For the most part, whenever people hear I went to a women's college, they offer a perplexed expression and ask me why. My pat answer, coined many years ago and utilized ever since is this: I had the rest of my life to deal with silly boys so I might as well enjoy a four year reprieve while I could. Women nod in agreement and men shyly retreat. Simply put, it works like a charm.
To be honest, the real reason I went to a women's college was because it felt safe. That isn't to say I suck my thumb or sleep with my baby blanket. It just means that the challenges I found in a coed environment felt less present in a single sex one. So it felt like a good idea. Turns out it was a great one. It was at Smith that I evolved into a woman with confidence and self worth. I embraced the concept of independence and more and more started to believe I could do anything my little heart desired.
If you asked anyone who knows me today, they'd tell you I'm confident. I'm outspoken and opinionated, rarely if ever shying away from debate or discussion. And I walk with my chin held high and my posture upright. But deep inside me, there's a demon.
"What's up?" I asked my friend S, a fellow Smithie now living in Los Angeles. She'd IM-ed me earlier asking to talk.
"Just having a hard time," she confessed.
She shared details, intimate words about relationship struggles that she was trying to work around or hurdle or do whatever it is one does when they feel stuck. I patiently listened to her speak and as her words passed through the wires, I tried to offset her uncertainties. But it all felt so hypocritical because what she said aloud were thoughts I so often quietly pondered.
I know it's silly. I can rattle off a list of characteristics and traits that make me worth fighting for. I can note my strengths and admit my weaknesses. But at the end of the day, I think a man would settle to be with me and most certainly believe that he'd eventually see what I see and move on. I'm not pretty enough or thin enough. My arms could be more toned, my stomach could be more flat and my thighs, well, I don't even want to go into a discussion about my thighs. Put me in a room with twenty other women and I know I can outshine them all on many different levels. I can out-wit, out-brain and out-logic the lot of them. But if they were all a size 6, I'd think less of myself.
Whenever I drift into this downward spiral of body blech, something I do less today than yesterday but still do often enough, the people around me try to pick me back up. They offer compliments and kind words, sentiments that I know they believe but I refuse to accept as true. She's just being a good friend. He's just saying what I need to hear. The words merely ping the hardened shell I hide within.
I remember exactly where I was when I told Alaska that if he ever got on my list, the secret escape was to tell me I was beautiful. He laughed. He found it funny. But it was truer than true. And the few times that simple word exited his mouth, my breath halted. Same thing with Ex. Like when he saw me for the first time before we headed to a special dinner, standing in a black dress with pumps and pearls, he told me I looked beautiful and I just about collapsed in a heap of tears.
The last time I tried to conquer this once and for all, I fired my therapist. Really now, daily affirmations in a mirror doesn't cure distorted body image. And I don't always think this way. I don't shuffle through life questioning myself. Some days I even think I am beautiful. My hair lies just right, my pants drape flawlessly and the twinkle in my chestnut brown eyes hints at my soul. I do love who I have become. I love that I give without taking, I trust without hesitation and I am a person friends can rely on. I love that I can make Leslie pee her pants from laughter or I can rile Chad up in a debate about ethics. I love it all. I just hate the inner demon that can sometimes override everything.