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.
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.