There was a time when I thought certain “types” of women were good, others were bad, and by age 10 I had decided the type I wanted to be. I thought “pretty” was a good thing to be, but by age 12 I decided I wasn’t pretty. So I focused and tried and hated and looked in the mirror each morning with an every-growing sense of despair.
I thought “smart” was a good thing to be, and I did well in school. My book-reading to tv-watching ratio was always in check, my homework was finished by 7 pm, and my head was on the pillow by 8:30 because I knew the best way to do well in school was to be well rested and alert. But by age 13 I saw that my little sister was accomplishing more than I had at her age – that, and she was good at math – so I decided I wasn’t smart.
I thought “modest” was a good thing to be. By age 14 I regularly measured my shirt straps, covered my midriff, and always made sure shorts and skirts went past my finger tips. I “helped” my friends by explaining to them why their clothing was causing others to lust (or something?), “encouraged” them to wear an extra cardigan, and wore shorts over my one-piece in the swimming pool. But then one time I got a comment about my chest being big, so I started wearing two sports bras at a time. And then boys on the bus made comments about my body and how they liked it and I felt sick so I gave up and decided I wasn’t (or couldn’t be) modest.
I judged those who were also not pretty, smart, or modest. I hated myself. Everything. about. me. But at the end of the day, I knew (or thought I knew) that she was uglier. I knew that another she was less intelligent. I knew that yet another she was immodest, slutty, and doomed to a life of misery.
I know now how it’s possible to hate oneself while holding oneself in the highest regard. I know now it’s called pride.
So I judged the Marilyns. The girls who were cool and pretty and blonde with clear skin and infinite shopping sprees and I judged what I heard about their weekend activities, I judged their bikinis and their perfect figures and I hated, hated, hated them for all of it. And I hated how they hated themselves, too.
But I didn’t just hate the Marilyns. I hated the Jackies and the Mother Teresas too. Because at the end of the day, when I emulated them, I still wasn’t good enough.
By age 15 I was not modest, I was prude. By age 16 I was not smart, I was boring. And by age 17 I had a boy who, at that point, had thought I was pretty for two whole years. So I thought, maybe I was? (But I didn’t really think so. After all, if a girl thinks she’s pretty, then she’s full of herself, right?)
So I was swallowed up with hatred and pride. I had dubbed myself Queen and was judge, jury, and executioner. I figured my self-hatred gave me license to draw holistic conclusions about others. I was nice on the outside but my insides were rotten.
And now, I am 26 years old. I realize that I am Marilyn. I am not her blonde hair, her waist-to-hip-ratio, her acting career, or her drug overdose. I am her insecurity and her fear of abandonment and her longing to do something great. I am Jackie. I love fashion, I study literature, I take risks, I am vulnerable, and I work hard. I am Mother Theresa. I recognize that all I am is thanks to God and I must fight my instincts each day to love others the way He has loved me. And I am Mitzi Starkweather. I am passionate about women and think they can change the world. I no longer hate myself like I once did. Now I hate the way women hate themselves + the applause they receive for it. I love the way vulnerability and honesty make life worth living and the way we humans can show each other our own worthiness by simply loving one another.
I am so many things about so many different women. Because they influenced me, thousands, through their performances and their lessons and their smiles and their poetry and their legacies. The older I get the more I realize that life shouldn’t be about fitting into a certain label – even liberating labels are chains – but learning to love yourself right where you are. I believe, passionately, in a God who loves me right where I am. Do I extend myself that same love? I’m trying to. Because I know now that judgement of others is pride – and pride loves no one – and hating myself leaves me no energy to encourage anyone.
I do not pretend this is my full story of self-love. My story will not be over until my life is. But I write what I experience because I see so many women spend years staying quiet when they want to speak up, playing dumb when they have valuable ideas, cutting others down when they should be extending a helping hand, or pretending they’re “a certain type of girl” while the complex human being inside of them wastes away.
When I was younger, I thought I was nothing. But now I see that I am Marilyn. Why? Because I am every woman who has influenced me, for good, for bad, or for both. We belong to each other. We are one half of humanity. We are strong, we are broken, we are valuable, and we are worthy. And we are all more alike than we realize.
If you’re just meeting me, hello! I’m Mitzi, and I do my part to empower women by volunteering, mentoring, writing, and creating portraits for women so they can celebrate who they are & exist in photographs.