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Kitchen Sink


March 12th, 2008

Here’s the thing. I’ve always, always, always been insecure about my looks. And not just my looks, but everything, including my ability to do anything, and just about everything else.


BUT, we’re talking about appearances now. So let me drive home the point in short, but effective words and phrases: Insecure. Think I’m Not Worthy. Believe Am Unattractive.


So, it’s a thing. A very real thing. And I’ve totally not really voiced it until now. Although I’m sure anyone in my family will tell you. Because the second I see any of them, it’s not “oh! your baby is adorable!” or “sorry about the surgery!” or “what? 6 months to live?” No, it’s, “did I gain any weight? am I fat? can you see my wrinkles?”



I don’t know how this happened to me. Really, everything started out easy enough:




As you can see, I looked good naked and sported a healthy pink skin tone.


And things were great. I ruled the roost, was the apple of many people’s eyes, and just generally totally awesome.


I don’t recall obsessing about beauty in my early years. Not at all. In fact, the dirtier I got, the better, although I did clean up nice.


Why do these pictures look like they were excavated from the 1800s? Way to make me feel old, Kodak.


Seems I did like to dress up and play with baby dolls, but all I remember from this time period is beating up David Smurphy while wearing my blue satin karate suit. Ah, but come to think of it, I do remember my foster sister, a teenager who came to live with us for awhile because everyone in her family were drug addicts, using Noxema and putting some on me. I sort of believe I became enamored with cold creams around this time.


So things were good. Even after the birth of my bratty baby brother when I was almost 4, who stole all of my attention and ruined my life.


For the most part, I didn’t care what I wore, what I looked like or any of that beauty stuff I see some little girls obsessed with, but this could be total denial. I don’t know. I can’t remember much after the point of my little brother destroying my life with his cuteness and his “goos” and his “gaas.” Milk breath.


Anyway, then there was this:




Let’s see. What can I say about this? Other than it was my mom’s attempt to emulate the Dorothy Hamill haircut, not much. Please, a moment of silence for my shattered childhood self esteem.


STILL, even after the above, I was a pretty confident kid. I thought I could do anything, and I often tried. I was in the chorus, on the newspaper staff, on the yearbook staff, on the basketball and softball teams, in the musical, an honor roller, everything, everything, everything. And perhaps you see a trend? I do — aiming to please. I was never very good at any of the things I went out for, but I went out for them, and to me, that’s what counted. And? I really needed to join everything, because that meant I was accepted.


In the 7th and 8th grade, I recall becoming aware of the “popular” girls and wanting to be like them. Popularity was the one thing I couldn’t “try out” for, the one team I couldn’t join, and it killed me. So I settled for imitating Julie Minnegan’s whispery laugh and the way Bridget Kattingly said “cereal,” instead of “serious.” I bought clothes at the Fashion Bug and Dress Barn and became obsessed with sandals and how my feet looked in them.


And so it began.




I completely remember picking out the clothes I wore in this photo. And would you look at the attention to detail? The way the bland cream blazer brings out the monotone hue of the taupe blouse? Oh, why didn’t I pursue that fashion career?



I wanted boys to notice me. I remember the urge clearly. I longed for the boys to like my feathered hair and the rouge and the way I held my Beef ‘n Cheddar. I observed people (I don’t observe other things, like garbage that needs to be taken out, or a red light, but people? I watch) and I saw the dynamics played out before me: the guy approaching the girl, what he might have noticed about her that drew him to her, and I wanted that soap opera in my own life. But, I never felt enough. Not cute enough, not hot enough, not popular enough. And I don’t know why. Other than, maybe because I wasn’t cute, hot, OR popular. But no matter.


Popularity soon did come my way. And in high school, I obsessed even more about clothes and my hair and my feet. Something told me I didn’t fit in with my friends and their tans, Esprit clothes and Marshall Field’s credit cards, but I still wanted it. All of it. Being a part of the crowd became supremely important and yet again, prettiness helped. I placed a high value of trying to be pretty and it was, frankly, sad.




But something in me nagged. The Limited and its Hunter’s Run labels, the Mia flats and the L’Oreal sealily metallic lipstick weren’t really me. Still, I tried. So, I think a split happened: the real me, the one who liked to write and read and play board games moseyed off somewhere and the snot superficial me assumed my body. And I thought that’s what people cared about: what labels I wore, if I had a tan, and whether or nor my hair were long enough.


So, life went on. I went to college, gained weight, despised EVEN MORE how I looked, felt out of place, not one of the cool kids on the inside, etc., blah, yada. And strange, it was mainly around boys who were around girls. I saw how men looked at my friends, how they lingered around the hot gals, how they made conversation with the cutie patoots, and I wanted that for myself. I wanted the validation. And no matter that the kinds of guys who only want to talk to the cute girls are the kinds of guys I don’t want to talk to anyway. But insecurity isn’t logical.


Confirmation of not being pretty enough came one summer after my junior year in college. I went to the beach with my hot roommate, the one that turns heads anytime she walks into a room, the one who could poop in front of you and you’d be like, “what a babe!” and some guy walks past us and says, “Wow!” and I look up, just because I heard someone say something, NOT because I thought the Wow! was for me and he goes, “NOT you! Her,” pointing to my roomie. And I hung my head, and said, “I know.”


This whole beauty summary is creeping me out, because it’s bringing stuff up that I hadn’t thought of for awhile, and I’m realizing what a profound waste of time it all was, this insecurity stuff. I’d spend hours, whole evenings even, down about how I looked and bellyaching about it and whining and oh my God, can I shut up already? How self absorbed.


But I’m an “there’s got to be an ending,” kind of girl, so I will persist.


A turning point for me happened in my mid-20s. After a bad break-up (and a bad get back together and rinse repeat, rinse repeat for about 2 years), I lost about 25 pounds. My whole face changed and so did the attention I got. I enjoyed some of it, but also hated it too, because it showed me how affected by appearances people can be.




And God help me, I did answer the siren songs of “You look so great!” “How much did you lose?” and “Do you want to go out?”



Not that I cared to the point of showering before the gym or getting porcelain veneers or a nose job, but I still wanted to be paid attention to, and I knew this could be dangerous ground. Needing people to tell you that you’re worthwhile sucks, but not knowing how to feel worthwhile yourself sucks even more.




I can’t say where this feeling came from. Or why my low self-esteem manifested so powerfully in my appearance. I do remember my mom, my beautiful, beautiful mom, though, fixating on her looks. Her obsession took the form of insecurity, too, and she’d wear layers of makeup to hide what she must have thought was “not being enough.” She never articulated this to me, but I’d watch her spend hours in the bathroom and whisper to my dad that she “wanted a facelift,” and saw her stand nervously in a room of women she probably believed were prettier than she.


And so maybe I absorbed this vibe. And maybe my daughters will get it from me. And I don’t want that to happen. So I’m working on it and I know the only way to really kick it is to believe that I’m OK just how I am. Sometimes I fall down at this job, and I try too hard to de-emphasize beauty to my children. It’s not so much them that I’m worried about — it’s the world. It’s that despite our best efforts to change the mindset, beauty is a commodity, a value, an extra point in the game of life. And I don’t want my kids to care the way I did. Because the last thing I want is for them to think they must be beautiful to be liked, that beauty equals acceptance and worst, that they must stand in a corner and not feel good enough.


I know this comes more from instilling my daughters with a strong sense of self AND esteem, and not so much from avoiding talk of “beauty” and being “beautiful.” I know that by teaching them to regard looks as just one thing on the list of what defines a person, I’m giving them a good head start. It’s hard to find the tools when you don’t have them, but I’m trying, I am really trying.




So here’s to coming out of the corner.


« « On the Subject of Beauty    |    Soul Soothers » »

On March 12th, 2008, matteroffactmommy said:

okay, perhaps it’s just me, but i so completely understand everything that you just said in this post… iloved reading every word… and i get the point. “i do not want to force these feelings on my daughter(s)”…

sandiegomomma, this is awesome. and i thank you for this beautiful post. :)

On March 12th, 2008, pajama momma said:

It sucks doesn’t it? It’s so much easier for men, it really is. They can have a pot belly and be bald and we’d never say something as cruel to them as that boy did to you regarding your roommate.

Having been sexually abused as a child my whole world view was warped I suppose.

I never felt that I was anything other than a sexual object. That was my worth.

And the weird thing is even though I felt like a sexual object, I never felt pretty either.

I was such an outcast and I figure my insecurity was what caused that. I just never fit in.

The shame of the whole thing is, is that I look at my old pictures and think man, I was soo damn cute. WTF?

It’s only now I can appreciate that I have a fairly attractive face, but I’m too chunky to enjoy it. :)

One person was able to steal all that from me at 4 years old. How sad. I was smart, but that’s all I felt I had. I thought I was worthless.

It’s funny how we project all of this onto our daughters (or it could just be me that does that) I like my husband treating my daughter as a princess (my dad was a dick, oh the list goes on) because I want her to insist that she be treated like one from whomever she dates or marries.

Then I get nervous that she’ll be a monster like those girls I see on “Sweet 16″

Where’s my happy medium? Yikes. It seems like it’s easier for me with my 3 boys because well frankly, their road is easier for them.

Because the last thing I want is for them to think they must be beautiful to be liked, that beauty equals acceptance and worst, that they must stand in a corner and not feel good enough.

I so agree with you on that point. We try to focus on my daughter’s art and so luckily for me at this point, she hasn’t asked whether she’s pretty or not (which is kind of weird now that I think about it) but then, here’s my worry wart coming out.

I don’t want her being like one of those American Idol people who’s parents support them thru their singing when they should really say, “honey, maybe singing is not for you, maybe shoveling shit out of horse corrals would be more appropriate.”

Gah, I don’t know. I’m just gonna support her in her art or whatever she wants to do and hope that she’s still good at it at 20 so I don’t have to lie or tell her to shovel horse shit.

Great soul searching post san diego momma, I appreciate your making me think as well.
Now I’m all confused. :)

On March 12th, 2008, pajama momma said:

The way the bland cream blazer brings out the monotone hue of the taupe blouse? Oh, why didn’t I pursue that fashion career?

Oh and that slayed me.

On March 12th, 2008, Jennifer H said:

You write about this so well, and so honestly. I’ve lived this, too. Also, I have a daughter, and I do worry for her sake about the pressures she will face.

Thank you for writing about this, and I’m glad that you’re coming out of the corner, as you said.

You remind me of Edie Falco. Who is gorgeous. And so are you.

On March 12th, 2008, kendra said:

I love the transformation. You look so happy in the last pics. You look as you are achieved…calm,peaceful and happy.

On March 12th, 2008, San Diego Momma said:

MOFM: Thank you for your comment. I think a lot of women can relate.

PJMomma: It hurts me to read what you wrote. My daughter is 4 now and I just can’t imagine what you went through at that age.

Also…those “Sweet 16″ chicks are monsters! Perfect word.

Jennifer: I’ll take Edie Falco, thanks. :)

Kendra: I’m not sure I’d say I transformed, yet. But I am working on it!

On March 12th, 2008, crunchy carpets said:

I almost choked on my easter m&m’s.

I think fashion and look wise i peaked in the 80’s and it was downhill from there.

But I have to say that at 38 I am at least comfortable in my own skin and just try.

I think my daughter will do better than me.

On March 12th, 2008, Steph said:

This was definitely thought-provoking. Especially the comments.

I don’t even know how to frame my response…I guess my first thought is that I wish I didn’t relate to this post. I wish no one else related to this post. I wish you didn’t have the experience that led to you writing this post.

My next thought – if we as adult women are so hard on ourselves, how can we expect our daughters to be less so? If I can’t get comfortable in my own skin, how do I teach my girls to be comfortable in theirs?

On March 12th, 2008, Cheri said:

Wow. Change the names, dates, and few facts here and there and isn’t that just my story too, maybe the story of most girls.

You look happy in the last photo.

I don’t know if we ever solve issues like this so much as come to realize that it is good to see it, and even embrace it.

Great post.

On March 12th, 2008, Carol said:

I absolutely LOVE the last picture. You look completely comfortable and confident. It suits you perfectly!


On March 13th, 2008, Da Goddess said:

I thought you were stunning when I met you…what? Five years ago? I think you’re still stunning.

We all have those self-doubts. We all think we’ll be “in” if we only 1) lose weight, 2) wear the right clothes, 3) start hanging out with the popular girls, 4) drive the right car, 5) date the older/athletic/smart/cuter/more popular boys, or 6) move to a different country where women with unconventional looks are welcomed with open arms.

The thing is, real beauty or acceptance comes from within. We have to find it for ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t learn that until much later in life, if at all.

It’s tough as a parent to counter all the crap in the media about how looks or things make someone worthy, even though experience tells us we’re right and they’re wrong. Try as we might, it’s these lessons we have to try to keep hammering home for our kids, despite the constant onslaught from outside influences. It’s an unending battle made doubly hard because we’re still fighting it ourselves.

Sheesh. Since when did being a human become so difficult? Why can’t we just worry about whether or not Og’s brought home enough mastodon for dinner?

On March 13th, 2008, Eden said:

I completely absorbed this entry (I might do something like this today). When I got to the end, I loved that last photo. I think it’s b/c out of all of them, there’s the most happiness on your face :)

Ah, a new blog to bookmark… ;)

On March 13th, 2008, Steph said:

Great post, I think I may go dig out some of my old photos and check out the evolution!

On March 13th, 2008, workmonkey said:

Who is that little pimp in the cool-ass blue vest? And the Saucony shoes? His radiant charisma dominates all of those family photos.

Our family grew up in a lake of insecurity. It was omni-present, like a heavy blanket smothering our house. I think the first words you taught me at age 3 were “No you don’t look fat”. Some of my earliest memories are of mom standing in front of that vertical door mirror nervously analyzing her body, sucking in her belly. The stocks of slimfast always in the fridge. Those brown particle-board Herbalife pills everywhere. You sitting on the bathroom counter with your feet in the sink working over every millimeter of your skin. Making me smell your breath and rate it on a 1 – 10 scale (which I’d take a break from playing Calico-Vision to do for you).

I didn’t have a chance. Fast foward to now: I’m perhaps the first guy ever who constantly asks his girlfriend if he looks fat.

And for the record, your breath was always around a 7.

On March 13th, 2008, mommypie said:

First off, let me just say you are beautiful. (I already know from your writing, you’re beautiful on the inside, but sometimes that’s just not what a girl wants to hear.) The last photo was awesome. As the girl who used to pack her blow-dryer with her to school every day, spending more time in the girl’s bathroom than in class, because my hair was never quite straight enough … I completely relate. And yes, in hindsight, it was all a ridiculous waste of time. It’s something I want to protect my daughter against as well.

Secondly, and I mean this sincerely, that has got to be THE best post I’ve ever read. Ever. I even read it twice. You’re an amazing writer.

On March 13th, 2008, Christine @ Serenity How? said:

I agree. You look marvelous. It was a bit funny for me because as I went through your photos I thought, had that haircut, had that one, had that one. LOL! I look back and think how cute I was but didn’t appreciate it or think so back then. What a shame.

Love your blog. :-)

On March 13th, 2008, Amanda said:

What a fabulous and thought provoking post! I agree with all the other comments – You do look fabulous. :)

I haven’t even thought about how I am going to teach my daughter about these issues. I struggle with the looking good to get attention. I do think that there is a healthy balance. I think we all struggle with the balance of looking decent, but not caring about what others think. I hate that I feel like I have to dress up to go shopping to get good customer service. I know that that really isn’t a big deal, but it bugs me.

On April 2nd, 2008, The Mom Crowd » Blogger Rendezvous: San Diego Momma and BlogHer ’08 Conference said:

[…] Over fish tacos and a view of the Pacific this past Monday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet, Deb, the witty and eloquent writer behind It all started when I won a Chris Trapper cd from her website. It turns out that we both have a special place in our hearts for alternative folk. This is the first person that I have met in real life from my virtual community (besides that boy I met in an AOL chat room my Senior year of high school.) I think we were both nervous that the other wouldn’t be as fabulous as our online reputations reveal us to be. Luckily we were. I appreciate Deb’s honesty and sincerity in her blog posts. If you don’t believe me check out her post titled, “BeautyPalooza.” […]

On April 5th, 2008, myra said:

i’m here after reading amanda’s post at i hate to sound too oprah but this post gave me an “aha” moment. like some of the others said, change a few names, dates, and there i am.

wtg for coming out of your corner. i’m right there with you!

On May 24th, 2008, the upside to insomnia… « said:

[…] I am not awed by celebrities. But I do get starstruck when I meet smart, creative people. And this post is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever read. If you have a daughter, it should be required […]

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