“Don’t worry if someone does not like you. Most people are struggling to like themselves.” ~Unknown
For as long as I can remember, I have been deathly afraid of what other people thought of me.
I remember looking at all the other girls in third grade and wondering why I didn’t have a flat stomach like them. I was ashamed of my body and didn’t want other people to look at me. This is not a thought that a ten-year-old girl should have, but unfortunately, it’s all too common.
Every single woman I know has voiced this same struggle. That other people’s opinions have too much weight in their lives and are something to be feared. For most of us women, there is nothing worse than someone else judging our appearance.
After that fear first came to me in third grade, I carried it with me every day throughout high school, college, and into my twenties. This led me to trying every diet imaginable and going through cycles of restricting and binging. I just wanted to lose those pesky fifteen pounds so I could finally feel better about myself and not be scared of attention.
There was no better feeling than getting a new diet book in the mail and vowing that I would start the next day. Following every rule perfectly and never straying from the list of acceptable foods. I stopped going to restaurants and having meals with friends because I wouldn’t know the exact calorie count.
All this chasing new diets and strict workouts was because of one simple thought that I carried for years. I just assumed everyone was judging my body and would like me more if I lost weight. I was constantly comparing my body to every other woman around me.
This fear of what other people thought also led me to have a complicated relationship with alcohol in my late teens and early twenties. At my core I am naturally sensitive, observant, even-keeled, and sometimes quiet. But I didn’t like this about me; I wanted to be the outgoing party girl that was the center of attention.
The first time I got drunk in high school I realized that this could be my one-way ticket to achieve my desired personality. With alcohol I was carefree, funny, and spontaneous, and I loved that I could get endless attention. I was finally the life of the party, and no one could take it away from me.
I wanted everyone to think that party-girl me was the real me, not the sensitive and loving person that I was desperately trying to hide. Classmates were actually quite shocked if they saw me at a party because I was so different than how I appeared in school. It was exciting to unveil this persona to every new person I met.
But the thing with diets and alcohol was that this feeling of freedom was only temporary. When the alcohol wore off or the new-diet excitement faded, I was back to the same feelings. In fact, I found that I was even more concerned about what people thought of me if the diet didn’t work or the alcohol wasn’t as strong. I feared that they would discover the real me.
The irony was that whenever I drank, I felt worse about myself after the alcohol left my system. I felt physically and emotionally ill from the poison I was putting into my body. I would often be embarrassed about not remembering the night before or fearing that I said something I shouldn’t have. It was a nightmare of a rollercoaster that I no longer wanted to be a part of.
I decided in my mid-twenties that alcohol would no longer have power over me. That I wouldn’t rely on it to feel confident and instead work on loving the real me. I decided to break up with alcohol and put it on the back burner. I was moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone, so I figured this would be a good time to start fresh.
Once I moved and started my new life, those same familiar fears and pangs of shame started to show up again. If I wasn’t the loud party girl, who would I be? What would people think of me if I wanted to stay in and read instead of partying? I wasn’t confident in my authentic self yet, and I was desperately looking for a new personality to adopt. That’s when I turned back to a familiar friend for help: dieting.
In the span of five years, I tried every major diet out there: paleo, keto, vegetarian, vegan, counting macros and calories, you name it. I dedicated all my free time to absorbing all the information I could so I could perfect my diet even more. At one point I was eating chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes for every single meal. My body was screaming at me for nutrients, but I continued to ignore it.
Then one day I hit that illustrious number on the scale and finally felt happy. Well, I assumed I would feel happy, but I was far from it. I felt like absolute crap. My hair was falling out, I had trouble sleeping for the first time in my life, my digestion was ruined, and I had crippling fatigue. I finally lost the fifteen pounds, but my health was the worst it had ever been.
I felt betrayed. The scale was where I wanted it, but I wasn’t happy. I was more self-conscious of my body than ever before. I didn’t want people to look at me and notice my weight loss. That little girl that cared about what people thought was still ruling my life. I had to make a change, and I had to start loving the girl in the mirror no matter what I looked like. My life depended on it.
It was during one of those nights where I felt so confused and lost that I stumbled into the world of self-development. I bought my very first journal and the first sentence I wrote was: “Self-love, what does it mean and how do I find it?” I vowed to myself that I would turn inward and get to know the real me for the first time in my life.
This new journey felt uncomfortable and scary and pushed me completely outside my comfort zone. I couldn’t just hide behind external sources anymore like I did with alcohol and strict diets. I had to get to know authentic Annie and show the world who she was.
It was in this journey that I found my love of writing and inspiring people. I decided to follow my dreams and get certified as a life coach and finally make my writing public. But when I went to hit publish on my first post, that same fear reared its ugly head.
This time I was deathly afraid of what my coworkers and friends would think. They would see the real me, the sensitive soul that had deep feelings and wanted to inspire other people. This fear caused me to deny who I was for far too long, again.
I hesitated for years to share my writing because this fear stopped me. But this time I wasn’t going to let it have control over me anymore. One day this thought popped into my head and stopped me dead in my tracks. It was an enormous epiphany and one I couldn’t ignore. The thought was:
When I am eighty years old and looking back on my life, what do I want to remember? That I followed the same path as everyone else or I followed my heart?
As soon as that thought came to me it was like I was hit over the head. For the first time in my life, I understood it. I realized that if I kept living my life in fear of other people’s opinions, I wasn’t really living my own life.
Every human is here to be unique and serve out their own purpose, not to just follow the crowds blindly. I couldn’t live out my purpose if I wanted to hide away.
Self-acceptance and self-love come from knowing and respecting all parts of myself. It comes from acknowledging my shadow sides and still putting myself out there regardless of opinions. It comes from going after big and scary goals and having fun along the way. Because the absolute truth is this: other people’s opinions are not going to matter in one year. They won’t even matter five minutes from now.
So now I want you to ask yourself the same question: What do you want to remember most about your life when you are at the end of it?