no one, that’s who.
my eyes stray towards the counter, where i’ve put them. they sit there, tempting me. “if you use me, you will be beautiful, and people will like you. if you use me, people will love you.”
i glance around guiltily. then, on an impulse, i snatch them. i pull the brush out of the tube and start applying the mascara to my eyes. i grab the concealer to cover my face. i grab the lipstick and cover my dull lips. and i stare at myself. that’s better. but is it enough?
before i know it, i’m back here again. i stare at myself, mascara on my eyes, concealer on my face, lipstick on my lips. i stare, that horrible, ugly face staring back at me. “you’re ugly.” i grab more, put more on, thinking, “maybe this time, this time i’ll be beautiful. this time i’ll be satisfied. this time, people will love me.”
i suppose that’ll do for now. i stop, and turn away.
i stare at myself in the mirror. there’s no makeup. there’s just me. and i’m ugly. my eyes stare at me, full of tears. my lips quiver.
“i’m ugly. you’re ugly. you’re horrible. you’re unlovable.”
people don’t know what i really look like, let alone what i’m really like. all they hear are those jokes that i’ve crafted to make them laugh, make them smile, make them like me. all they see is me trying to be nice so that they’ll think i’m a nice person and like me. all they see is this lie of a person that i’ve created, so that people will like me. they see someone who’s strong, who doesn’t need other people. who’s independent, who has lots of friends. but the real me? that’s not me.
the real me is scared - scared of being alone. the real me has quirks - strange quirks. the real me likes to talk about a variety things that aren’t always just fun and funny. the real me likes to be honest. the real me has problems that the real me doesn’t even like to talk about. the real me fears that it is stupid and a failure. the real me is emotional. the real me carries weights - a lot of weights, weights that most people don’t even know about.
if someone knew the real me, then they wouldn’t want to. no one would want to care about me enough to realize that i have faults and problems, just like them. and to accept that.
so i have to be perfect. fun. funny. nice. i have to be beautiful. smart. athletic. i have to be everything that makes someone likable, so that i won’t be alone. so that i will be loved.
i have to be something more.
“you’re a bully.”
when my friend told me that, i gave them a look. what was running through my mind was, “um... no i’m not.”
that’s when they followed it up with, “you’re being a bully to yourself.”
i knew what they meant the first time, but i still didn’t want to accept it.
i said something like, “so-and-so, i don’t bully myself.”
“yes, you do,” they replied. “didn’t you just hear yourself?”
the words that i’d said a few moments before came back into my mind - “i’m ugly.”
i gave them a look. “that’s just what people say.”
“that’s being a bully,” they pointed out. “don’t bully yourself.”
their words stuck with me. was i being a bully? was i really bullying myself? i mean, i’ve read plenty of books. the bullies are always the mean kids who make the main character’s life miserable. they steal lunch money, beat kids up, and get them in trouble with the authorities. but me? i wasn’t a bully.
...or was i?
physical bullying isn’t the only kind. there’s always verbal bullying. and while it might not seem as painful on the outside, it can be. whenever someone says something unkind to me, whether or not they don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal to me. those words just keep on hitting me, like waves of failure, beating against me again and again.
if those people think that about me, then... then is that what i am? they see me from the outside; i only see myself internally. so is that what i really am? stupid? a failure? ugly? i mean, if that’s what i’m really like... no one will ever like me. love me. i’ll be alone forever. i hate being alone. even just knowing there’s someone else nearby is comforting.
soon these words - these lies - they become so much engrained in my brain that they came out in my own voice. “anna, you’re stupid. you didn’t know that. see? they knew that. the fact that you didn’t means that you’re just stupid.” “anna, you didn’t do that perfectly? they did. you know what that means? you’re a failure. a worthless failure.” “anna, didn’t you hear them? they said the other person looks pretty, and didn’t say anything to you. that means that you’re ugly. you’re ugly and unlovable.”
and pretty soon? i’m sitting there, telling myself these things, and feeling myself sinking, lower and lower. they thought i was ugly? gotta be prettier. they treated me like i was stupid? i’ve got to become smarter. they acted like i was a failure? i better make sure i’m never ever again a failure, even if it means i don’t try things i really want to just because i’m sure i’m going to fail - and that’s not an option.
and when i fail, time and time again? “anna, you’re just horrible.” “anna, you’re just a failure, just like always.” “anna, everyone hates you.”
and pretty soon, i just don’t want to go on.
i didn’t want to admit to my friend that i was a bully. i didn’t want to admit to myself that i was a bully. it was unhealthy, and my friend saw that and called me out on it. and yet i didn’t want to engage. because the alternative didn’t seem like an option. but the thing is? the alternative is actually the truth. God’s setting-free truth.
so what if i fail? so what if i’m ugly? so what if i’m stupid?
if people aren’t willing to spend time with you because you’re not the best-looking person ever or because you don’t always succeed or because you’re not the smartest person out there, then they’re not your true friends.
when someone told me that, i looked at them and said, “then i’ll be all alone.”
and you know what they did?
they laughed, smiled, and replied, “God’s always there, anna. you’re never alone.”
and you know what? they were right.
a lot of you guys probably know the verse that goes, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10) i don’t know about you guys, but my family’s my strongest confidant on most things. but even if they reject me, God’s going to be there for me. so i will never be alone.
i will never be alone.
trying to bully yourself into perfection, into something unattainable... like my friend saw, like i realized - it’s unhealthy. it’s bad. it can even be dangerous. and it’s just plain mean, just like every other bully there ever was.
so even when i want to “joke” - which i’m pretty all of us know that when we do that we actually mean it, just a little - something negative about myself, i want to stop myself. i want to stop myself and think, “i am God’s child. i am loved. i am beautifully and wonderfully made.” and instead of being a bully to myself? i want to be a friend.
be a friend,
the story in italics was partly fictional, but some of the feelings were real. also, some of the conversations i was trying to quote might not have been totally exact, but i tried to keep the heart and meaning of them.