Today on my blog, I shared some photos that a really talented photographer named Chad McGavock took of me this summer for a magazine that did a write up of BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. My favorite photo is to the right (and you can click on it to see it bigger), and you can see the rest of the photos and the story behind them here.
I've been posting a lot of photos of me on my blog lately. First there were wedding photos, then last week I showed off my hairstyles through the years, and now these. It feels kind of weird, especially when I share old photos because I remember how much I used to cringe at getting my picture taken. I hated most photos. I always immediately spotted flaws, the same flaws that upset me every day when I looked in the mirror.
Now when I look at those photos, I usually don't see the flaws or at least I am not nearly as critical, and I can always find something I liked about myself back then whether it's my hair, my outfit, or the fact that I had the balls to wear *those* earrings. Other than a phase in 4th/5th grade where I tried desperately to fit in, I've always dared to be different and I think it gave the impression that I was more comfortable with myself than I really was. The truth is from around 3rd grade on, I hated myself. And I'm sure a lot of people, especially women, had a phase or maybe still struggle with that on a daily basis.
I try to think back to why, when it all started because I know at one point, I was a happy-go-lucky little kid who totally didn't care about her bad 80s bowl cut, 80s shorts and socks that went too high.
There aren't very many moments that I lifted from my own life and modified and put into Ballads of Suburbia (I can only think of three off the top of my head), but one happens at the beginning of the book when Kara moves to Oak Park and is accosted on the playground by the most popular girl in her class and her minions and chastised for wearing generic clothes. This also happened to me. And I think that was it, the moment when suddenly I became aware that I was supposed to live up to some sort of standard of appearance and I wasn't making the grade.
A friend of mine from elementary school stopped by the bar where I work on Saturday to catch up. We'd found each other on facebook, but hadn't actually talked since probably junior high. One of the things she said to me was, "You were always so tiny. You were the cutest little thing." And I immediately replied, "Well, I wasn't as small as Chrissy."
In my mind, Chrissy had always been the cute, tiny one. She was a gymnast with adorable dimples. I didn't have dimples and I was just short. If I couldn't be as cute as Chrissy, I didn't want to be short. And I hated that I was the last girl to get a growth spurt and to get boobs and I was so self conscious about my body, I have terrible posture to this day because I spent so much of my life hunching over to hide myself. I also never wore clothes that fit until I hit my twenties. All the concert t-shirts that I got when I was in high school are extra large even though I could have fit an extra small. I'd never felt comfortable about my body, or my blotchy, zitty skin, or my hair that was way too thick and too wavy. It didn't help that in junior high, some asshole jock boys said I looked like the lead singer of the Black Crowes because I was flat and skinny and had this out of control hair.
God, I hated, hated, hated myself. And hating yourself is not a good thing. If you don't care about yourself, you don't treat yourself well, and you allow other people to treat you like shit. If my self-esteem had been better, I never would have gotten into an abusive relationship at fifteen and I also probably wouldn't have been cutting myself or abusing substances.
Most of the characters in my books battle self esteem issues, with some it is more obvious than with others. But it's a topic I will continue to write about because I think it is so important. We need to find ways to love ourselves for who are.
How did I learn to love myself? I started doing what I loved best and what I felt was the thing I was best at--writing. And when I got out of my last bad relationship at 26, I told myself that I was going to live for me and love me and I would allow myself to get into another relationship until I knew who I was and what I wanted. So I surrounded myself with good friends and I wrote and when I was ready, I finally met a good guy, the one I married.
But self- esteem is a battle that I still wage. I hate it when I find myself focusing too much on the five to ten pounds I'd like to lose and I hate that I still feel so uncomfortable about my skin that I don't like having photos taken or going out without makeup (except to run errands, my laziness overrules self-consciousness on some occasions). But at least, I've finally learned that I am a person of value, a unique person who deserves to be treated well. It was a hard battle and I can't say how exactly I got here, aside from supportive friends. And I'm glad I can look at myself and feel beautiful most of the time. Of course it helps that even when I'm feeling dumpy, my husband tells me I'm beautiful :)
What about you? Is self-esteem an on-going battle? I challenge you to look at some old pictures of yourself, pretend they are magazine photos and I bet you will find something beautiful about that "model"-- you! And I also encourage everyone to pay someone a compliment today and every day, a friend, a stranger, and it doesn't have to be about something physical, but it could be about something they've done. There is so much negativity in this world. It's important to counterbalance it. So love yourself today and share that love with others.