What I Saw When I Looked In The Mirror, Part 1
Have any of you ever NOT liked the way you looked?
That’s a silly question to ask females, I know, but with some women, it’s worse than others.
I’m not usually so ‘transparent’ with certain areas of my life (at least not on my blog), but I have felt the desire to share with you all a time in my life when I fell prey to the American delusion of what “true beauty” is.
Purely cosmetic. Purely physical. Purely fake.
I’ll give you a peak into a time in my life when I looked in the mirror and saw something I didn’t like.
It’s a sad reality for so many people and especially the young girls of our generation. I was amazed when I had my ‘Ah-ha’ moment and realized how distorted I had allowed my self image to become.
Did I have an eating disorder? Absolutely not and for two very good reasons.
One – I like food too much to starve myself as an anorexic does.
Two – I absolutely, in no way can force myself to vomit as a bulimic does. My body actually resists the act of ‘throwing up’ – which usually means that in times when I’ve had the stomach bug or ate something that upset my stomach, I can’t just get it out of my system like some people. I am in torment for hours because my body will not allow anything to come up out of my mouth. Probably because my body knows that it is not made to do that. It’s simple, food is suppose to go down and stay down.
What I did have was a distorted self image that made me not like how I looked. I never thought I was ‘pretty’ because I spent more time focusing on things I didn’t like about myself (nose, ears, thighs) instead of noticing what good traits and features I did have. All of that caused me to go to extra lengths to look ‘pretty’ and caused me to waste time searching for some sort of happiness that couldn’t be found the way I was searching. I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t ever look emaciated. But I think it’s good to share my experience to let other females know– girls and ladies – that they’re not alone and that they don’t have to remain in that season of their life!
I wrote this article a little under 2 years ago when I was 35 years old and at a place in life where all these little things no longer controlled my thinking towards my value in life.
This is how it was for me…
My nose. My ears. My teeth. My freckles.
These were all the things kids made fun of me for when I was in Junior High.
Up until then, I can’t recall even thinking about little pieces of my appearance such as these. You just lived your life without really giving those things a second thought.
But, for some kids in school – my physical features made good laughing points, I guess.
When I look back, I think it set the tone for the years to come and how I saw myself.
Now at the age of 35 I get irritated when I think of the time and emotion I wasted on those people.
The thing is, the things they said, still tend to pop up every now and then – 22 years later.
Every time I wear a baseball hat, I am self conscious because I think my ears stick out too far.
Every time I see a profile of my face, I notice my ‘crooked’ nose, that happens to be a family trait.
Every time I smile, I think my teeth are too big.
Every time my freckles appear more noticeable in a photo, I notice and wish they weren’t there.
Why? These features make me who I am.
Every freckle, the dimple in my chin, my imperfect nose.
This is who I am, but I didn’t like those things about me for so many years.
When high school came around – it was a whole new ball game.
I never encountered so many rude people. Not just with me, but watching how other people were treated.
They’d make fun of the clothes you wore, the brand name of the backpack or bag you carried. The kind of car your parents drove or the house you lived in. They’d find fault with how you did your hair, what you ate for lunch, how well you did in class, how much you had a passion for something. Whatever they could find to nitpick about you – they’d do it.
I vowed never to be one of them. I’m happy to say, I never was.
Never the less, because of these kids, not only did I not like my nose, ears, teeth and freckles – but many more dislikes were added to my list, all because of comments made by other people. People that today – have no meaning or value in my life. I’m not demeaning them as a person, but I haven’t spoke with many of these people in 17-20 years – so why did I let their words take root inside my heart and cause me to not appreciate who I was as a person?
I grew up in a very loving and encouraging home. I never got talked down to or made fun of (outside of sibling rivalry, but that was normal). I guess you could say I had a good balance of the good and bad. I can honestly say that I never allowed these things to bring me to a point of depression, eating disorders, body cutting, suicidal thoughts, etc. – but I can look back and see that I gradually became a person who was critical of herself, her looks, her social status and more.
There was only so much I could do to fix these problems everyone else seemed to notice and point out about me. When I was 16 I drove myself to the dentist and had them file my front teeth down. Four years of not wanting to smile with my teeth showing was enough. This was all I could think of to fix my ‘big teeth’ problem.
I stopped wearing baseball hats, which I liked, and started wearing more floppy hats and hats from the flapper era. They covered my ears and I didn’t have to worry if people were noticing my ears sticking out.
I began wearing make-up and started using foundation to cover up the freckles on my face.
As for my nose – there was nothing I could do about it! I inherited that thing and it was there to stay. There was no way was I going to get a nose job.
I started dressing funky and even making some of my own clothes. Talk about a real life ‘Pretty In Pink’ situation. I would put those mini micro braids in my hair (thanks to my mom and grandma for helping), I’d wear black ‘granny style’ boots with funky dresses. Way back then they didn’t make low-rise jeans and I have extremely high hips and all brands of pants would rub on my hip bones and rub my skin raw – so I’d get some guys jeans from the thrift store and just roll the waist down for my own low-rise jeans. Yes, everyone made fun of me for that – little did they know that would become the style 2 years later). I just tried to be different and tried to be confident, on the outside at least.
Now for everything else that came with a high school education. Degrading comments, comments made in passing and usually in jest, and a growing poor self image.
I found myself thinking I wasn’t pretty. Some people might agree, which is fine, but every person should be able to look at themselves and see the beauty they possess – inside and out. I never had the right hair style, I couldn’t apply my make-up and look like I just stepped out of a modeling photo shoot, my clothes didn’t display the Esprit or Guess brand name (did I just date myself?).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t this girl who walked around with her head hung low, disappearing into the crowds everyday at school. I was friends with pretty much everyone. Seriously. I wasn’t a part of the ‘popular’ crowd – and every school has one of those – but I had tons of friends. I was and still am a friendly person. I like people. I enjoy having different friends with different interests and hobbies. It makes life interesting. I had friends in the ‘hippy’ group, the ‘heavy metal’ group, the ‘thespian’ group, the ‘sports’ group, the ‘art’ group, the ‘newspaper’ group, the ‘leadership’ group, the ‘geek’ group….you name it, I had friends in every category. I never walked around wallowing away in pain or misery.
I kept on living – just with a poor self image. I laughed, had fun, learned tons, joined the Poms team for my senior year and graduated with a 3.8 grade point average.
Yet, in the middle of all of that I felt my thighs were fat, my butt was too round and my mid section a little too poofy, if you know what I mean. My Pom uniform had a really short skirt. Short enough so when you walked up the stairs those behind you could see your behind and the horse shoe emblem on our Pom briefs. That short. I hated wearing it without leggings because I thought my thighs looked way to big. My smile still wasn’t filled with perfectly straight and beautiful teeth, my hair was never right whether it was straight or had a spiral perm (and oh, did I rock the spiral perm look!!!!), my eyes were just average blue while so many people I knew wore bright colored contacts, my car was a piece of junk – no exaggerating, but I did pay for it all by myself. I never owned a pair of Keds and to top it off, my parents gave me a curfew. Like that helped when everyone else’s parents could have cared less how late their kids were out and about. I would only find out later in life how wonderful it is to have parents that care.
All in all, a poor self image became the normal way of life for me. I allowed little comments, situations and ideas take root in my heart that I should have never let in. I will say, I am so thankful that the celebrities we looked up to back then actually wore clothes. We didn’t have as much to be envious about when you couldn’t see every inch of their body! Seriously. Today girls have the expectation of showing as much skin as possible in order to be considered beautiful. This was not something we dealt with when I was in high school. None the less, a poor self image does not just vanish and go away over night. In fact, unless you actually make the effort to change that image inside of you – it will only stay there and grow worse and worse.
I will end here for today, but in the next part of this I go into how my poor self image stayed with me for 7-8 more years after I graduated high school. Through my engagement, wedding and first years of marriage. It wasn’t until Bella was a couple months old where I saw a home video of me on our honeymoon and actually realized for the first time that I had to have thought poorly of myself. I knew for the first time what an anorexic or bulimic sees when they look in the mirror – no matter how tiny they are, they see fat.
This was an eye opener for me because it was a very subtle issue that was so subtle – it seemed normal. My friends, it is not normal and I will do all I can with my children to make sure they do not grow up being deceived about the value of who they are, inside or out! I want them strong enough where the opinions of people don’t sway how they view themselves. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is the biggest lie. Words can lift a person up or they can wound a person’s spirit! It’s up to us how we let the words and voices of others affect us. I learned the long, hard way! Hopefully we can help our daughters and sons not go the same route!
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”
~ Judy Garland
“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.”
~ St. Francis De Sales
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