The Art of Mirriam Neal

Confessions of a Former Potato

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I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s a secret that a lot of people share – I used to hate my appearance. Granted, I went through a pretty awkward stage – when you’re a round-faced teenager with braces and frizzy hair, it doesn’t do a lot for your confidence. But once my braces came off and I lost my last excuse to treat my appearance seriously, I went into a kind of spiral. I lost interest in makeup and did nothing more with my hair than stick it in a ponytail. My wardrobe consisted of worn-out jeans and tee shirts. It wasn’t because I was a tomboy and enjoyed it, it was simply because I stopped caring. I would undress before I showered, look at myself in the mirror, and all I would see was a chunky, awkward girl about as attractive as a hippo, and I thought nothing I did would change that. I hate to exercise – anyone can tell you this. I also like to eat. I mean, come on – what’s the fun of eating if you have to make yourself sweat afterwards? On purpose? I tried eating hardly anything, and that lasted about two hours. I tried exercising – that stuck a little more, but I still loathed it. This continued, and it only got worse. I wasn’t taking pride – or even paying attention to – my appearance and as a result, I never felt happy with how I looked and neither did anyone else.

I wasn’t snapped into doing something about it until my brother took me aside and told me the harsh truth – I looked bad. I had let myself go – and I was still a teenager, for Pete’s sake. I shrugged it off and pretended I didn’t care, but suddenly, I was aware of how I looked to everyone else. Dumpy. Unattractive. Chubby. In short, unlovely.

It had to change. I began to wear makeup again, to attempt new styles with my hair. When I went shopping for clothes, I chose things with more shape, more style. I began to pay attention to what flattered my shape, and I began to move more. If I sat down until I felt cramped, then I stood up and ‘took a turn about the room,’ to coin an Austen phrase. This was a massive improvement for me, but I knew I was still lacking the most important ingredient – confidence. I didn’t feel confident. I felt like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, and I’ve always been very against pretending. (Much of this pretense-hate stems from my own past; I used to hide how I felt until nobody knew, and they stopped asking. Hiding your feelings will only make you lonely. I promise you that.)

There is no magic recipe for confidence. No amount of pixie dust and wishing can give it to you, and I learned the most surprising thing – confidence is a habit, just like any other. You don’t become confident and happy with yourself overnight – you have to make a conscious effort to work on it. I took baby steps. I would watch those ‘un-photoshop’ Dove campaigns and listen to positive music. I drank a lot of water (I still do. I have water with me at all times) and coffee (coffee is an appetite suppressant. Drinking black coffee between meals is zero-calorie and helps keep you from snacking). On Tumblr, I unfollowed blogs that made me feel bad about myself and began to follow blogs of philosophy and poetry and photography. I went through a few fashion blunders before finding out what looks good on me (I still flail there a bit when experimenting, but that’s why it’s called ‘experimenting’ in the first place).

I came across a phrase that has stuck with me since.

You are more than your negative space.

That simple sentence meant volumes to me. I was worth more than my appearance, or a few extra pounds, or a lot of extra pounds. If I was working on my appearance, if I cared,  that was the most important thing. Caring.  Doing my best with the body and face I’d been given, and not attempting to squeeze myself into a plastic mold. You are more than your negative space.

I read about a photographer who photographs nude subjects. He said something to the effect of, “I can’t count how many people have sat in this bed while I took pictures of them, and they’ve all had fat rolls. All of them, from size twelves to size zeroes. And they’re all beautiful.” (Also, guess what? Skinny people have just as much body-hate as everyone else.)

I began to see people for more than their size, because how idiotic is it that we judge people’s worth by how much space they do or don’t take up? How small-minded is it, that we look at the space under a person’s chin or the size of their thighs and use them as witnesses in their private trial?  I made an effort to see past this, to see the soul of someone. I discovered an amazing thing – in doing this, I began to stop seeing my appearance as the sum of my worth, and to see my own soul as my true value. Ironically, I began to pay more attention than ever to how I looked. It was a subtle shift, but I began to be happy with my appearance, and myself. I began to enjoy people, all shapes and sizes. Everyone has something beautiful about them, though we tend to focus on the ugly. We don’t define what beauty is. God does. And beauty is so much more than fat.

Now, I can say with all honesty that most days, I am one hundred percent happy and confident with my appearance. I even like pictures of myself, where I use to hate them. I wear red lipstick with confidence. I dye my hair pink. I wear hats and jewelry and winged eyeliner. I have people thank me for proving that plus-size people (to quote Meghan Trainor, ‘It’s pretty clear I ain’t no size two’) can look attractive and confident, and this warms my heart so much. I have an awkward build to dress –  legs too long for most jeans (really, why can’t they make skinny jeans with size 12 legs and a size 10 waist? Is that so difficult?) and a bust that makes it a necessity to wear XL shirts most of the time (ladies, let me tell you – don’t judge yourself by the size of your clothes. If you have to wear XL, then great! Buy that cute shirt in the size that fits you, and you’ll look great. Don’t try to force yourself into something too small). I have broad shoulders and my hips are connected oddly with my legs so I can’t wear heels for very long. Do I have bad days? Sure, yes, probably twice a month I wear yoga pants and a sweatshirt all day (on these days, I recommend a lot of hot beverages and binge-watching your favorite show). I’m not a fashion model – but it’s true that confidence is the most attractive thing you can put on.

You can learn confidence. I did. I’m here for you, rooting for you. You were made to shine. You were made to be God’s ambassador on earth, and God is the epitome of beauty. As I saw on Facebook the other day, you’re ‘God’s 3D selfie.’ It’s a modern way to put it, but there’s some truth there as well.

The next time you look in the mirror and start to think ‘I’m fat,’ rebuke it. You are not fat. You have fat. You also have eyelashes. That does not make you an eyelash.

Take selfies with your best face forward. Read fashion magazines for the fashion, not the envy. Shake your head at the photoshopped models. Ignore yo-yo diets. Eat healthy meals and cheat every once in a while. Breathe deep, look in the mirror. Take that baby step toward confidence. It will change your life. If I can do it then I promise you can, too. You are more than your appearance and once you learn to love your soul, it will begin to reflect through the body you wear.  You are beautiful. Know it.

 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

– Psalm 139: 14

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