I have dealt with self hatred my entire life. I have gotten better, however, there are moments when I still criticize myself in subtle ways. While entering the store with my daughter the other day, I noticed my reflection in the glass door. In that split second I thought, “I need to work on my legs to shape them up.” I had on a brand new tank top, shoes and a pair of shorts that I had purchased at the end of the season last year so they are fairly new. Instead of feeling good about my new clothes, I was slightly finding something wrong with myself. It was a fleeting thought that soon was gone as we went up and down the aisles gathering my items off of my list.
As we exited, I noticed a pair of legs that appeared to belong to a woman. She was standing near a garbage can off to the right side of where we came out. Normally, my attention is not drawn to legs, but hers were covered with scabs from her kneecaps to her ankles. Below her left knee she was wearing a large bandage. From my quick glance, I could see that her wounds were dry but looked red and inflammed. As I approached her line of sight I was telling myself,
“Don’t stare. Don’t stare.” I put my head down as I strode past her. My arms were full so I just pretended to be preoccupied with my bags.
“You look comfortable,” she said quietly to me. I stopped and turned to her. Her smile was radiant.
“What?” I asked in disbelief.
“You look comfortable.” I smiled wondering when she was going to ask me for money. I knew where this was going.
“I do?” I asked. I glanced down at myself and said, “Really?” She continued to smile and said again,
“Yes. You look really comfortable in that.”
I allowed myself to look at her more closely. She was wearing a pretty sundress that came to just above her knees which clearly left her leg wounds exposed and open for all to judge and see.
“You are the one with the nice dress on,”I replied. “This is the best time of year to wear a dress in the warm weather. That looks good on you.” She nodded and smiled.
“You just look very comfortable,” she said it again.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“Have a good day,” she said.
As I walked to the car, I was dumbfounded. She had not asked me for any money, but she had given me something. A compliment! As my daughter and I discussed the situation I said,
“Did you see how bad her legs looked?”
“What?! Her legs were covered with wounds like she had leprosy. I was trying not to stare at her before she started talking to me. And, why did she say I looked comfortable? I was questioning earlier if I really liked this shirt, but now I do. She actually made me feel good about myself.”
“I thought she was saying that you look comfortable in your own skin,” my daughter said. “Like you appear confident and you like yourself.”
“HUH?” Then it hit me. I recalled my harsh mental critique of myself when I had entered the store.
“You didn’t see her legs?”I asked again.
“I’m going to drive around and see if she is still there.” I pulled my car around the building and headed for the entry. She was gone. I drove away feeling like she had been sent to get something straightened out on the inside of me.
In the last few days I have been thinking about her smile and her words of kindess. As I am becoming more aware of my faulty thinking, I am wondering where this all started. When did I become conditioned to find something wrong with myself instead of finding something right? Maybe it was demeaning words spoken to me at school as a child, a family member who picked on me or the media and its constant opinion of what is ugly or beautiful. What do all of these things have in common? Another person’s idea or judgment.
What trumps all of that? The One who made me. There is a passage in the Bible that says, “You are God’s Masterpiece.” A Masterpiece lacks imperfection. It is time to live in a place mentally where I let go of the negative self image that has some how made its way into my life. The only legs I should ever judge should be the chicken legs I am about to purchase and make for dinner. To the mystery lady who helped me see the error in my thinking, I say thank you for giving me a leg up.