A few Sundays ago, my friend took me to a Jazmine Sullivan concert in Central Park. It was obviously fantastic because Jazmine Sullivan is fantastic, but she started singing this song called “Masterpiece” from her latest album. The song is about learning to love your body for what it is and celebrating every aspect of it. As I watched her sashay and belt her way around the stage I couldn’t help but think about my own self-esteem and the roller coaster I’ve put it through these past eight years.

I have severe scoliosis which means my spine is shaped like an S. The curve was causing my ribcage to lean on my lungs, so at the age of 14 I had to get surgery to decrease the curve. Before the surgery, I was just a depressed pre-teen, who wondered why she had to have this terrible deformity that caused her peers to make fun of her, and prompted tiny children to ask their moms, “What’s wrong with her?” as I walked by.

Growing up was rough. However, when I turned 13 (I was listening to a lot of Jeffree Star and Christina Aguilera), I straight up decided that if nobody thought I was pretty, I’d think I’m pretty (that’s exactly how I said it inside my head that day). And so that’s how it was from then on. I adopted this new Fuck You attitude, learned to ignore the stares and bullies, and told myself I was beautiful every chance I got. I was feeling great that year. I also found out that I’d be having my surgery that summer, and I assumed that my confidence would skyrocket to a whole new universe. My spine would be straighter, therefore I’d be even more “beautiful” on the outside and everybody would see it. I wouldn’t have to lie to myself about how I pretty was or “fake it till I made it,” because I’d truly be “pretty.”

I was wrong as hell. After enduring excruciating surgeries, my spine was less curved, although still noticeably crooked. My breathing became so much better, but I had become so used to loving my super deformed body, that when I finally went home after my surgery and looked in the mirror I was frightened. I couldn’t recognize the body or person in my reflection, it made absolutely no sense. Everyone around me was telling me how great I looked but I couldn’t see it; it wasn’t mine, it wasn’t the body I had known for 14 years of my life, and that fucked me all the way up. I entered high school depressed as ever and had trouble making new friends. I wanted to stick to things that felt familiar; to get back to how life was before the surgery. I hung out with my middle school friends and now I even realize that I started wearing a blue weave again to subconsciously channel my younger self. The confidence I had worked so hard on building had dissipated.

Those next two years were hell, I lashed out at friends and hooked up with boys I didn’t even like because I thought that’s what made me a normal teenager. I looked more normal but didn’t feel it. I overcompensated by pretending to be this caricature of a “normal” American teen. It wasn’t until my junior year when I made new friends who were more focused on their school work and going to college, that I finally recognized my self worth. I saw that I was deserving of attention and love, not only from friends but more importantly, myself. My new pals and I would go out for lunch and blast One Direction on the car ride over, I’m not even a huge fan of the band, but in those moments I thought, this is what I’m supposed to be doing, this is what being 16 is about, not worrying about back pain and how strange I am, but sitting here singing along to some boy band on the way to Subway. I redirected my time toward making sure I’d be able to get into college. My grades improved dramatically, I opened up more, took a break from toxic friends, and joined clubs. I felt unstoppable and my confidence rebooted itself.

I was high on my own self love, but at 19, at this Jazmine Sullivan concert, my fake it ’til you make it juice has worn off and I’m left with the shallow ass kiddie pool that is my self worth. I’m not sure how this happened. It could be because everything is going well for me right now: I’m entering my sophomore year of college with good grades, I’m having sex I actually enjoy, and I’m writing more. I should be ecstatic and loving life! Maybe I think so poorly of myself that I feel like I don’t deserve this? I’m not satisfied with myself. Sure, I’ve come a long way from wearing back braces and taking Percocet for pain, but I still hate my scars and deformed spine. I feel out of place in my own body and undeserving of all the love I’ve been receiving. I want to get back to being 13 and fearless, not 19 and unsure of myself. ♦