Nearly a year ago, I began a personal movement to try and better myself. I called it Back To Tabulous, hashtagged it on Twitter, and tried to make a very public show of a very private process. Sometimes I was successful in doing things for myself and feeling better about who I was and how I looked and accepting myself no matter what, but more often than not I struggled and let the project fall by the wayside.
At first it was very superficial -- taking the time to bathe, wash my face, dye my hair, those sorts of things. It pretty easily evolved into getting in shape and wearing clothes I actually liked, not just whatever we could afford that would fit me. But for all my talk of changes for the better and learning to love myself, it all felt fairly empty.
The problem was that I wasn't really doing it for me at all. The whole act was my way of trying to regain control on my life, namely, my relationship with my husband, which had repeatedly been torn asunder the year prior. As a recovering anorexic/bulimic who knows better than to revert, taking charge of my outward appearance felt like the only thing I could do to stop the feeling of my life spiraling out of control. So while I wasn't dieting excessively (though I was counting calories, an excruciating exercise in self-regulation) or purging as I once had, I was still going back to what I knew and trying to make it work for me.
There was also the great pain of rejection fueling my drive -- my husband cheated on me with a younger girl, complete with hair extensions and breast implants and three children from three separate fathers, none of whom remained in the picture. And I will readily admit that with all of her heavy make-up and pseudo-hardcore piercings, it was easy to see why some men might find her attractive. Before I knew who she was to my husband, I had even admitted that I thought she was pretty. And when I found out who she was to him, my self-esteem was shattered.
I've always struggled with accepting my natural flaws. I come from a very critical, very emotionally battering past where I would only be attractive if I lost weight, did something with my hair, put on some mascara or lip gloss, wore the right clothes, sat up straight, didn't ask so many questions, pretended not to be so smart all the time, so on and so forth for as long as I could remember. When I met my husband, that changed -- I felt attractive in my own (albeit still highly controlled) skin because he thought I was attractive. I found my self-worth in him, through how I thought he saw me. I built a whole self-concept on the foundation that he laid for me by choosing me, pursuing me, keeping me. I had never been the girl that boys kept trying for -- I was more the consolation prize or the summer romance meant to fizzle before school began in the fall. When I discovered that he, at least, was more attracted to someone else than me and would rather pursue a clandestine relationship with another person and not participate in our very new marriage with me, a part of me which had slowly been built up for the better part of my twenties turned to dust, leaving everything I thought I knew to be true in the rubble, discarded like the person I was told I'd be if I ever "let myself go."
What I've realized since my recent revelation is that the whole point of #backtotabulous was my attempt to reverse time and be someone I no longer was, a girl who existed only in photographs and old blog posts. I was trying to put on the mask of someone I used to be, before the betrayal, the hurt, the lies poisoned what I once thought was the best thing to ever happen to me. My goal was to get as close to humanly possible to the 21 year old girl I had been before my husband entered through that college classroom door and changed everything for me. Somehow, I thought by doing so that I could reverse time and find whatever it was that drew my husband to me in the first place, reignite it, and start again.
I've been living that way for a year. And I've never been more miserable with myself.
So now, now I'm actually finding the strength to do things for myself. I'm returning to the things that used to bring me joy long before I knew my husband -- dance in many forms, such as in the photo above, creating things with my hands, maintaining a beauty regimen because it makes me feel good, not because it makes me look one way or another. While before I was struggling to become someone I'm not really sure I ever was in the first place despite my best attempts, now I'm returning to activities or versions thereof that feel more like coming home to myself, centering to go forward and be done with the failures of yesterday.
The basic tenets of #backtotabulous are still true -- I do want to be happy with what I see in the mirror, and I do want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I want desperately to love myself. But I know now that I can only do that by moving forward, by learning to love the person I have become, not who I thought I should have been. And to know in my bones that I'm finally on the right path after years of wandering down any trail with a sliver of light at the end is singlehandedly the most exhilarating and terrifying sensation I've ever known.