Why do I feel self-conscious? I was methodically applying tanning lotion to my skin, physically unaware of what I was doing, like when you are physically driving a car, but your mind is elsewhere. My mind was distracted by my overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, of self-doubt.
I had just experienced a misunderstanding with my boyfriend, leaving me feeling unsupported and unseen. This happens when you are in a relationship with another human who has different opinions and a different life perspective than you. Disagreements with others are fine, healthy, and “normal,” whatever that means.
After reaching an understanding, I still felt a weight on me. A feeling that I was not enough. This was not my boyfriend’s fault; I have dealt with feelings of inadequacy for almost my entire life — or at least since I hit puberty and my carefree sense of being turned cautious. The conversation just made me more reflective of myself. I felt raw and vulnerable, all my self-doubts exposed.
Why have I had these feelings of inadequacy throughout my life? Perhaps it stems from my twelve-year-old self being told my clothing choices were too revealing to wear on family outings to the nearby Army base because my dad, a retired Army Ranger, “(knew) what those Army guys think.”
Or perhaps these feelings stem from my years at the private school, where I was constantly told to cover-up and that my shirt was too low-cut, not adhering to the “four fingers below the collar bone” rule.
Maybe my sense of self began to diminish that time in middle school when an older girl commented on the blackheads making their home in my skin before complimenting my friend on her figure, telling her she should not hide it. My friend and I received different judgments, but both reduced us to our outward appearances, to our skinsuits.
Maybe my feelings of inadequacy hit before I even realized it, from that first time, one that I do not even remember, walking through the makeup aisle. Maybe those ads for makeup products that supposedly would make my skin look flawless or my lips look kissable made me feel I needed to have “flawless” skin or “kissable” lips, whatever that means, to have worth or to be seen.
Perhaps these feelings began after many trips walking through the women’s skincare aisle. Maybe it was all the money I spent on new products, hoping that just maybe this one would work and shrink my pores. As if the size of those spots on my face that literally allow my skin to breathe and sweat was my defining factor.
Maybe all those beautiful and filtered women on the internet did more damage than I thought. Looking in the mirror and not seeing what I saw all over social media was painful. It hurt not to feel as beautiful as those women, whether their pictures were posed and filtered or not. All the women commenting “goals” under such pictures only increased my feelings of inadequacy. I knew nothing about these women. Yet I was reducing myself to how my looks compared with theirs. As if the most important factor in our lives is our skinsuit and not our inner lives, or how happy we are.
Meeting my boyfriend’s grandma only encouraged these feelings of inadequacy. We met during the Covid-19 outbreak, and one of the first things she said to me was: “take off your mask so I can see your face,” or something like that. Not, “what do you do for fun?” or “what is your favorite thing about my grandson?” Because, why wouldn’t the way I look determined whether I was or was not good enough for her grandson?
I have been evaluated by my appearance my entire life. I have been evaluated by others, and I have been evaluated by myself. Society has set standards for me, letting me know how I “should” look if I want to be attractive and worthy. I have tried to reach those standards regardless of their unreachable-ness.
So much of my life has centered around my body. And no wonder, with all the influencing factors in my life. No wonder I often feel inadequate for reasons as little, yet as big, as my body. No wonder whenever I am confronted with any type of disagreement, I immediately shrink back into that little girl who just wants to feel like enough. Society tells us our worth is largely dependent on our skinsuits.
Living in a world that defines people largely by their appearances makes it difficult to define ourselves in other ways.
But I want to remind you of something: no matter how powerful societal pressures are, they are just that: societal pressures. And society changes all the time. We have the power to change every day. The human species is ever-evolving, ever-changing, along with its societal “norms.”
We, as the people in this society, have the power to change these pressures, expectations, and defining factors. While change on a large scale takes time, in the meantime, we can focus on changing how we view ourselves and others. We can focus on seeing past people’s skinsuits and seeing the human being stuck inside. We can focus on seeing the person rather than just the body it lives in.
Our skinsuits influence us. Of course they do. Constantly being told how you should look, and feeling judged based on how well you meet those expectations, is going to influence how we feel about ourselves, see ourselves, and see others. But we have the power to change that, and though this sounds so frickin’ cliché, it is true that change literally starts with you.
And so, I challenge myself every day to not reduce myself to my body. Because while that body had a part in shaping, who I am today, I am so much more than this skinsuit I drive around. And so are you.
Love you, you beautiful human.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on March 19, 2021.
Autumn is a recent graduate in English-Literature and lives in Colorado Springs. During her personal time, Autumn likes hanging out with her super handsome horse, Red, and all the other 4-legged creatures in her life. Autumn is a fan of tall trees, forests, and all the wild and untamed parts of nature. She loves reading, researching, listening to others, and gaining as much insight into the physical and spiritual world as she can.
Autumn knows life can be hella hard, but she also thinks it is astonishing, amazing, complex, and fascinating. She hopes to be ever-growing and evolving, and she does her best to remain open to new perspectives, insights, or opinions that challenge her own. She would love to hear your personal stories and why one of her own articles resonated (or didn’t) with you. Autumn writes mostly about philosophy and mental health but loves to explore all topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.