Learning to Love Me: Starting with the Basics

Awhile back, I realized my biggest problem was hating myself. Many people have things they don’t like, but some of us straight up hate ourselves. When I looked at my relationships, I realized I couldn’t accept anyone liking or loving me, because I could see no reason for them to do so.

When someone complimented me, I thought it had to be a lie. When someone told me they loved me, they were trying to get something out of me, because no one could love me. When someone told me they enjoyed talking to me, I’d cringe, because now I couldn’t trust them. They’d lied to me.

This is a huge problem. How can you have a healthy relationship if anything good directed at you is instantly turned bad? The answer is you can’t. You can’t have a healthy relationship if you’re too busy hating yourself.

I didn’t want to hate me, and I didn’t want to question the love of my children. When your children tell you what a wonderful mother you are and you want to believe them, but the voice in the back of your mind won’t let you…it’s time for a change.

I’ve been taking a hard look at my life ever since. There are many, many layers to the problem. One of the layers, I recently peeled back shook me to my core. I hated that I was a woman. Even now, the thought brings tears to my eyes.

I love being a mother to my children. I love that I was able to feel them growing inside me. I love every aspect of motherhood, yet I hated myself for being born female. Don’t even get me started on how little I wanted to poke this one, but I knew, to be better, to heal, I had to poke the hell out of it.

Be careful what you say to your kids. It sticks with them. Every. Single. Word.

This layered problem of hating myself starts and ends with my parents. Sure, there’s healthy dollops of other family members, society, and general life experiences thrown in there, but it starts and ends with my parents. Whether they’ll ever be able to objectively see what they’ve done or not is another story entirely.

From a young age, an emphasis was put on me behaving like a lady, while my brother was allowed to get dirty, scream and yell, and punch anything that got too close to him. It never changed. My brother was allowed to eat whatever he wanted. When I got too close to food, I was told to watch what I ate, or they’d never get me married off. I can’t count how many times I heard, “Boys don’t like it when…” you do whatever I was doing. I never heard the same said to my brother.

When my brother turned thirteen my father gave him an issue of Playboy to mark him as a man. My only question was, “Where’s my Playgirl?” They laughed and brushed the thought aside. I remember the anger I felt and how normal the adults in my life made this event seem. It’d take years for me to understand that anger.

When a local girl accused a teacher of rape, the entire community rallied against the girl. They said she made it up, and she wanted attention. Every single case of rape that came along during my lifetime made the people around me question what she’d done wrong. Did she drink too much? Accept the wrong ride? I never heard them question why these men would do such things? Oh and later on, after years and years of allegations, they finally looked into the teacher. He’d raped several students. He’s now in jail. Now. When I have children old enough to attend his classes.

Is it any wonder I never reported anything that happened to me? I hid everything rather than be the girl who let it happen.

In high school, I remember my father sitting down at the kitchen table to help me with my physics homework. He told me I was struggling to understand the concept because my teacher was a woman and women weren’t good at math and science. “Then why am I?” flashed across my mind as he said it, but I didn’t question it. I thought I was the exception.

I’d always excelled at math and to a lesser degree science, but I loved numbers. I stayed at the top of every math class I took and always wondered how the other girls got there or how they stayed so on top of their grades. I didn’t question his logic until years later.

After I had my daughter, I decided to go back to school. I signed up at a local college, but I’d been out of school just long enough to feel some of those equations and whatnots slipping from my grasp. I went to my dad and asked him for help getting caught up with my calculus. I’ll never forget his face. I’d swear it was fear, but more likely a total dislike of having to tell me I’d surpassed his knowledge. He could no longer help me.

I won’t lie. It felt good. I, a mere female, had surpassed him.

I can’t and won’t give a rundown of every sexist insult I heard over the years, not just from my parents but from the boys in my class, teachers, and coaches. We’re so used to talking down to people for what we believe them to be, that most people never consider the harm they’re doing.

What harm could words have? A ton.

I grew up in a world telling me that women weren’t smart, couldn’t really be smart, sexual objects meant to enter this world learning how to be exactly what a man wanted at any given time, and my only worth was in marriage. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be worth the same as my brother, but I knew I wasn’t. On the scale of life, I came up short and always would in society’s eyes.

It pains me to admit I shunned all feminine things. I didn’t want to dress like a girl, so I avoided girly clothes. I wore jeans, t-shirts, and work boots. I avoided making friends with girls. The few female friends I had were less feminine. I would only do what I considered masculine and therefore right.

I missed out on a lot.

Luckily for me and for my children, my way of thinking changed. I understood the lines I’d been fed as the garbage they truly were. Girls could be what they wanted to be, and they’d find a significant other who’d like them just the way they were. They didn’t need to fit the image emblazoned on every woman’s magazine. Their every waking moment didn’t have to revolve around what a man wanted.

I give my daughter those messages every day. I don’t ever want her feeling less. She knows she’s looking for her equal, and she knows her worth. She knows it’s okay to want to dress feminine, and it’s okay to want to learn to shoot a bow.

My son is given similar messages. He needs to know that it’s okay if he wants to try knitting, which he has, or any other activity deemed feminine. He needs to know it’s okay to be sensitive and caring, and it doesn’t make him less of a man. And, yes, he wants to learn to shoot a bow too.

Even though I can give the right messages, in the back of my mind, I can’t help thinking I’d be more if only I had been born with a penis. I know it’s garbage left over from a time when my parents were left too long with my growing mind, but it’s still there. When those thoughts crop up, I remind myself I felt a life grow inside me, and I’m not hampered by having to act “manly”. I wouldn’t give up being a woman for anything in the world. Now.

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