Summer is coming. Daydreaming of warm weather, sunshine, and the beach is something that takes up a lot of my headspace. I love summer; for as long as I can remember it has always been my favorite time of year. The massive *sigh of relief* after a long year of schooling is enough for anyone to crave summer. It's the best part of any school year, but I wish I could understand why that changed. I don’t remember when summer transitioned from “full of fun” to “full of stress and angst.”
The season I loved so dearly became something I dreaded. I remember when excitement faded into self hate. I was 14, a sophomore in high school. As per every year since I can remember, I went bathing suit shopping at my local surf shop the last week of school. I loved it. I always had fun picking out the new suits I would wear for the summer, along with a fashion show to go along with them. I loved fantasizing about surfing in the new bathing suits, or reading a book on the beach with a new bikini and sun-hat. I can't explain how much fun I always had, it was the unofficial start to my favorite time of the year. All until I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror. There was no middle ground, I don’t know why I started picking myself apart, but that summer after my sophomore year, I hated every piece of my own reflection.
After that I loathed shopping for new summer clothes. I hated trying on shorts and being in a changing room surrounded by reflections of myself. I hated seeing the sizes get larger yearly. I hated sorting through old clothes that no longer fit my changing body. Bathing suit shopping was my equivalent to hell on earth. I grew to hate the surf shop I once loved. I forced myself to stand in front of a mirror and pretend like I was happy. I plastered a smile onto my face and hoped that maybe by force, I would fall in love with myself.
Well, it never happened. And each year I grew to hate the season, and subsequently my own image even more. I no longer went to the beach to surf, I didn’t sit outside in the sun with a book, I stopped going places with friends unless it was cool enough to wear jeans. I deprived myself of so many things because I was fixated on an image that I didn’t fit into. For years, I desperately and exhaustedly tried to squeeze myself into a mold. A mold that societal standards and social media completely convinced me equated to being beautiful, to being young and pretty, to being thin. I equated beauty with being a double zero. And let me tell you, even when my mold was a double zero, it still wasn’t small enough. “Why can’t I look like them?”, I thought when scrolling on social media or watching TV. I used to read and put myself in to the female protagonist's shoes. I imagined myself being the strong, intelligent, and beautiful heroine. I stopped doing that. Even though I was strong and intelligent, I stopped because I couldn't see myself as beautiful. I could no longer put myself in her shoes because I had convinced myself I was not as pretty as the character I had created in my head. I never stopped comparing. I compared myself to friends to a point of oblivion and obsession. I did not recognize the girl in the mirror.
It’s easy to tell someone that every body is beautiful and that every body is a swimsuit body, but what if every body is beautiful except mine?
I see the good parts of everyone. I can find pockets of peace in everything I come into contact with. I find every person unmistakably beautiful, so why can’t I find the beauty within myself?
If I can learn to accept everyone else’s flaws, why can’t I accept my own?
I knew I had great qualities, I knew other people thought I was beautiful, and I knew that I had plenty to offer.
I just had to learn how to believe that for myself.
I had to learn how to compliment myself the way I compliment others. I had to learn how to give myself the grace that I so willingly handed out to everyone else. I had to learn to love myself the way that I love other people.
While I cannot say that I have fallen in love with myself completely, my journey has only just begun. I have learned to love my flaws and imperfections. I have learned to love my local surf shop again. I have learned to become my own strong, intelligent, and beautiful heroine. I have learned that another person’s beauty does not diminish my own. I have learned that beauty is not a one-size-fits-all mold, and that in order to continue my self-love journey, I had to break the mold that was tattooed in my mind.
I love summer. I had to relearn that. I love the beach, I love lounging with a book, I love surfing, and I love the season. I hate that I deprived myself of that, but I love the woman that this journey has made me become.
Lena Cassidy is ink.'s current intern. She is a dual major in English education and Writing Arts with multiple concentrations at Rowan University. When not busy teaching, writing, or editing, Lena enjoys reading romantic comedies and abstract painting. She aspires to be a novelist and eventually a college professor.