Turning 31: Lessons on love, weight, and self-esteem


Turning 16 is sweet. 18 you can vote. 21 you can drink legally. 25 you’re a quarter of a century. 30 is exciting because you’re entering (and likely terrified) of a new/real/matching-sheets-cause-you-know-better adulthood. So what’s special about turning 31?

At first glance, not a damn thing, besides longer hangovers and your bones protesting with loud pops when trying to keep up on the dance floor. Turning 31 is like the second time you ever rode a bike properly. You know a bit more about what you’re doing this time around, you are steadfast, and you’re low key about how boss you are at winging it and not running headfirst into a fence.

Today is my 31st birthday, and as I reflected on what I learned since I turned 30, lessons on self-esteem danced across my mind. I had some pretty big lessons on self-esteem this year: being cheated on and exiting a relationship, publicly speaking more than I’ve ever done in my life, creating and pitching new business ideas and services in the world, coming to terms with my gluten intolerance (not only cheese but bread hates me now too) and putting together a one woman storytelling performance about my childhood to name a few.

Throughout these major highs and lows this year, I gained so many insights and new narratives about self-esteem and self-worth that I’m taking with me into 2019, and sharing with you:

Self-Esteem and Risk

So many of us hold ourselves back from pursuing what truly lights us on fire, because it’s “not the right time,” we don’t have enough money, we’re not skinny enough, it’s Thursday, and Thursdays are bad for making things, and whatever other excuse we can think of. Although we avoid risk because we want to avoid the perceived pain of failure, I’ve learned we also avoid risk because we don’t feel good or worthy enough for the positive returns of what the risk could bring.

I’ve been a performer since I was a kid, and always had performance based hobbies and outlets. As I entered my 20s, those hobbies shriveled up like chapped lips in the winter. I love performing and truly missed it as a regular part of my life. This past summer I decided to do something about it, and put in an application for a burgeoning storytelling festival for diverse performers. When my application was accepted, I figured I’d get 10 minutes onstage to read a story I had written. I had no idea they would give me an hour long slot, all to myself, to bring whatever creative inkling I had in mind to life. And I was fucking terrified -- who was I to take a stage and command attention on the stories I cared about? It felt self-indulgent and silly, but I also knew that inner saboteur dialogue was a cry of self-esteem -- that deep down I felt not good/versed/or expert enough for this opportunity. After many self sessions of talking myself off the ledge I began to shift the narrative from “You’re not good enough for this” to “Why is this story important to share and what will people miss out on if I don’t?” I was able to overcome the self-doubt and put on a banging show, that left me with a permanent scar on my knee from a dive I took on stage for dramatic effect because I am so extra.

This year was also the first time I ever created a storytelling product and services, pitched, and sold it. It was incredibly fulfilling as well as nerve wracking. I hired a business coach to help me stay accountable and make concrete plans, and pushed myself to learn and pivot as I discovered how I most like to show up in the world and work. Every time I had doubts about what the hell I was doing (which is non-stop) I’d remind myself of my mission and the problems I care about helping people solve, and I’d get over my damn self and get back to work.

Big lesson: let your conviction for the impact of what you’re doing override your doubts of not being good enough to pursue it.

Self-Esteem and Cheating

In relationship with others we learn the most soul-fulfilling, as well wrenchingly painful lessons about ourselves and others. I was in a relationship for the past 3 years that taught me so much about nurturing, kindness, love, affection, and communication. I finally understood how I wanted to be loved, and the love we shared felt easy and nourishing. I also discovered this person was a duality, secretly sexting/sending nudes/explicit videos and more to multiple co-workers throughout a majority of the relationship. When the shock wore off and my waiting to exhale moment of kicking him out of my apartment passed, I began to piece together the narratives and motives. Was this person a monster who lacked any empathy? A fraud who was faking the entire relationship, including the love he showed and shared? As we began to unpack our relationship’s end, he disclosed that he didn’t feel good enough for me or the relationship and that even though I said so many great things about his capabilities and qualities, he didn’t believe those things himself. Over the course of the relationship we had many transparent convos about ourselves, love, struggles, desire, but he had masked certain parts of himself not just to me, but to everyone he knew and loved. He had gotten great at faking self-love and self-confidence but truly didn’t embody it. I knew he struggled with certain areas of his life, but didn’t realize how deep it went. I also chose to fall in love with the potential of who he could be and not who he was, ignored some red flags, and didn’t feel in a good enough place myself when we met to want more for myself and go for a partner that could give more than what he was able to give at the time.

Cheating happens for a number of reasons (pure desire, selfishness, boredom etc) but I’ve found the source of a large portion of cheating comes from some form of inner lack. Needing affirmation and attention to bolster the sense of self. Striving to fill inner voids and inner pain through outward affirmation. A stark fear of vulnerability and depending too much on one person and using cheating to create emotional distance and safety. You can also still cheat, no matter your relationship arrangement (monogamous or non-monogamous). I came up close and personal with a person who no matter how much I loved him, ultimately acted out and sabotaged the relationship because he didn’t love himself.

Big lesson: you cannot truly give to and love someone fully and vulnerably until you feel whole and loved within yourself.

Self-Esteem and Boundaries

I recently watched a viral discussion between Jada and Will Smith about unconditional love. They championed the idea that either of them, no matter what the other did, will always stick by the other’s side and see the relationship through. Although I admire their commitment to one another, and the room they give each other for human fallibility, I also have learned that healthy, fulfilling love includes boundaries. Like, if you try to kill my momma, I may love you but I will drop you faster than hot grits.

Boundaries communicate what we will and will not tolerate from the people we love. What we will and will not give to the people we love. For many years I’ve felt guilty any time I wanted to assert certain boundaries or ask for certain needs with family, friends, and partners. But the more I loved myself, the more I realized that boundaries are healthy. They teach others how you like to be loved, and what you need to thrive. Exiting my romantic relationship this year was me asserting a personal boundary. I loved him and knew he and the relationship wasn’t all bad, but there were too many things broken in the relationship (not just infidelity) that would have destroyed my self-esteem and self-worth in the process of trying to “fix” and heal him. So many women believe the narrative that love means sacrificing your own physical and mental health while trying to save and fix others -- whether it be friendships, family, or romantic relationships.

Big lesson: Boundaries and standards of what you will and won’t tolerate in your relationships with people is a necessary act of self-love and self-esteem.

Self-Esteem and Jealousy/Comparison

The perfect beach selfies, teary eyed engagements, lavish weddings, and high-end photos of job promotions are just a few standard posts flooding my social media feeds. I love it because I love seeing people come up. When I come across these come up/brag posts I yell “Yass get it {insert name} you do that!!” The downside of this public stage is how often we can then compare ourselves to other people’s curated images on social media as a measuring stick for how well or poorly we are doing in life.

The ability to be happy for someone else, even when we’re not in a great place ourselves, is hard. Jealousy is to low self-esteem as peanut butter is to protein shakes. They just go hand in hand. Any time I’ve had people in my life who were not my cheerleaders and in fact tried to tear down my dreams, goals, or passions when I was riding a high, it was typically out of low self-esteem. Critique can help us grow and improve when it’s constructive, but when the goal of the advice or remarks is solely to bring the other person down a peg to lift ourselves up, that’s when criticism slides into this-ain’t-any-type-of-helpful land. Brene Brown has a great quote about only taking feedback from people in the ring. If they have skin/experience in the game of the thing they are critiquing, it’s coming from an earnest place of wanting to help you grow. If not, tune their unhelpful, unwanted asses all the way out.

I’ve been hurt and disappointed by friends, family, partners not showing up and showing out in the ways I did for them over the years, only to discover that it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with their own sense of worth and envy at the time of my ability to overcome the self-doubt and do the things I said I would set out to do.

Big lesson: Jealousy is a natural emotion, but it’s not your fault or your burden if someone is envious of you or what you have, as they don’t see the full picture of your life or their own. If you are jealous and envious of someone else, examine where you’re not feeling great in your life and how you can still be happy for someone else, while desiring more. Celebrate the wins and achievements of your closest circle because their light only helps brighten and not dim yours.

Self-Esteem and Weight

Phew chile, weight and worth could be a book-long portion of this self-esteem quest. We are inundated with narratives and messages about weight and how big or small we are reflecting how valuable we are to the world, with these messages targeting women even more acutely.

Now, yes, being healthy is of importance if we want to grow old and run off into the sunset with lavish grey hair well into our 90s/100s (who knows where technology will be in 2087 when I would be 100 if I make it that far). There’s a big difference between health and weight. A person can be curvy, thick, muscular and healthy. A person can be skinny and deeply unhealthy. How small or big you are isn’t the only indicator of how healthy we are.

There hasn’t been a year since I was 11 years old that I didn’t worry about my weight. My relationship with my body is a complicated one. There are days where I feel strong, and curvy and sexy. I can kill an HIIT class. I’m at the top of intense spin classes on leaderboards. I can squat over 150 and-some change-pounds. I’ve found a better relationship with food and feel more in control of my overall health. But I have days where I weigh myself non-stop, grapple with every morsel that comes into my mouth, beat myself up for having indulgences, fall off the wagon of health, grab my belly fat hoping and praying one day I can be the smaller thinner version of myself from previous years, ironically in years where even when at that size (my smallest being 138 lbs) I still felt too big.

We live in a system plagued with processed food. I’ve escaped trauma and sadness and disappointment through food and celebration, and have a genetic map prone to diabetes and autoimmune disease, genes that don’t have to be expressed but will be in the wrong environments. This past year was the first where I started to examine my relationship with my body and weight, outside of dieting and exercise. I now don’t care JUST about the numbers, but want to feel that I’m at a strong, healthy, and optimal weight, and that my weight isn’t ballooning but stable and maintained. I want to get stronger, faster, and more flexible. I want my face to not look so puffy and bloated and I want to feel energized and have a good mood. I want to feel light, and full, and nourished. I want to feel medicated by food for any ailments or issues I’m having health wise. I want to feel sexy and sensual in my body no matter its size. I realized I’m more likely to eat well and exercise when the goal isn’t purely about my weight.

Big Lesson: Your worth isn’t a direct correlation to your weight. Your health, in all its forms, you should cherish and nourish and love yourself for. You’re worthy of love and a full life, regardless of your size. Health should be an act of self-love and nourishment vs. punishment for needing to be a specific size.

As 2019 looms and I continue to reflect on these lessons, I know that the deeper I can get to genuine self-esteem -- self-worth that isn’t dependent on how people treat me, of what I do or do not have, or what weight I lose -- the more rich, engaged and fulfilling life truly will be.

Christina Blacken4 Comments