I cried tears of pride because I was I was wearing my first bikini. Ever! I cried tears of heartache as I remembered how badly I wanted to give up on myself and I cried tears of relief because I didn't. And for the first time ever I cried because I was overcome with love for myself. I finally recognized my inner strength, I finally acknowledged my beauty and standing in a bikini with nothing to hide my insecurities and imperfections I realized how secure and perfect I actually am.
And right in that moment I snapped a picture of her. My beautiful reflection. My perfect body in the perfect swimsuit. Teary eyes so I'd always have a keepsake of the day I fell in love with myself.