I’ve grown a lot emotionally since I wrote the first two posts. The before me was very insecure and very careful about how she looked. She was worried that braces would make her look ugly. The before me would never have posted the second picture online — after all, I have on zero makeup and my hair is just thrown into a ponytail. And actually, when I took that, I had just walked to campus in the southern humidity and felt sweaty and gross, but I was so excited that my braces were off that I didn’t care. And guess what — no one else cared, either. Instead, my family and friends were excited for me because they love me and to them it doesn’t matter what I look like. Part of my first year of college was a whole lot of realizing that people don’t put as much emphasis on my teeth or my skin or my hair as I thought they did. It was a whole lot of learning to love myself as I am. I loved myself just as much yesterday with braces as I do today without them. That is a victory, y’all.
Of course, I still struggle with my self-image at times. Everyone does. It’s not going to go away. And I will admit that if I hadn’t gotten braces and my teeth were still crooked, maybe I would still be incredibly insecure. So maybe my whole first paragraph is a sham and a lie. But what I can tell you completely truthfully is that in addition to being more comfortable with my appearance, I’m also much more comfortable with who I am. I don’t judge myself as harshly anymore. I don’t feel guilty for my desires anymore. I understand that people who don’t know me, who aren’t my family, who aren’t obligated to love me, can still meet me and get to know me and experience ALL my moods — good and bad — and still want to be around me. I can disagree with someone and still be friends. I can have my own opinion and I won’t get judged for it. I can be my own person, and that’s okay. And that’s a really great feeling to have.