Yesterday, for the first time in I don’t even know how many years, someone insulted my physical appearance. They told me to “get a nose job already.” I’m embarrassed to even type the words. I wish I could say that, as a 31-year-old woman, I was unaffected by it; that I laughed and brushed it off and went about my day; that I didn’t immediately regress into a pre-teen and tears didn’t fill my eyes; that I didn’t go and cry in my car. But, unfortunately, all of that did happen and I’m still reeling.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Humans are the only living species that tries to be what we naturally are not, because it’s ingrained in us from an early age that we have to look or act or be a certain way to have worth. We look in the mirror and rather than accepting what and whom we are, we fixate on the list of things we dislike and wish we could change. We all have a list. Then we grow up and we learn to accept things we can’t change, but a lot of those sensitivities are still in us. Some of them never go away, we just learn not to fixate on them so much because it’s not worth the energy. Of all the things on my list, the one I’ve always been most fixated on is my nose.
Unsurprisingly, the fixation comes from years of being bullied at school and told I was ugly and needed to have cosmetic surgery to correct my big, ugly nose. I thought that, in my 30s, I was safe from the torture of being told I was ugly, but yesterday I learned I am very much still a self-conscious kid who hates the nose I inherited from my father. As a writer, I know the effect words can have on a person. In my younger years, I wasn’t always careful with my words, but now I wield with caution because I understand how harsh and how beautiful they can be. How gentle and how cruel. How painful and how delicate. As kids, our parents tell us to combat mean words with kindness, with indifference, with sayings like, “I’m rubber and you’re glue…” and “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” As kids, we’re told to rise above and ignore the harsh words from bullies.
But I’m a grownup and I’m not rubber and the words thrown at me yesterday didn’t bounce off. They stuck. They hurt. They clung to me and I’m still having a hard time shaking them off. What’s worse is, the person who said these words to me is someone I’ve known since I was in middle school. Someone who first used these words to hurt me nearly two decades ago during middle school fights when the quickest way to claim some kind of inhuman victory was to cut someone deep. To go for the throat. To hit below the belt. To cut the Achilles tendon. To use the exact words they knew could break you. Clearly, I’m still bruised and licking my wounds.
I’m done crying about it, but this situation has inspired me to remind myself and anyone who is reading this that words hurt. Even when you grow up. And sometimes we can’t brush off or rise above right away. Just because we’ve matured and evolved enough to know that there’s so much more to the human experience than what we look like on the outside, it can still take a minute to recover from someone using our deepest sensitivities against us. No matter what stage of life you’re in, there will always be those people. You can’t change them. What you can do is control how you respond. Vow to be better than that. Motivated by hurt and anger, you might be tempted to strike back in the same manner of using cruel words to cut deep, but don’t. Don’t let them pull you down to that level. You’re so much better, kinder, softer, and bigger than that.