On 14 October I shared a photo of Charly sleeping on Instagram. There was an instant and unanimous response that at first glance, people thought the photo was of me. I was devastated. Doesn’t seem like a normal response, does it? Yeah, I realised pretty quickly that my self esteem is not what I thought. So, here’s the thing… In my head the two alternatives are – if my poor child looks like me, my mommy goggles are exceptional. Or I literally do not see myself in the mirror. I’m not really sure how to verbalize how traumatic this has felt to me.
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Self esteem is a tricky thing.
I know I am a good person, with a huge heart for others, who loves unconditionally, doesn’t judge and can always find the best in people. I’ll tie myself in knots to help and support others. I find everybody around me beautiful beyond words. And I spend 90% of my life being broke AF to help families keep their children safe. But I do hate everything about the way I look (except my hair).
I can “take a compliment”, so that I don’t come across as rude or falsely modest (this idea is ridiculous to me). I don’t “fish for compliments”, because no part of me believes what people say about how I look. Believing that the people who know me, know my story, watch me move through the world and have been on the receiving end of my love, do sometimes think I am beautiful is easy enough. Because I do believe that who you are affects how people perceive you. But objectively? I can give a detailed description, in what feels like a very practical way, why every part of me is wrong and put together all wrong.
When self deprecation is actually low self esteem
Going into therapy last week I was so angry and frustrated over this whole situation. R looked at me as if I was messing with him. And then he had a moment where I saw him replay everything I’ve said over the past 4ish years and see it. He thought I had been joking or looking for reassurance or praise of some kind. In case you don’t know, my life has been a “series of unfortunate events” for a long time, so survival rather than my thoughts on my appearance has been the focus in therapy.
After he processed everything, he tried reasoning with me. I realised that I don’t bring up hating things about the way I look in abject fear that, once I draw attention to the specifics, people will only ever see those things. As I said, I know that because of who I am people don’t see the worst of what I look like. Now I feel like every time he looks at me, he will see me as clearly as I do. And now, as I type that, I realise that no matter how fine I am with the person I am, I believe completely that he will think less of me because of how I look. So my self esteem is nothing like what I thought it was.
He gave me “homework”. I had to find things about my physical self and re-examine them objectively and then talk myself through why I liked them. I mostly just cried in front of the mirror all week and felt embarrassed for being so superficial.
The only thing I could come up with in front of the mirror was my hair (strongly supported by a visit for a trim to the amazingly patient and gentle Amy Jane).
I love it’s length, obviously, because I wanted long hair my whole life and it just refused to grow. I love my curls now that it is long. And it feels like it is made of magic when it is straight (which has only happened maybe 3 times since I had Charly). I love that I have every single colour in it, even though I’ve never coloured it. And I adore my silver streaks. Unconventional maybe, but I do. It’s worth mentioning that until I fell pregnant with Charly and it started growing, it was another thing that I hated.
A slow-to-come-to second, was the fact that my eyes change colours, blues, greens and greys. Until last year, I think, when people began occasionally commenting on liking the colour of my eyes on Instagram photos, I’d always considered them to be boring. Everything else about them, shape, spacing, size, is wrong in my opinion.
As soon as I walked into therapy on Wednesday, R wanted to know if I had done it and what I came up with. Of all the horrors I’ve shared with this man, trying to say out loud something I like about the way I look was the most awful embarrassing uncomfortable experience. Seriously, I’ve shared the most humiliating stories of my life with him, but this is a step too far?
He keeps asking if I want to change the way I see myself. And of course I do. But for the first time, I don’t believe him when he says it is something that is possible to do. I believed I could overcome agoraphobia, crippling anxiety, relationship issues, soul shattering heartache and PTSD from my ectopic pregnancy. But I don’t believe that there could be a moment where I would choose to look at myself in the mirror for more time than is needed to make myself presentable to the world and not want to cry.
The way I look is something I have accepted about myself since I was about 8 years old.
I’ve become the person I am in spite of it, or maybe because of it. I work hard, I love hard, I give all of myself in every way I can. I’m passionate, smart, funny and I will love you more than you’ve ever been loved in your life. I believe that people can look past my appearance because of who I am, as long as nobody draws attention to the obvious. And I accepted that once they actually saw me, they would leave. And they all left until Brett.
People told him I wasn’t pretty, was too overweight, and probably hundreds of other things too. I believe loving him so intensely, ignoring every attempt he made to push me away, wore him down. It took him 5 years to say the words “I love you”, now he tells me dozens of times a day.
And he tells me I’m beautiful. And Charly tells me I am beautiful. Because that is what I tell her. About the people we see and of course about her. And I am specific. I tell her how she has the most perfect nose, the way it slopes up perfectly exactly like her daddy’s. I’m obsessed with every freckle and I tell her, tracing them with my fingers. The shape of her ears, the curve of her cheek, the way she moves, smiles, dances, sings. The perfect shape, width and light of her eyes.
I tell her every day, but not in isolation. We’ve always praised her kindness, determination, confidence, manners, logic, persistence, strength, skills, intelligence and sense of humour. But unlike many, I want her to know that everything about her is beautiful. So that she has a distinct internal voice to counter even the meanest bullies.
I really believe that she is one of the most beautiful humans ever. I am astounded that I had anything to do with the creation of her. Nothing scares me more than the thought of her looking like me and growing up feeling like I feel about it. And so, I am powering through this as well. Because as much as I try to hide how I feel, she will know eventually.
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So Rs new homework assignment is to write myself a letter… Because speaking the words out loud was deeply uncomfortable and had rather an opposite effect. And of course, while words are my superpower, it is the written word as opposed to the spoken word by far. And so, here I sit. Trying to find the words. After a lot of resistance I finally spoke to some of my close humans about it. And during their protests, I noticed something.
In telling me what they like about me, in detail, they were comparing that feature to one of theirs that they disliked. I didn’t speak to one person that didn’t offer up a deep insecurity. It hurt me when they pointed out their perceived flaws. And I got what R had said when he asked how I would feel if someone I love spoke to themselves the way I speak to myself. Surviving my eye rolling and even the occasional sticking out my tongue at him when he is annoyingly right, is why I pay him the big bucks.
Because I see absolute beauty in the people around me. Real, physical beauty, beyond who they are. Backwards I know, but my ability to love all of who a person is beneath the skin, is a given. I see and am awed by peoples unique appearances. It is not unusual for me to tell a stranger something gorgeous about them that captures my heart in the moment.
And when I see this ethereal beauty in everybody around me, it seems to draw attention to my every flaw. You’ll quickly notice in photos of me with others I cut most of my face and body out of the photo, I am carefully made up, the camera must be at a specific angle, and I am pulling my hair around me… Distracting the eye wherever I can lest I get caught out for not belonging.
I have been trying to figure out how to write this letter. I have come up with a few ways to cheat, with the help of some very smart people… Write to someone I love who doesn’t value themselves and change the name at the end. (This would definitely work!) The one I’m currently favoring is writing what I wish someone would see and say when looking at me. While this isn’t a bad start, it would be reaching and imagination and possibly not Rs point… And then I came up with something that might help it be closer to real… Trying to line up what I wish someone would say with what other people ACTUALLY see when they look at me.
It came to me when one of my most gorgeous friends said I have the nose she always wanted – the right shape and proportion. My nose is one of my most hated features for a many reasons, so this just floored me… How can I be THAT wrong about my face that what somebody describes as best about a feature is the exact opposite of what I see?
So I’m doing a little #ProjectMeZA project.
I am going to attempt crowdsourcing self esteem which I know isn’t exactly the right term. Self esteem is more than physical appearance obviously, but body image plays a fundamental role in self esteem… So I’m going with it.
I’m looking for specific “data” as opposed to words of affirmation on who I am or what I do. I’m going to set up a Facebook and Instagram post for you to share your thoughts… And in return I will share one thing about you I think is exceptional and why.
Sending you all the love xxx