In one week’s time, I will celebrate having spent thirty-six years alive and well. What a thing to think about. While my birthdays have always been a hard thing for me to rally behind, I’m actively putting in the mental work to see the good, sit in the present, and acknowledge both the things that I can’t change, and the things that I can. It’s in this vein that I recently had a realization. This year has been wonderful in so many ways. I feel deeply grateful, almost all of the time, and I know how good this season of life has been to me. And yet, if I’m being brutally honest, I would be hard pressed to describe a time to you when I’ve felt less confident in who I am. I don’t have one particular reason why, except that it’s been a more difficult battle to fight - to wake up every morning, look at myself in the mirror, and feel at home with what I see. While I often feel lovely, I don’t think I look lovely, and so in order to keep my mind in a steady place, I move my focus on to other things - work, friends, our house, our finances, our future- all of the other things that I can quantify and seek to control. I avoid having my picture taken. I avoid seeing evidence of what I fear to be true. And instead I work to be better in other ways- the more valuable ways- in the hopes that I can convince myself that being beautiful, thin, and sexy is a fool’s errand.

This is, of course, almost an impossible thing to accomplish and an even harder thing to talk about out loud. No one really wants to hear another person, especially a woman, complain about feeling less-than-pretty or unsure of herself. And so, I try to not talk about it. Instead, i find that it often creeps up to the surface in other unhealthy ways - in my marriage and in my relationships and in the ways that I interact with others. I find myself avoiding shopping so I don’t have to try on clothes, or saying no to certain invitations because I’m terrified of having to wear something uncomfortable or unflattering. The thought of swimming with others invokes legitimate anxiety and it’s been years since I’ve worn a pair of shorts around anyone other than myself. I know all of this is irrational, unhealthy, and ridiculous. When I see it in others, I am able to call out the truth, and recognize the lies. And yet, with me, it continues to be a personal war that rages on, and on, and on. It’s exhausting, destructive, and damaging, but has still become so familiar that it feels like a kind of second coat that I grab before walking out the door. Sometimes I forget that I even have it on. Other times, if feels so heavy that I can barely breathe. I’m almost thirty-six years old, and I’m still struggling to take off the damn coat.

Those who know me well know that I’ve long wrestled with having a healthy body image. My weight has been a consistent, if not ridiculous worry, and I’ve shied away from having a scale in my home because I’m acutely aware that those numbers hold far more power over me then they should. In the last few years, as my thirties have taken hold of my metabolism and my medication has aided in adding a few pounds, I’ve had to actively work harder to pursue a healthy relationship with myself. It’s been really, really challenging and more often than not, it feels as though I’m failing. This year has been specifically trying, as I’ve worked hard to exercise more, sweat more, and make better choices with food and what I’m putting into my body. Some days have felt better than others. And some days have found me crying an embarrassing amount, not really because of what I see in the mirror, but because of the frustration that comes with knowing full well where my value lies and still struggling to hold on to this truth. It feels silly and selfish and immature. And yet, there it is.

I share all of this because I think I’m coming to the innate conclusion that as we grow older, our paradoxes grow as well. In a year that has brought me so much joy, I also have experienced a devastating lack of self-esteem. And in a year that has felt like so much change, I feel the same in a million tiny ways. I feel more certain about the whole of what I believe, and yet I have a laundry list of doubts that I’m continually thinking, praying, and writing about. I love where we live and the home we have created, and yet I am continually flustered by this place, this city, and the world that surrounds it. I love the woman that I am, and yet some days, I can barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. I know I am not alone in these contradictions and I know I’m not alone in the lessons that are born from them. Two things can be true at the same time. I can struggle to feel beautiful and still believe that I am good, valuable, and worthy. I’m working hard to be gentle with myself. And I’m working hard to find the balance - to eat the things, drink the wine, and embrace the cellulite- while still pursuing a wholly healthy self and self-image. I haven’t arrived quite yet, and I know that is ok. I know in my depths that I am loved, regardless of what the scale says or how unflattering the picture may be, and I know that my true value can’t be defined by things that I can control or measure. So, I say, here’s to the paradoxes, and the contradictions, and the messiness that comes with growing older. I will do my best to celebrate all of it, even the hard, embarrassing, terrifyingly true parts. I’m a big believer that truth begets beauty (the real kind), and if that isn’t a birthday gift worth giving to yourself, I’m not sure what is.