Repeat to self: I am fab, I am enough.

By ABIGAIL WANG, Feature Editor

Why take the challenge?

This year, one of the most stressful years of my life, the amount of self-hate I thought and expressed was increasing. I was getting the lowest grades I ever have and developed a habit of anxiety about friends, sports, college and competition. I was stuck in a dark spiral of negative thoughts. When the suggestion came up of doing a non-self-deprecation challenge, I immediately jumped at the chance to fix a habit that had destroyed what little self-confidence I had. The rules were simple: twenty-five days of no negative thoughts about myself said aloud or in my head, and I had to accept all compliments. I began with a list, to record every time I screwed up. The list was about thirty items long at midday. I didn’t think I could make it.

Just five days in, I wanted to scream. I wanted to brainwash my mind and press a reset button. But there was no off switch. They were a gut reaction to nearly every situation. I couldn’t untangle the mess of my thoughts.

Why did I constantly tell myself I was stupid? I thought about middle school, where puberty hit along with teasing from classmates. Being 5’6” in sixth grade and weighing over 100 lbs. didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t mean beautiful. I began to self-deprecate as a way to deal with a situation I clearly felt sensitive and insecure about. I used it to deal with my changing body and when I felt more ashamed due to classmates comments about my physical appearance, I said the insults to myself so they didn’t have to.

But now the situation seemed idiotic. Five years later I was left with bad habits that had only evolved.


The gut-reaction to awkward situations:

I began to realize patterns in my negative bashing; it’s always a response to feeling uncomfortable, like when I’m meeting someone for the first time and desperate to make an impression I immediately blurt out the first bad thing I can think about myself. Or after a test is over I immediately set my bar extremely low for myself. That way I can either meet my goal or exceed it; no false hope. I use self-deprecation as a safety net so there’s no way anyone can insult me. There’s no way I can disappoint myself because I already expected the worst.


The environment: How we give compliments and the response

I also began to reflect on what others were saying to me, especially since I had to accept all compliments and I began to notice a trend.

My friends give what I like to call “empty compliments” where they’ll say, “You’re really pretty” or “you’re really skinny” (I get that one a lot). Even worse, “You’re so lucky you can wear shirts like that if I tried all my fat would be hanging out.” My response: “Um thanks?” But these are compliments that only focus on your outer appearance. The first problem is saying that it isn’t a real compliment—a real compliment is something that focuses on a characteristic that is unique to you as a person. Focusing on what outfit I have on today isn’t really a compliment. If someone’s giving you empty compliments, it’s really easy to internalize that physical beauty is more important. It’s really nice that someone said I’m skinny, but I also realize that it’s more important to think, “Yeah, but I’m more than that label.” The problem is that we often utilize compliments paired with self-deprecation to turn the situation to focus on ourselves. This results in an endless cycle of “You’re not fat, I am” and on and on and on. When did compliments become self-absorbed comments?


The process:

I guess I never really believed in the myths of suddenly waking up and realizing that you can be happy about yourself or that telling yourself that you’re beautiful every time you look in the mirror could really can boost your self-confidence. But I was sick of it, sick of the terrible lies I told to comfort myself and sick of the excuses I used to justify it. At day 18 of the challenge it was a make or break moment and I wanted to give it everything I had. I looked in the mirror and said, “You’re beautiful,” per my editor Sabrina’s suggestion and yeah, it felt weird, but I felt a little lighter. I started saying that all the time mentally and aloud, any negative thought I had was replaced with a positive comment. In some ways it felt easier than the negative thoughts I was used to. I realized that being confident didn’t mean being an arrogant douche that I despised so much, it meant focusing on the things you are good and what you can achieve rather than all the negative things.

I was excited by my discoveries and texted both my friends to tell them about my epiphany. I acknowledge it won’t always be perfect, and I still have days where I doubt myself and fall on bad habits of the past, but I’m beginning to balance out the self-hate slowly.