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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 23, 2014

How to Accept Your Imperfections

By Mark Sisson
54 Comments

PreparationSome weeks ago in a Dear Mark column, the issues of unwanted weight, arm fat and aesthetic frustration were front and center. While people’s central reasons for going Primal vary, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy looking slimmer and fitter. While some of us are unapologetically in it for the vanity spoils (not that there’s anything wrong with that), others of us might focus on health but secretly delight at the bonuses we see reflected in the mirror each day. Barring unaddressed hormonal issues and perhaps certain medical conditions, living Primally will help you lose fat, build muscle and look more vibrant. With time (and, for some folks, some tweaking), it will help you feel and look like a thriving version of yourself – your best, most awesome self. (We, of course, can’t help but end every week by showcasing all that awesomeness.) As much as we collectively and theoretically cheer this message, at times some of us might find ourselves privately disappointed that certain traits or patterns didn’t disappear with the added fat. As happy as we are to be lighter and fitter, now there’s no extra weight or low muscle tone to blame for certain features that maybe have made us insecure or just stuck in our craw for years. In all fairness, what do we do with these feelings? How do finally make peace with our inevitable imperfections?

There’s the camp that would automatically claim you’re not at peace with yourself if you have an issue with your healthy body. While I get where they’re coming from and agree that this can be true for some people, I also don’t choose to write off these feelings that easily. In some respect, that perspective could itself be seen as its own form of shaming.

The fact is, I’ve known a lot of people who have been truly solid individuals – amazing men and women, fantastic parents and partners, confident professionals, genuine friends – who confess that certain things about their physique bother them. They don’t obsess over them, but the feelings exist as background static they notice on occasion. Yes, you could say they have it “all,” but there’s still that nagging source of vulnerability.

Vulnerability. I think there’s a essential point here. If we can see these thoughts in that light, we recognize two things. The first is that the problem is really our feelings/self-talk about the imperfections rather than the imperfections themselves. We attach judgments to the features we decide we don’t like (or that others have so generously took it upon themselves to criticize for us in the past), but in all objective reality, these features are generally speaking neutral traits.

Sure, societies appear to come up with their own, widely varying senses of ideal. More than at any other time in history, however, we’re surrounded by that “ideal” to the point that it’s perceived to some degree more as an average. The omnipresence of media displaces comparative real life perception here. Likewise, this “ideal” is further stylized through “developments” like backlighting, airbrushing and plastic surgery, etc., which only further throws off our true sense of average, let alone healthy. (Can you imagine Grok’s response here?) No wonder we feel disoriented about what’s physiologically normal.

Two, we understand with these feelings that we can bring compassion to that aspect of what is essentially part of our basic humanity. While there’s plenty of room to argue that looks or insecurity about them don’t hold as much sway in other contemporary cultures (including traditional societies), the basic fact remains we’re hominids operating emotionally and physically within a given social system. Blame that social system all you want (as I did above), but I’m still going to feel for the individual hominid. Our expectations these days are admittedly skewed and manipulated, but our emotional responses are genuine albeit often unhelpful. Suggestion 1: let yourself off the hook for feeling the way you do. That said, focus on the knowledge that this feeling is totally unproductive and fleeting if we let it be.

The thing is, we can accept our propensity to notice those personally bothersome features without feeding that propensity. Ultimately, we choose how much power we give our “imperfections.” How much of our mental bandwidth will we give away? What opportunities will we forgo? What intimacy will we restrict or not enjoy? How much time will we spend observing our bodies rather than relishing the freedom of being in them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but it’s important at some point to think about what’s emotionally healthy for you as an individual.

I’ve written that one of the benefits of living Primally is looking good naked (LGN). You know, it was a passing comment in a blog post that took on a life of its own. It’s fun and provocative. It’s little wonder it got the attention it did, but let me be clear here. Looking good naked doesn’t read “looking perfect” naked (or clothed). (The statement begs the question, “Whose idea of perfection would we be talking about anyway?”) It doesn’t mean look like someone else other than yourself. How far away from our own physical reality do our expectations and desires keep us?

The shockingly brazen truth is that you get to show up to life exactly as you are. You seriously aren’t required to be anything else. Put yourself in the mindset of hunter-gatherer pragmatism for a minute, and you’ll get what I mean. We get to want what we want for ourselves – health, fitness, longevity and even good looks. That said, if we think our basic value is conditional in any way or if those desires keep us on the emotional sidelines of life in any way, we’re setting ourselves up for a miserable and isolated existence.

A few people I know tell me they didn’t learn real body confidence until they got sick. And by sick, I mean cancer. Gently peeling back bandages to reveal massive bruising and other post-surgery wounds elicited a self-compassion that had been inaccessible – inconceivable even – to them before. One family friend described it as finally understanding what the term “loving” her body meant. When she could take in the visual of what her body had been through – seeing the physical manifestation of the emotional trauma of her illness, she felt an amazing tenderness for her body, she said. While the physical wounds and medical crisis passed, her new perspective on her body did not. She describes it as one of the “gifts” of her experience.

Most of us, fortunately, don’t have to go through medical calamity to gain a healthier outlook on our imperfections. So, what can we do? How about this….

We can accept our vulnerability to judgment and self-judgment and understand that we don’t have to identify with it. Our self-concept is much bigger than a feeling.

We can shift our frames of reference by culling/changing our media intake and focusing our awareness on real-life exposure to genuine human variety. In other words, ignore the airbrushed magazine covers and go people watch at the airport.

We can put ourselves in the center of that frame of reference. Collect some photos of yourself that you genuinely like and keep them somewhere you can see them or look through them frequently. Blame me personally for any embarrassment you might feel or questions you get. Take more photos in your daily life to collect even more of these.

We can learn to better integrate our self-concept. Why would we separate out a flaw to obsess over? Because we want to distance ourselves from it? Because we want to drive ourselves insane mentally extracting parts of ourselves that aren’t up to par? Practice seeing the “imperfect” parts of yourself within the whole. They don’t exist separately from us – and neither should our thinking about them.

We can invest in ourselves – in our health and in our appearance. Enjoy what you have physically (and otherwise). Wear things you like. Learn to play up your assets. Develop your personal style and let yourself enjoy identifying with that means of self-expression/self-bedazzlement in addition to other elements of who you are. (Think it’s superficial? So is identifying yourself with a body flaw.)

We can cultivate self-compassion. Books exist on this, and specific styles of meditation include it. Do you have young kids? Try on their view of you – what they feel and see when they look at you. Tape one of their enormous-head-stick-figure drawings of you on one side of your mirror. Instant perspective.

What puts you in a healthy mindset about your body? Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading, everyone! 

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

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54 Comments on "How to Accept Your Imperfections"

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Michele
1 year 11 months ago

For me, It’s purposefully ripping out all the cultural and media messages about “perfection” that have been swimming around in my head since childhood. I’m still working on it, but I have had a huge shift in perspective since beginning to live a paleo lifestyle, and it’s easier to separate the cultural nonsense from my true feelings. Life is a lot happier without feeling the pressure to look a certain way, and I’m probably still only halfway there.

Rick
Rick
1 year 11 months ago

I have found that by accepting that I will grow old, that I will die, that it could be messy, no matter what I do or think or wish, no matter at all, that the rest of Life’s dissatisfactions come easy.

Keeps me in good cheer. : )

Shary
Shary
1 year 11 months ago
Good article. When I was a teenager I obsessed about everything that I considered an imperfection. Like most teenagers, I frequently felt that my entire body would benefit from plastic surgery. My mother would take a look at whichever minuscule flaw I was stressing out over and say, “Don’t worry about it. It isn’t noticeable, and a hundred years from now it won’t matter anyway.” The wisdom of that comment didn’t come home to roost until many years later, when I had my own teenagers. I should mention that there was really nothing wrong with my teenage body. I was… Read more »
Paleo Bon Rurgundy
1 year 11 months ago

In defense of great décolletage everywhere, it is a sign of healthy fertility.

Sarah
Sarah
1 year 11 months ago

Laff! 🙂

Shary
Shary
1 year 11 months ago

(Laughing)… Maybe in a bygone era, Paleo Bon. These days nice boobs are often implants and have nothing to do with fertility.

mother
1 year 2 months ago

Not even boobs alone but almost everything, the curves, booty and lips.

Taylor
Taylor
1 year 11 months ago
I’m still worrying about my attractive (fertile) features and related matters, and I’m sure I will until I’m raising children! It will be a relief to be beyond that one day, but there will always be a new stage of life to take, and another arena to master. I’d say the only time you should worry about it at all is when it’s up ahead of you or happening in the moment. After that, you’ve got to let it go like Shary did. Better yet, look warmly and compassionately on your past self–as Mark said, the “whole”, not the parts… Read more »
John Caton
1 year 11 months ago

We can fix what we can and accept what we can’t.

I agree that dissatisfaction must not emotionally sideline us, but if it weren’t for some degree of dissatisfaction, many of us wouldn’t have been looking for answers when we found “primal”.

Despite any flaws others see in us, or those we see in ourselves, this life has been a free gift and gratitude is warranted.

SumoFit
1 year 11 months ago

Great point, John. Dissatisfaction comes before any (intentional) change, on both personal and cultural levels.

Dr. Anthony Gustin
1 year 11 months ago

Being overweight when I was younger, this had been a huge problem for me until awhile after being “paleo”. Might sound cheesy, but getting into the primal movement is the thing that flipped the switch for me to feel comfortable with myself!

Vanessa
Vanessa
1 year 11 months ago

Because my neck is so wrinkly from losing weight I keep thinking it would be nice to have it “done.” But I also think, that’s my neck, apparently it’s supposed to look that way now. I also recently saw a picture of a former movie star, now 88. She had many plastic surgeries over the years and at this age looks like she’s suffered facial injuries not imrovements. I’ll bet she’d give a lot to have her regular little old lady face that Mother Nature would have provided.

Shary
Shary
1 year 11 months ago

+1. There are a number of celebrities out there who have had repeated plastic surgeries and now look like 30 miles of bad road as a result. Michael Jackson comes to mind as a classic example of someone who never made peace with what he considered physical imperfections. Women are more likely to be victimized by their own vanity, but it happens to men too.

tkm
tkm
1 year 11 months ago
And those older celebrities look that way *despite* having the benefits of good lighting, flattering camera angles, and skilled makeup artists. I live in Los Angeles, and frequently see wealthy women of a certain age whose plastic surgeries have not withstood the test of time (and I am sure Mark, living in Malibu, knows exactly what I am talking about). It is genuinely frightening, and extremely disheartening! I think a lot of women would decide not to have these procedures if they saw the “after” pictures of the doctor’s work from a couple decades later, rather than immediately after their… Read more »
SumoFit
1 year 11 months ago

Most celebrities are (more so than the average Joe) self-delusional. There’s just no way you could ever convince them they look creepy, because In their own minds they are forever young and gorgeous.

The nipped, tucked, stretched, plasticised look is far more prevalent in the US than in the UK. Watch any British film or TV show and the actors look human — big noses, crooked teeth, double chins and all.

Nocona
Nocona
1 year 11 months ago

Sumo Fit, my thoughts exactly. Also, I have never seen a famous persons plastic surgery that has made them look better. Every single one has looked worse to me. Beautiful women that change their perfect lips and breasts…and then BAM, they look like freaks. So sad. I’m not forgetting Jenner or Jackson either.

Angel
Angel
1 year 11 months ago
I am 18 and I have faced a lot of issues with my body. I never became bulimic thankfully but I did come close to going into full blown anorexia. I’ve had issues because throughout my childhood, my mother would make hateful comments about my weight. She wanted skinny, pretty daughters like all the other moms. She would look at me in discust when we had to shop for school clothes. And at age 13, she called me so fat that I looked pregnant. I’m much more secure in the way I look now. It took me two years to… Read more »
Granny Gibson
Granny Gibson
1 year 11 months ago

Strong woman. 🙂

Günther
Günther
1 year 11 months ago
So, once again … what would Grok have done? Grok didn´t have a mirror. So he (of course, she, too) was unable to compare himself, or most of his “externalities”, with his companions in a proper way. And so he had nearly no reason to be angry about his appearance – especially about imperfections of his face or facial skin, his (her!) butt or his (her!!!) hair (BTW he had larger troubles to solve – she, too). There is one kind of therapy to strengthen your self-esteem where you are not allowed to look in any kind of mirror (or… Read more »
John Caton
1 year 11 months ago

With pristine water in every pool, who needed a mirror?

When it came time to attract and choose a mate, I suspect that Grok made self-comparisons, became aware of personal flaws and blamed them for failures no less than we do today.

Günther
Günther
1 year 11 months ago

Ever tried to detect a pimple in the reflection of a puddle ;-)? Even in the most prestine one one can find?

You are right with respect to this self-comparisons concerning topics like strength, power, endurance etc. But I meant the little visual imperfections one can only spot in a modern-world mirror. Those imperfections that keep (young) girls and boys for hours in front of the bathroom mirror. Nothing Grok had to bother with, I guess.

Clay
Clay
1 year 11 months ago
I’d say most animals seem aware of their appearance and where they fit in the social hierarchy. In my African Cichlid tank the biggest fish know they are the biggest fish and act accordingly by exerting their dominance, keep their fins erect, and brightening up their colors. Most birds seems to figure out how attractive their plumage is pretty quickly by how their peers and potential mates react. Birds can also see into the ultraviolet spectrum and see many more varieties of colors than we do. Color and feather size is super important to birds. Some species of bird practices… Read more »
SumoFit
1 year 11 months ago

I like Balanchine’s take on mirrors:

“The mirror is not you. The mirror is you looking at yourself.”

Inchokate
Inchokate
1 year 11 months ago

I love this: “You get to show up to life exactly as you are. You seriously aren’t required to be anything else.”

Granny Gibson
Granny Gibson
1 year 11 months ago

I’ve had my brief glory days, so I know what a disconnect there can between insides and outsides. Now I’m older and wiser and content with myself. No face lift for me, either. Hubby likes me the way I am. My friends and I appreciate each other for our life-learned traits. I eat right and exercise to preserve what I have left. 😉 I wouldn’t go back to my anxious, compulsive twenties for anything!

Allison
Allison
1 year 11 months ago

Yep, cancer puts it in perspective really quickly. After my diagnosis, I took up Paleo and lost about 15 pounds. I was not unhappy about this silver lining. When things started to look worse, I started Thomas Seyfried’s ketosis diet, theorized to suppress tumors. Now I’m down another 30 pounds to my high school weight- a goal I’d had most of my pre-diagnosis life. And while I won’t deny that I’m enjoying being thinner, I have bigger fish to fry now. I would trade just about physical imperfection to see my kids through school.

Vanessa
Vanessa
1 year 11 months ago

Best of luck, Allison, I’m sure you will do that.

Larry
Larry
1 year 11 months ago
I was the MDA success story about 6 back or so: things keep getting better and better. This is one of the lessons I have learned. In some ways the most powerful on what was central to my success so I will share it here. It relates to this article and motivation. What was the key to my success? I had an epiphany one day. It was two words. Not Acceptable. Perhaps the two most powerful words put together for individuals and societies. It was Not Acceptable any longer for me to be on the road to diabetes, morbidly obese,… Read more »
Amy
1 year 11 months ago

Larry, thank you. This is speaking to me a great deal, and I can’t tell you how much I needed this.

Larry
Larry
1 year 11 months ago
As an aside about appearance, guess what? I think eating Primally is going to turn out to be the most powerful look good, have awesome skin as long as possible thing you could ever do. It will blow away any fancy surgery or skin cream. We’ve just scratched the surface of bone broth and collagen in our own lives but are using both now. But even before that frankly my wife’s skin looks awesome. Way better than any time before. She glows now. I think we both do. PB, to me, happens to be the best for health, and oh… Read more »
Julie
Julie
1 year 11 months ago

Sometimes what we perceive as imperfections make us stand out, and even attractive to a mate. Good healthy and vibrant attitudes are more attractive than insecurity. Make a list of things in your life that you are grateful for, none of them to do with your physical appearance and you will become happier with yourself.

Susan
Susan
1 year 11 months ago
Wow I needed this article even tho I have come to somewhat of an agreement with myself. I have a most wonderful husband of 40 years and he loves me just as I am. I am finally getting to the point of doing the same for myself. All the years I wasted being unhappy with my body is ridiculous! Since going Primal 4 months ago I have lost inches but not many pounds. All my blood work came back fantastic and I feel so much better. What’s not to like about that? So all you young people enjoy what God… Read more »
Monikat
Monikat
1 year 11 months ago
One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is that some of my fellow-mom acquaintances might comment that they don’t ever have any pictures taken of themselves because they don’t like the way they look. I think I’m hearing that more as time goes on and my group ages. This seems incredibly sad to me, that they put so much emphasis on their imperfections that they choose to have their kids to not have any photos of their mother, or with their mother. It’s so messed up. Every year, we send out a family photo holiday card, and it’s… Read more »
Inese
Inese
1 year 11 months ago
“This seems incredibly sad to me, that they put so much emphasis on their imperfections that they choose to have their kids to not have any photos of their mother, or with their mother.” Thank you, Monikat, for saying it like it is. I never thought of it that way. For many years I’ve been sooooo guilty of refusing to be on pictures at all or at least hiding behind other people. I’ll keep your idea in the back of my mind the next time someone wants to be on a picture with me – it’s not just about me,… Read more »
tw
tw
1 year 11 months ago
I always find it interesting that collectors often place a higher value on those things that deviate from perfection. A stamp with the object upside down for example is prized for its uniqueness and rarity. To be a part of a culture that claims to thrive on individualism, and the uniqueness of each person, it perhaps perplexing that imperfections, rather than being viewed as unique, interesting, rare and valuable in conjunction with other traits. Instead they are viewed with disdain and dissatisfaction. I would submit that the individual need not compare their specific traits in isolation but rather as a… Read more »
Kay
1 year 11 months ago

+1 very well said

Brynn
Brynn
1 year 11 months ago

Our ‘flaws’ aren’t really ‘flaws’, they are parts of our body that make us unique from everyone else. Imagine if we all looked the same….??
Everything in life needs a point of reference, so when we are judging ourselves, who are we comparing ourselves to?
I always tell my wife that if she wants to look like the models in the magazines I’ll get someone to take some photos and airbrush them for her…., I could go on & on…..

Happycyclegirl
Happycyclegirl
1 year 11 months ago

My grandma died at age 91. Speaking with her about her looks, it was interesting to find that what bothered her about her looks changed as she grew older. By the time she hit 70, she said she no longer obsessed about her imperfections. She said it was freeing to finally be at peace with herself.

Honestly, if my imperfections are my biggest focus for my day, then life is pretty damn good. At least I’m not worrying about where I’m going to live or where my next meal is coming from.

Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
1 year 11 months ago

Focusing on our own flaws is essentially a vanity issue. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sometimes the most narcissistic of individuals are as off base as the hyper self critical. The Primal Blueprint focuses on improving the way we feel. When we feel better we naturally look better to ourselves and those around us.

Thanks Mark!

Laura Fenamore
1 year 11 months ago

great piece.

this is my life work.

glad you are discussing that imperfection is a myth.

if we do not deal with our self hatred and pain, then we stay feeling unlovable and unattractive.

thank you again Mark.

Laura Fenamore
http://www.OnePinky.com

jill
jill
1 year 11 months ago
Perspective….perhaps as we age. Our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, our blood circulates to nourish us constantly. Our muscles and bones see us through each day and our brains autonomically control it all and leave room for us to ponder, theorize, think and experience life. We each possess the most amazing contraption ever known. And then we complain one part is half an inch too big, too round LOL I’ve found alot more compassion, love and respect for my body once I really stopped to think what it does, what it is. Now I just want to give it what… Read more »
wildgrok
wildgrok
1 year 10 months ago

+1 today in my book!

maidel
1 year 11 months ago

I would say some of these “imperfections” are not “flaws” at all. Not at all. They are just not fashionable at the moment — or they are non-mainstream ethnic traits. They might even be beautiful. Remember the girl in “Dirty Dancing”? Never should have changed her nose. She was gorgeous as she was.

kim
kim
1 year 11 months ago
OMG! I have used her as an example for years! She was so lovely, so real, so unique before the nose job. After the nose job, I found her to be pretty but not nearly as attractive as she was before. And then you have Michael Jackson. He was an attractive child and grew up to be a fine looking young man. Then the obsession with plastic surgery began. By the time he died, he no longer looked real…….he looked distorted, like an alien trying to pass himself off as a human. It’s so sad. It’s enough to make the… Read more »
SumoFit
1 year 11 months ago
This is one of my favourite MDA posts. A couple of observations: –“I’ve written that one of the benefits of living Primally is looking good naked (LGN).” Hahaha! Hominids are among the homeliest creatures in the animal kingdom, which is one of the reasons Grok and Grokette saw fit to use fig leaves, loin cloths, etc., in strategic places. This Paleolithic propensity was underscored by the 20th century dancer/choreographer who, when asked if he would ever write a nude ballet, replied that he would not, because not everything stops when the dancer does. — “…backlighting, airbrushing and plastic surgery…” I… Read more »
ShaSha
ShaSha
1 year 11 months ago
Great post, Mark! I really needed to hear this. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be healthy and have a body that has always been fairly easy to live in. I love what some have said about accepting the reality of aging and death. It is so important to keep a perspective on things. I’ve spent years beating myself up mentally because I can’t seem to let go of the fact that the women in my family (and I) have/had beautiful dark brown hair, which they get to keep until they turn 40ish, at which point it turns… Read more »
SumoFit
1 year 11 months ago

White hair can be beautiful, just remember to adjust your colour palette (makeup and clothes) to really show it off!

Margit
Margit
1 year 11 months ago
The media surely bombard us with pictures of “perfect” human appearance. But even the media and the fashion world are anticipating the growing dissatisfaction of their audiences with “more of the same”. People are becoming fed up with the never ending presentation of perfection. So models that look different are on the rise. Some fashion designers are even sending disabled models on the runway, or models that look different and by no means “beautiful” in the common sense. It simply attracts more attention. This is still by no means mainstream, but I notice a shift that looking different is becoming… Read more »
Groktimus Primal
1 year 11 months ago

I’m not normally one for the touchy-feely posts but this is a darn good one! Thanks Mark & Co.

Ben
Ben
1 year 11 months ago
I really enjoyed this post, it’s why I like MDA/PB: A lifestyle is more than just what we eat or how we work out. This reminded me of a sermon I heard almost a decade ago (and I can’t remember any sermons from this past year) about wholeness versus perfection. Striving for perfection as an individual defines us by our imperfections; striving for perfection in our communities separates the good from the bad, undermining the very purpose of community. But rather than simply accepting imperfections, we should aim for wholeness in all things: Whatever our individual imperfections, we should strive… Read more »
tkm
tkm
1 year 11 months ago

“A few people I know tell me they didn’t learn real body confidence until they got sick. And by sick, I mean cancer. Gently peeling back bandages to reveal massive bruising and other post-surgery wounds elicited a self-compassion that had been inaccessible – inconceivable even – to them before…”

This whole paragraph is lovely and is something I had never considered before. Although I have never had cancer or indeed any major illness, just contemplating this notion has awakened more self-compassion in me. Thank you Mark.

Lindsayliz
Lindsayliz
1 year 11 months ago

This is a great post and has made me think. In later years (40 plus) the people who I have been most drawn to and inspired by are not necessarily size zero or Charles atlas – they are happy, calm, peaceful, nice, funny, energising, positive, like to be fit, listen and are genuinely interested in things, have a positive outlook and a good smile and seem genuinely happy and healthy – no size definition. I call it ‘allure’, and it’s nothing to do with features or size – it’s what I’m aiming for with this way of life

Nick
1 year 11 months ago

This is easily the hardest challenge we work to overcome when we are trying to take care of ourselves, great post.

swot
swot
1 year 11 months ago

I am slowly learning to accept my uniqueness (teeth, scars, etc). I am so very conscious of what I say, buy and watch after having my daughter because I would love for her to see strength and compassion as positive and beautiful traits to admire and pursue, and not focus so much on the ‘packaging’. Fingers crossed…

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