I wrote my last post, "No Pictures, Please", three years ago, and since then I've had both wins and losses. I've actually struggled with some of these issues for over a decade, starting back when Cake Wrecks hit the best-seller's list, and forced this already camera-shy introvert into the limelight. The panic of losing my anonymity was only compounded by the fact that I didn't like the way I looked.
I never thought I'd get better, and often dreamed of being the eccentric recluse author, hidden in deep shadows for the rest of my days. But to do what I love - to connect to people through this blog - I knew I had to show my face. So I tried. Eventually I fought back my self-loathing enough to film some Youtube videos - a thing I never thought I'd do - and over the years I've shared quite a few photos of myself here on Epbot. I won't say it's ever been easy, but there have been times when it was easier, at least. There were even times I liked a photo of myself! I was making progress.
When I stopped pushing myself, though, it always got worse.
I reached a point of not only avoiding photos and mirrors, but even neglecting my own appearance. After all, what's the point of wearing nice clothes or styling my hair when there's no use, no hope?
More dangerous, I found myself so anxious at the thought of going places where fans would see me that I was tempted to cancel important trips and plans. Even visits with friends became a challenge.
I'd be so ashamed of these feelings that I would get trapped in a loop: hating myself for hating myself, struggling to overcome a feeling I still don't understand, struggling to understand how everyone else seems to be fine with how they look, while I'm just over here... stuck.
Then I posted "No Pictures" last week, and was OVERWHELMED.
It turns out that not only am I not alone, I am SO not alone that I'm starting to think our club of self-hate is in the majority. In the first 24 hours I had hundreds of DMs, e-mails, and comments, ranging from teenagers to 70-year-olds - and the vast majority were a unified chorus of "Me, too."
I'll be honest, some of your responses made me sob. The amount of visceral, unbridled self-hate among you was like a punch to the gut. I wanted to take it away. I wanted to hug so many of you, to cry with you and heal you and distribute light-up unicorn headphones so we could all dance this pain away.
Then I got mad. Because this isn't right, gang. This isn't right. This has to change. We have to fight.
Look, I know my feelings are lying to me, that the people who love me will find beauty in me no matter what I look like. I know physical appearance is the least important part of a person, and that all I need is a little confidence and a lot of kindness to shine through for people to enjoy looking at me.
I know this, but I don't feel it. Sounds like most of you don't, either.
So here's my battle plan.
We spend all this energy hating our own bodies, but the truth is our bodies - our bellies, our double chins, our bad skin - none of these are the enemy. In fact, our bodies are our allies. (Or at least a neutral party. That's right, y'all, MY BODY IS SWITZERLAND.)
The real enemy is our own distorted self-image. It's the mental selfie with a self-hate filter that lies to us, hurts us, and actively works to bring us down. No one else sees it. I repeat, no one else sees what we see when we look at ourselves. We're attacking the wrong enemy.
So first things first: Declare war. Recognize what you're actually fighting: Not your weight, not your face, but a false internal image so deeply embedded that you've long since accepted it as fact.
This is so important that I need you to go back and read that entire section again. I'll wait.
Now, do you believe that, at least in your head, if not your heart? Do you believe the problem isn't in any way your body, but only your perception of it?
When the answer is yes, move on to step two.
Step Two: Gear Up
It's dangerous to go alone, so gather your forces. Don't have any? Just take a look in my comment sections here, on Facebook, and on Instagram. WE ARE LEGION. And we're gonna need to hold each other up.
If you don't have a group of friends in real life who will support you in this battle, then I highly recommend Fans of Epbot on Facebook. I've already seen half a dozen discussion posts over there sparked by my last post, and the amount of encouragement and celebration and support among virtual friends there is incredible. In fact, I have an action plan I'd like to propose for FOE, but I'll get to that a bit later.
You'll also need some weapons, and as any nerd will tell you, the mightiest is INFORMATION.
(Art by Risa Rodil)
So do your research! Go see if Body Dysmorphic Disorder describes you, and if it does - or even if it doesn't - consider talking to a therapist. No shame. You go for physicals, right? Therapy is a check-up for your brain. It's good. It's preventative. It's healthy. And if everything I'm writing here today has you backing away, shaking your head, and insisting that may be fine for everyone else, but not YOU, then please. Talk to someone. I'm just a geeky blogger muddling through best I can over here; I'm no substitute for a licensed professional who can work with you one-on-one.
Step Three: Exposure Therapy
I've learned there are startling parallels between my self-loathing and my agoraphobia. Giving in to my fear - by hiding and avoiding the things that give me anxiety - only lets the fear grow, and further cages me in. It's also insidious: everything feels fine while you avoid the stressors, but then an unavoidable life thing comes along, and WHAM. You're knocked flat.
See where I'm going with this?
In other words, the more I avoid looking at myself, the more I hate looking at myself. The more I avoid photos of myself, the more devastating they are.
The answer is also the best unintentional pun: Exposure therapy. (Hehehe.)
With agoraphobia, exposure therapy means leaving the house, taking trips, and getting a little further outside my comfort zone one step at a time. For self-loathing, exposure therapy means more photos. More mirrors. More selfies. We need to re-acquaint ourselves with our outside parts. Not in a way that hurts - not in a punishing way - but in small steps we're (mostly) comfortable with.
For example, my publisher required an author photo for Cake Wrecks, when the very idea made my insides wither. So I found a compromise: I had John take the photo, and I partially hid my face behind a cake. This still pushed me outside my comfort zone, but I had enough control over the results that it didn't devastate me.
If you can't handle a selfie right now, start with a part of your body you're sort of OK with. Your fingernails. The back of your hair in a pretty clip. Your shoes. A close up of a tattoo or a piece of jewelry. Give yourself the assignment of photographing a PART of yourself three times a week. Heck, turn off all the lights and just get your silhouette against a window! Get creative with how you hide, make it fun. But do it.
Remember, no one expects an agoraphobe to start with a cross-country trip, and I don't expect you to start taking daily selfies. Start small. Only try on your good days. Give yourself outs. Go ahead, use the cat filter. Just understand that filters are only tools to help you see yourself in a different light, to reset the faulty image you have in your brain. Eventually, after you know your face and body again, you may find you can appreciate them on their own. At the very least, you'll come to find them less shocking and hurtful.
Step Four: Make a Schedule
Every form of health care takes time and effort, and fighting self-hate is no different. Set a schedule of things that make you feel better about yourself - preferably things with somewhat visible results, like a manicure, shopping for fun clothes, facial masks, etc. Then STICK TO THAT SCHEDULE. Even if you do these things yourself at home, it's about making time to feel better in your own skin.
When possible - when you get there - start taking photos of yourself on your good days. This could be just outfit photos, like I do, or selfies, depending on your comfort level. You don't have to post these anywhere, and if they feel like a punishment - if they make you despair - then stop and go back to photographing just parts of yourself. This is all a process. I promise, if you keep at it, it will get easier. I read once that exposure therapy has a 100% success rate, because if you do it properly, it literally never fails. This has been true for my agoraphobia, and I believe it's true here as well. I'm not saying you'll ever necessarily love what you see in the mirror, but with exposure therapy you WILL get used to it, and find it hurts less and less, until there's no shock, no pain, no cringe at all. It will just be... you.
Another tip: I find that putting pretty things ON myself - jewelry, nail polish, even a nice perfume - sometimes makes me like myself more by proxy. Look for wearables that make you smile, so you get used to smiling when you see that part of yourself. Even if it's as small as a pair of silly socks, put something you like on your body. We need to learn to associate happy things with our own bodies. (It also doesn't hurt to have more people smiling when they see your glitter shoes or your geeky t-shirt or whatnot.)
I mentioned this next bit in passing to John last night, and he says you guys will appreciate it:
The past several days I've been doing outfit photos, even if I'm just wearing shorts and a tank top. On Friday I started to take a photo, but realized my Chucks were so dirty it was embarrassing. They'd been like that a while, and made me feel ratty when I wore them, but I'd been too lazy to clean them. So I stopped, went and washed my shoes, then proceeded to take the photo. And now I have lovely clean Chucks that don't make me feel like a bum anymore!
But first, let's take a shoe-fi.
That's just an example of how making a little effort can snowball, since the little things add up. Also, wearing grungy clothes can make us feel grungy, so start there: wear the NICE things in your closet. Stop being like me and saving everything for a special occasion!
Step Five: Retrain Your Brain
This is perhaps the toughest step, because it requires questioning everything we think we know about beauty, and everything we see in every form of media. The truth is, every picture-perfect person we see on TV, in print, and yes, especially online, is a manufactured lie. We can no longer believe our eyes any more than we can believe the lying voices in our heads.
It's one thing to know that, of course, and another to believe it. So here are some tools:
Don't Compare Yourself To Celebrities is the one thing I miss most about Pinterest, but the good news is I *think* Indy is still writing for it. Regardless, you will get lost in her 6,000+ pins examining all things photoshopped and straight-up fake about people in ads and celebrity photos.
Indy includes side-by-sides of the same person in a candid shot vs a pro shoot - so you can see how much they're distorted in post processing - as well as praise-worthy ads with non-photoshopped models, celebs without make-up, and lots more.
When I first started following Indy nearly 8 years ago I honestly didn't see the problem in half the photos she dissected, but now I find myself pointing out obviously 'shopped things to John all the time. This board will open your eyes, gang. I can't recommend it enough.
The other side of that coin is that you don't have to be attractive to be happy, and it's OK to not be beautiful. Our value is not in our appearance, and we don't owe TRYING to be pretty to anyone.
That one is so hard to internalize, and I'm nowhere near that place yet. I think it only comes with age and resilience and surrounding yourself with a strong chorus of voices that drown out everything the world tries to tell us as women. Living my life online as I do, I just haven't found enough places that tell me these truths.
To that end, one of you recently recommended two Facebook pages to me, and so far I'm loving them both:
Intuitive Eating by Molly B Counseling may focus on our relationship with food, but her page is full of great body-acceptance posts and tips:
I just noticed her page has less than 100 followers, but dang, she's got some great content in there. Go check it out.
The next page is Beauty Redefined, which is run by twin sisters - both with PhDs - and it also has some truly phenomenal content:
Again, I'm new to both pages, but they look well worth your time. And please, feel free to recommend more body-positive pages in the comments!
Step Six: Guard Your Thoughts
Again, I'm rubbish at this, but a few of you have told me it helps to imagine someone really comical in your head saying the awful things. Others say they write affirmation statements on post-its, and stick those around the house or on their bathroom mirror. Lindsay just told me it helps to swap your pronouns to the third person when thinking about your body. As she put it: "It's easy to think 'I'm hideous,' but if you think 'She's hideous,' suddenly it feels different. Mean, even cruel." That's a great tip!
At least start by examining how you talk to yourself in your head. Ask yourself how you'd react if your best friend's spouse verbally abused her this way. Then be more careful with your words, both spoken and unspoken. We tend to believe the things we tell ourselves, and I know we tell ourselves some real whoppers. So even if it feels fake and dishonest, even if you don't mean it yet, talk to yourself the way you would a friend or loved one. Be polite, look for the positive. Stop the abuse.
When I start to spiral sometimes that critical inner voice gets extra vicious. I'm not to the place of replacing insults with compliments, yet, but I'm trying to at least stop the assault as I notice it ramping up.
Surround Yourself With Real Life Beauty Inspirations
Consider this: Nearly everyone we see in our social media feeds is at their physical best: their best angles, using the best filters, the best makeup, etc. Meanwhile, nearly everything we see of ourselves is at our worst: the worst angles (helloooo, unexpected front-facing phone camera), our worst morning squinty-eyed puffiness, our worst busting-out-of-the-pants-that-used-to-fit in front of the bedroom mirror.
We're comparing our worst to everyone's best. So of course we find ourselves lacking.
Not only that, many of us seek out the most unattainable beauty icons, and fill our social media feeds with impossible physical standards. I admit, I'm guilty of this. I tell myself it's because I find this Disneybounder or that makeup artist "inspirational," but really, I'm just punishing myself for not looking like them - for having a body and bone structure that could NEVER look like them.
We need to stop seeking out flatly impossible "goals", and instead look at more real life beauty. Real people, showing us how to shine in real, every day, approachable ways. I actually follow a few folks like this already on Instagram. These fashion 'grammers are all different and colorful and wildly beautiful in ways that make me feel hopeful, not despairing. Like maybe I could wear these kinds of clothes or styles and feel pretty, too.
Obviously the list will be different for everyone, hopefully based on people you actually know (as opposed to celebrities or high fashion "influencers"), or at least people who seem more real and dress & style themselves the way you'd like to. And considering how many of you STILL mention my post on Toddler Grandma style, I thought you'd like to see a few of my favorites. So here come half a dozen great gals I think you'll love:
Team Sparkle is all about COLOR, and her feed is the purest eye candy. She has bubblegum pink curls, loves Disney and everything sweet, & rocks some casual looks that prove you don't need a dress to be dressy OR girly:
I met Misti_Loves at Dressed To The 9 3/4s last year while she was here on vacation. (Remember the cute Slytherin in pink combat boots?) She manages a Claire's in the UK, and her daily work selfies are the stuff that Care Bears' dreams are made of:
Sara Lily of In A Nutshell Blog mostly wears vintage-style dresses and fun pins and colorful shoes. She feeds my grown-up girly side while still making her style look doable, since most of these are things she wears to work each day:
Color Me Courtney has a whole range of styles, from super glam to casual, but they're always colorful and often even practical:
(I seriously want a fashion account that only allows flats and sneakers. SOMEONE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.)
Oh! Plus Courtney has a SECOND account, Color Me Magic:
This is where she posts all her Disney styles and 'bounds, and where she manages to make even bike shorts and an oversized t-shirt look fashionable. MY HERO.
And of course no Toddler Grandma style list would be complete without Baddie Winkle, the irreverent, technicolor dream coat of a literal great-grandma:
Her feed these days is all sponsored content, but it's worth it to see this fabulous lady (she's over 90!) having the time of her life.
Again, your inspiration list will probably look vastly different than mine, but the idea is to broaden our horizons. Look for people who build you up, who open your eyes, who love who they are especially when they don't fit the mold.
Which brings me, finally, to those of you who are actually OK posting photos of yourself from time to time. Maybe you don't love it, and of course some shots make you cringe, but mostly you're fine with how you look. If that's you, could I ask a favor? This would mean a lot to me. To a lot of us.
Would you post more photos of yourself online?
Not glamor shots, not when you're super dressed up; just everyday outfit selfies. All most of us see are the filters and professional shots, so show us a little reality. Remind us what non-photoshopped people look like. Help your friends and your family see you as you are, so maybe they'll have more courage to post themselves as they are, too.
So that's it, my friends. That's what I've got. That's what I've learned so far. I hope - I SO hope - that something here helps you, or leads you to a place that helps.
I'll end with the photo John took of me the night I posted "No Pictures," because hey, get this: I think I really like this one.
Here's to more progress, more love, less hate.
If you like what I do here and want to help keep Epbot going, then you can shop through my Amazon links: USA, UK, Canada. Or you can toss a few dollars my way directly through Paypal, if you're so inclined. Thank you so much, gang, and always remember that just you're being here is enough for me. I don't do this for the money... the money just helps pay the bills. :)