Posted on January 19 2021
BE THINNER. BE CUTER. BE STRONGER. NOT THAT STRONG. BE SEXIER. POUTIER LIPS. ROUNDER BUTT. MORE CURVES. LESS CURVES. SMILE MORE. NOT LIKE THAT. IN OUR NEED TO SURVIVE THIS LIFE, OUR INNER CHILD HAS BEEN WOUNDED. THEY'VE BECOME REACTIONARY. THEY'VE LOST THAT SPARK.
By Cassandra Kalley
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist. These are only observations and connections I’ve garnered from my own lived experiences.
When I was around seven or eight years old, I was sitting in my babysitter’s daughter’s bedroom while she practiced ballet. As she pirouetted across the carpet, her long, loose curls creating a perfect circle around her head, I laughed at a joke another girl made and happened to catch a glimpse of my child self in this ballerina’s large dresser mirror.
And all I saw was ugliness. Ugliness with bushy brows, overgrown bangs, and gapped front teeth quickly hiding behind my lips as my smile faded.
This is the image I have held of myself for many years. Through every change that time has done to my physical body - from braces to puberty to shaving my head - I was still that kid in that bedroom mirror.
Although I recognize it now and can acknowledge the thought as a lie, it is still something I struggle with. Because yes, I still pick out problems with my face if I stare at myself just a little too long in a mirror or a photograph. I still suck in my stomach every time a lover touches me. I still get anxious when I see a hair on my upper lip or my chin. I still want to pop every pimple that makes an appearance on my face.
Obviously, I am not the only one who struggles with this type of negative self-talk, this inner voice that pops up to tell me I’m not good enough or I’ll never be as pretty as someone else. It doesn’t matter how often we feel it, we all have it: this discomfort of being inside of our own skins.
And everyone’s experience with it is different. Maybe the first time you heard that voice was when you caught a glimpse of the cover of a Cosmo or Men’s Health magazine in line at a grocery store. Maybe it first whispered those nasty words to you when you saw your own pubescent body naked for the first time. Maybe you can’t even pinpoint the exact moment you first felt that creeping dread. Maybe, to you, it’s always been there.
But there was a time before you cared what you looked like. Before you stopped at a full-length mirror and began dissecting every flaw. There was a carefree time. There was a time when you lived in the moment, lived for the moment, enjoyed every moment.
We feel flashes and sometimes long spells of that time. In the presence of good friends and close loved ones. We throw all pretence out the window and truly settle into each moment. We feel childlike in a wondrous and magical way. Nostalgic, except what we have that nostalgia for is right before us, is right in our bones. No longer homeless in our bodies, we feel safe.
It is this feeling that we should carry with us through life. Though struggles may surround us and sadness is bound to happen - life has its natural lows - we should not be piling on language that brings harm to our own selves.
Of course, it is not easy to rise above the noise in our head. Society makes it far too easy to deny the negative side of everything. Society even banks on the fact that you have that inner voice. Society has built whole businesses around it.
Be thinner. Be cuter. Be stronger. Not that strong. Be sexier. Poutier lips. Rounder butt. More curves. Less curves. Smile more. Not like that.
This confusing and condescending narrative has been shouted at us since the day we could understand it. From billboards. From magazines. From every advertisement in every which way that it could get into our brains.
Until we started to think that it was coming from our own brains.
Until it isn’t just our outer appearance that it begins to comment on.
Have more confidence. Don’t be so cocky. Don’t cry. Don’t ever cry. Your feelings are worthless. No one cares about you.
Until homesteading in our own bones feels foolish.
Until our inner child is all but killed.
If you spend any time on the mental health part of the internet, you’ve probably heard or read the term, “inner child.” But to define it here, the inner child is - according to Merriam-Webster - “the childlike usually hidden part of a person's personality that is characterized by playfulness, spontaneity, and creativity usually accompanied by anger, hurt, and fear attributable to childhood experiences.” In other words, this is us at our most pure. But time and age and the experiences of life tend to pull us further and further from that distillation. And some of us - perhaps even most of us - have forgotten how to be our truest selves.
In our need to survive this life, our inner child has been wounded. They’ve become reactionary. They’ve lost that spark.
Some of us might have experienced unspeakable traumas in our childhood that have made us all the more angry and lifeless. And some of us might believe that - particularly in comparison to those bigger traumas - we never experienced hurt in our childhoods. However, because we were only just beginning to learn how life worked back then and didn’t have a complete understanding of the range of human emotions, even smaller slights took a ding out of us. And at that early age, we were forced to process these, and those slights eventually built us into the damaged creatures we are.
And so, as adults with wounded inner children, we still process these moments in the way we taught ourselves to as those children.
To make matters worse, though they may not consciously know it, it is this wounded inner child that capitalism thrives on. Feeling too fat? Drink this tea. Too scrawny? Drink this smoothie. Rather than working on self-worth and finding inner happiness, there is always a quicker fix. There is always something to push down the need for love.
This is why it is an uphill battle, to love our inner child’s wounds away.
But it is also why we must do it.
It starts from within. It starts by stopping the voice in your head before it gets too loud. It starts with identifying that you are worthy. You are enough just as you are.
Buried somewhere in my mother’s garage, there is a photo of me, taken on my eleventh birthday. Due to reasons that don’t really matter here, my mother’s side of my family had gone all out for that birthday. My first Build-A-Bear. Tea at the Ritz Carlton. A ride on a family friend’s pontoon boat. And then a birthday cake to top off the night. And this photo was taken right before I blew out my candles. The grin on my face. The glimmer of pure happiness in my eyes.
Some twenty years later, it is still my favorite photo of myself.
And sure, eleven-year-old me still has the bushy eyebrows and gap in her front teeth. But it is clear that none of that matters in that moment. And it radiates from the photo to this day.
May we all find that inner child within each of us. The ones that love themselves despite the insecurities and the pain. Though there will be struggles, may we all find ways to quiet that inner voice and listen for the one saying that we are safe, we are home.
Her whole life, living in Central Jersey, Cassandra Kalley has immersed herself in many different types of writing, from Top Ten lists to poetry, and everything in between. She has had a one-act play produced by a college theatre program, worked for WatchMojo on YouTube, and is currently working towards getting a darkly humorous children's book published. In a post-COVID world, she spends her days trying to piece together strands of hope for a brighter tomorrow, while using her passionate fire to push a better world into existence.