I remember the first time I felt truly worthwhile. It was fourth grade, and a little boy in my class named Kevin held my hand and told me I was pretty.

Me? Pretty? No, I was chubby then, with round glasses and bangs, and every year had to repeat the mile in gym because I was so slow. I felt worthless in my body.

Unfortunately, feeling ugly isn’t something that just affected me mentally — my low self-esteem showed outwardly, as well. I had a very hard time making friends. I didn’t get invited to sleepovers, and the popular boys called me “chubby” and “big-forehead girl” to my face. The few friends that I had grew apart from me by becoming cheerleaders or joining student council, while I hid myself away in band and choir.

Luckily, puberty hit (and hit a little late, I might add), but the damage had already been done: I was already smart enough to realize being pretty got you everything you wanted. Being pretty got you friends, gave you confidence and had the added bonus of getting attention from the opposite sex.

‘Be careful what you wish for’

So what did I decide? I decided I wanted to be beautiful. That was my goal. By the time I was 16, I was using my lunch money to buy shorter skirts and lipstick. I was looking better than ever with my skinny body and sexy clothes. The dates then started to roll in, and my grades and health plummeted. I spiraled into a seven-year depression once I realized beauty and attention didn’t also bring happiness. Depression brought on a battle with cutting so I could feel something, and cutting almost landed me in the hospital on multiple occasions. All for what? For not feeling good enough?

“Be careful what you wish for” has always been the quote that hits home with me the most often. I got what I wanted: for people to think that I was beautiful; for people to comment on my photos with jealousy; and for men to do a double take when I walked into a room.

But, I still felt empty. Me being skinny, being held and being looked at hurt just as badly as being called ugly. What had society done to me? What had I done to myself?

According to the Choose Beautiful campaign, which surveyed over 6,000 women last year from the ages of 18 to 64, 96 percent said they would not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, and 78 percent of women said they don’t feel confident in their own beauty. Imagine if the polls started from the age of 10.

It breaks my heart to know that little girls are sitting in the back of the class thinking about these things instead of focusing on school and family. This is a pandemic, people, and we need to address it.

‘Stand up for each other’

After many years of processing these emotions, I am in a place where I can talk about this battle in my life without feeling hurt or ashamed. I am actually a healthy weight and care more when one of my girlfriends calls me pretty than when a man says it. It would seem that, after all of these years of feeling alone, I was actually surrounded by women who felt the exact same way as me. We are not alone, and we must make sure others struggling with their body image hear that message.

Women need to talk to and trust each other more about our feelings and body issues. We need to stand up for each other and always be uplifting. It is silly to strive for perfection when kindness is easier and gives much more in return.

We can’t always blame all of our problems on men either. We, as women, need to teach our sons and daughters kindness, and we need to stand up to our husbands, boyfriends or lovers and say, “Love me for who I am.”

Eleanor Roosevelt knew what she was talking about when she said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Don’t give anyone consent. Our bodies will age, but kindness and understanding can be passed on in a way that will make us all feel truly beautiful.