How I Learned To Love Myself By Smelling Horrible

I’ve always wanted to love myself. I thought it would happen once I healed all of my past wounds. That one day I’d graduate from therapy and join a secret self-love club. The reality is that I learned to love myself during an all-time low, nightmare-y scenario.

It was one of those scorching New York summer days—100 degrees with 91% humidity. I was newly married and new to New York. I had an entry level job working at a department store making $16 per hour. I was living in a tiny one bedroom apartment with my new husband. You know the story—the classic archetype of moving to New York with big dreams while struggling to survive.

I have to admit that going through these downgrades in both apartment size and job title while in my 30’s wasn’t helping me love myself more. In fact, it was doing the opposite.

My mind would race. “Why would you leave California without a good job in New York? Your old wardrobe isn’t chic enough to live here. Why would anyone love you? This move made you a loser.” It got really mean. And, it got really repetitive. I used to lock myself in the bathroom at work and cry as silently as possible for up to an hour at a time. But that’s not the nightmare. There’s more.

That hot, 100-degree day, I was having my daily cry in the public department store bathroom and I realized I had forgotten deodorant. I smelled horrible. You know that stress smell? Like an extra stench coming out of you that is beyond body odor? Like worst-nightmare-in-middle-school-didn’t- know-you-need-deodorant-and-everyone-is-staring-at-you smell?

With just 3 hours left of my shift, I wiped my eyes and vowed to not raise an arm for the rest of the day. I was going to keep my stink to myself.

As I walked (and wafted) back into the store, I felt as if everyone was staring at me. I pretended to be busy folding clothes with my arms glued to my sides. I hoped that I was invisible.

Just then, the janitor walked over to our department to empty the trash. He said to me, “It smells bad. You need some spray.”

“What, where?” I asked innocently.

“Right HERE.” He pointed directly to my armpits. At this point, a few other employees and shoppers had gathered to watch our interaction. So much shame washed over me.

In that moment, I realized I had to make a choice about how I was going to treat myself. I replied, “I forgot deodorant today. I know I smell bad. And I’m not going to buy some spray either.”

He held his hands up and walked away. In that moment, I decided that I have to love myself even when I am pungent. I haven’t hate-speeched myself since.

Liz HurtComment