I wrote this post nearly three years ago, but was too embarrassed to publish it. It's been in my drafts folder ever since.
Then a few days ago, I wrote this in my Instagram Story:
Your responses were so immediate, so overwhelming, that I'm *still* wading through my flooded inbox. (Thanks for your patience there, btw.)
Clearly, I am not alone in this struggle.
And I think we should talk about it.
So please consider this Part 1 to some things I've wanted to say for years, things I want to hear your take on. Remember this is from 2016, so I've had both wins and losses since then, but this is still my baseline. This is where I'm coming from.
Part 2 will be my Battle Plan: the things and people I've found to help me fight. To help us fight. I'm still struggling to write it properly, so I hope you'll check back.
But first, here's what I wish I'd had the courage to say a long time ago.
Last weekend John and I had plans out at Universal with friends, but I was having one of "those" days getting ready. I couldn't find anything to wear for the 90 degree heat. My shoes didn't work. The overshirt was too tight. My eyeliner went wonky. And let's not discuss the hair, please.
After an hour and a half I was snarling and surly and convinced I'd be better suited to climbing skyscrapers and swatting at planes. I grabbed my purse and stomped out the door to the car, hurling myself into the seat and glaring laser death beams at the floor.
As we drove, John mildly remarked that perhaps we should stop at my favorite antique mall along the way, in order to "de-grumpify you a bit." I huffed and grumbled a nothing reply.
A few hours later I was back to my old self, chatting and joking and oohing over Potter merchandise at Universal. I was happy, because I'd forgotten - once again - what I look like.
It's actually quite easy for me to forget what I look like. In fact, I do it every day. When not directly confronted with a mirror or photo, I meander through life blissfully unaware of what my hair is doing, or that new pimple, or how many chins I have while looking down.
That's not to say I don't care what I look like, because I do. Deeply. Unhealthily. But once I've done all I can before leaving the house: donned the most slimming shirt/skirt combo my closet can offer, applied makeup, and stuffed my unruly frizz into a hat and ponytails - I metaphorically wash my hands of my looks and move on.
This approach works pretty well for me, except for the fact that A) cameras exist, and B) sometimes they're pointed at me.
Up until the last few months I'd never once refused a photo opp with a fan, and only rarely refused ones with friends. I'd gamely smile and pose, then do my best to avoid seeing the photo afterward. If the person insisted on showing me, though, I'd get a virtual sledgehammer to the gut. "Sweet Stay Puft, THAT'S what I look like??"
There's this odd shock when I see a photo of myself, because I only have the slightest hint of recognition. What I'm seeing never feels like me. The face I see is not the one I imagine myself to have, somehow, though if you asked me what I should look like, I'd have no answer. Just... not that.
Even worse than group selfies are the candid shots so cavalierly shared on Facebook and social media. I know we've all had this problem, but imagine a horrible photo of yourself going out to a million Twitter followers - most of whom have never seen a good photo of you, and so have no idea what you really look like. It stings, y'all. It stings bad. I've sobbed behind locked doors while John oh-so-sweetly e-mailed a fan to ask them to delete a post or photo. I've sworn to myself that next time - next time! - I'll remember to suck in my gut and do that three-quarter turn thing and not smile so hard my cheeks squish my eyes closed - but next time I've forgotten what I look like again, and I get caught up in the moment, laughing and goofing off, and I pull a mug for the camera I won't even know to regret until it pops up later online.
Afterward comes a downward spiral of grief and shame, usually culminating in 3AM searches of local plastic surgeons and idle fantasies of wearing a mask every time I leave the house. Hey, I'm a writer, and writers can be eccentric, right? Maybe a mask could be my "thing."
We can be real with each other here, right? Good. Cool.
'Cuz there's more.
If John is ever irritated with me for one reason or another - if we're arguing or just feeling snippy or frustrated - I often think he wouldn't be if I were prettier. The rest of the time I feel bad for John, having to look at me as often as he does, and worse, without all the makeup and nice clothes and fixed hair to make it more bearable.
For his part, John tells me I'm beautiful half a dozen times a day. He tells me this because he loves me - which, don't get me wrong, is friggin' amazeballs - but that also means he has to lie about how I look a lot. And when my own eyes tell me he's lying, sometimes I get mad. I want him to stop mentioning my appearance all together, because his compliments only serve to remind me that I have looks, if that makes sense, and that makes me sad.
I always figured this feeling - ie hating what you look like - was normal, but then I see so many friends voluntarily taking selfies, and sharing them online. The horror! It never even occurs to me to WANT a photo of myself, and I'm startled every time a friend or fan suggests we get a photo together. I understand the inherent compliment, but even just having my photo taken reminds me of my shame - of my inability to look at myself without spiraling into grief - plus now someone will have a permanent record of how I look at this moment. GAK. All of which jolts me out of my blissful ignorance, and makes me self-conscious and anxious and sad.
I don't know how normal this is. I don't know how aware the average person is of their appearance, or how much they should be. For what it's worth, I am very happy most of the time, because most of the time no one sees me, and I don't have to see myself. I actually resent the time it takes me to get ready to go anywhere, because I'd much rather be writing or crafting or editing cosplay photos instead of fighting the losing battle of trying to be "pretty." And yet, I can't NOT try. I'm too embarrassed. Too ashamed. Too repulsed by my own face and body. And when I think about that, and how nothing I ever do - no amount of dieting or contouring or clothes shopping - will ever make me look as pretty as I want to look, I fall into a very dark, very deep place.
While I'm down there, I think about what a hypocrite I am. I tell all of you that you don't have to be pretty, that appearance has nothing to do with our value. I tell you to cosplay characters you love regardless of your looks or body type. I tell you to never be ashamed of who you are and what you love. I try to be an example, to show you can be geeky and girly and live your life out loud, trying new things, overcoming challenges, and prioritizing your passions so that what others think of you falls away. I want that for every one of you. I want you to be proud of who you are, and I want you to get out there and show it.
But here I am, stuck in my hole, hiding.
I turned down two more photos with fans today. I'm doing that a lot more now. It hurts me to disappoint them, but not nearly as much as seeing a photo of myself would.
Then I come home and wash off the makeup and sit down to write or play or create, and after a little while, I forget what I look like again. So it's mostly OK.
I mean, I just... please tell me this is mostly OK.
I've been sitting here second-guessing myself over this post all morning, gang, and I can't take the indecision anymore. So I'm hitting "publish." Remember, this isn't the end of the story; I have a more positive, proactive take coming up next. I just want to start the conversation first, hear more of your thoughts. Thanks for understanding.