Tough Stuff

How to embrace who you are and not let your past define you

This essay reflects the thoughts and opinions of the authors.

We all have problems in life: We wish we didn't snap at mom this morning, we're still stressed over that history paper that's *totally* overdue and we wish our friends would respond to our texts.

Maybe these things have happened in the past and we still can't stop thinking about them. It can be easy to hyper-fixate on our past mistakes and wish things were different. But our past experiences shape us into the people we are today and make us stronger. What's important is understanding that our pasts do not define who we are (or, for that matter, who we're on the road to becoming). 

Redefining your self-image

You may find yourself scrolling through Instagram, constantly comparing yourself to the edited pics on your feed. Or maybe you're at school, waiting for *that* guy to come up and talk to you, only to find that he's not even looking in your direction. Whatever your story may be, understanding the ways in which we all seek validation from those around us can help to free ourselves of the toxic mentality that tells us to look at our own self-worth from the lens of what others are saying.


One thing that's important to understand, especially as you grow older, is that people are going to talk. They're going to say whatever they feel like saying about you, whether it comes from a place of hate, jealousy or even bitterness. There are always going to be people who will try to fit you into a box and make you feel small. There's always those comments that people make here and there that really get under your skin. And even though it might just be a tiny remark, It can be easy to let these moments follow you in life.


Every time you look in the mirror, you may be reminded of the things classmates or former friends have said about you in the past. This is completely normal. Letting those moments define who you are and who you have been is where these feelings become damaging and unhealthy. Your worth doesn't lie within what others think of you, and it certainly isn't a reflection of what you've heard from those around you. Your self-worth can only come from inside of you. And as cliche as it may be, you have to look at who you are from the inside out, not the other way around. 

Learning what body positivity means to you

Our relationships with our own bodies can be complicated and messy. If you've been active on social media over the past few years, you've probably heard conversations around the ideas of self-love and body positivity. Body positivity has created sayings like "All bodies are beautiful" and "You need to love yourself before someone else can." These sentiments seem nice on the surface, but body positivity has grown increasingly toxic.

It's OK if you wish your body looked different or if you don't feel happy in your body. Dr. Susan Albers says that body neutrality, an alternative to body positivity, is "based on the notions of acceptance and having respect for one's body rather than love." Your body is only a small part of who you are. Instead of focusing on how your body looks, think of the other great things that make you *you*: Your beautiful hair, your strong legs, your heart that loves deeply and keeps you alive. Focusing on the things you like about yourself will make your journey to body neutrality that much easier.

Why mental health matters


In exploring our own self-image and the ways in which we can grow to embrace who we are, it's important to look from within. Taking breaks, practicing self-care (whatever that may look like to you) and enjoying relaxing activities are important ways to be mindful. Understanding that you aren't alone is crucial to developing a better relationship with your self-image. All of your feelings are completely valid and, despite not always being vocal about it, your peers/classmates/teammates might be going through the same struggles.

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as keeping up with physical health. Knowing this and practicing different methods of self-care is essential for embracing who you are. Reading a book, doing a face mask or talking to a trusted individual about how you're feeling are three great ways to show some quick self-love. It's important to remember that building up your mental health is a process that takes both time and energy. Be patient and kind with yourself when doing this. It's OK if you don't see immediate results. If you keep up with the inner work, you're bound to find a lot of personal growth. 


Remember: You don't have to struggle alone. Friends and family members are there to support you. In order to embrace who you are, it's important to realize that although your past doesn't define you, your past experiences have shaped you into the person you are today. It's completely normal to seek validation from those around us and internalize experiences from our past—but it's equally important that we learn and move on from our past and find our worth from within.

How do you embrace who you are? Let us know on Twitter @girlslifemag

Need more mental health advice? Check out these other GL articles:
💙 How to deal with social anxiety during back-to-school season
💙 How to cope when the news feels overwhelming
💙 Should you look for mental health advice on TikTok?

Slider: @johnassaraf | All stock photos via Unsplash | All GIFs via Giphy


by Mina Rahmat and Rory Durso | 12/11/2022