There was a time in my life when I really loved myself and my look. I was in college, working multiple jobs and at the peak of my confidence. I wasn’t quite rockin’ crop tops, but I was getting there.

I was strong and independent. I was a tutu-wearing, quesadilla-loving, Mountain Dew Voltage addict who looked in the mirror and said, “Damn, girl. You fine.” (Or something like that …)

Then I got married and my confidence sank. It wasn’t necessarily marriage that killed it, but my ex-husband was insecure about his own appearance and I let that insecurity be passed onto me.

It’s probably why we broke up. I realized that it had gotten to me. I realized that I was at my lowest and I got out.

It’s been two years, but I can’t unsee the flaws. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get back to that girl who didn’t need rock-hard abs or makeup to feel beautiful. She just knew she was.

When it comes to loving myself, I’m Jekyll and Hyde. Some days, I can put up the front; other days my confidence falls flat and I feel like the ugliest creature on the planet (aka “a beast”).

But I can’t blame my ex-husband for all of it. That same insecurity, although I kept it at bay, was always there inside me.

It was there in fourth grade when I started gaining weight after daily bowls of black cherry ice cream during my parents’ divorce. It was there when in fifth grade I was called “stuffer.” It took the school bully throwing a tissue at me to figure out that the insult was meant for my boobs and not my belly fat.

It was there when other kids accused me of “not even trying” during gym class.

And the insecurity was there when my boyfriend (who later became my husband) didn’t like the hairstyle I wore to junior prom or when, during our marriage, he tried to persuade me to go to the gym by saying my ass would look as good as a CrossFit model’s if I kept up the squats.

My point is that this feeling of never being good enough, never being thin enough, pretty enough or “girly” enough has always been there. And it seems to be endemic.

When I tell someone how long it took me to pick out an outfit, they aren’t surprised. Women, at least, always seem to understand. I’ve even been complimented on many of the things that I’m not happy with about myself, including my new hair color, but it doesn’t stick. All the compliments in the world don’t help.

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To top it off, every recent photo of me only validates this fear, this insecurity. “Do I really look like that?” I keep asking. And when those photos, where my smile is crooked or I look like I have a double chin, are complimented, it’s the worst.

Are they just being nice? Because it’s not nice. It just makes me think that I must look like that. It must be true – I’m a beast and this photo actually is a “good” photo of me. Thanks. I rather preferred living in denial about it.

“I’ll get there,” I think. But I don’t know where or what “there” is. I don’t necessarily want to lose weight and I can’t figure out what to do with my hair anymore, and, although I like makeup, I wear it so infrequently that it makes me feel silly and even more insecure when I paint it on.

“Have a hot date?” people ask. “What’s the occasion?”

Must they comment? If it isn’t followed by a “You look great” then I don’t want to hear it. You noticed … thanks? I didn’t do it for you and now all I want to do is hide under my desk.

But instead of hiding, I make it out of the house another day and I’ll put this morning’s outfits back in the closet when I get home. Maybe I’ll feel better about it tomorrow. Maybe you will, too.

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. Jersey Girl runs every other Sunday. Follow her on Twitter at @RiaSestito or email her at msestito@napanews.com.

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Public Safety Reporter

Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She covers breaking news as well as crime and courts. Maria came to the Napa Valley Register in 2015 after working at as a reporter and photographer at The Daily News in Jacksonville, NC. S