Isn’t it funny how differently we see ourselves, compared to how others see us? I spent years hating how fat I was–er, and I wasn’t fat. In fact, Karen once told me how I had hurt her self-image by being so obsessed with my own. Our weights weren’t much different, but because I was always so upset about mine, it made her wonder how enormous I thought she was. Never even occurred to me to think she was anything other than fit, by the way.
My self-image was largely colored by having spent some formative years in the entertainment industry, where the standard is 20lbs underweight. I was usually only 5lbs underweight, thus a moose. I was in my 20s before I started feeling okay with my body, and in my 30s and 25lbs overweight before I could enjoy it. You know what started me on the journey?
My mother and I were Christmas shopping at a very busy mall. We were in Macy’s, and it was teeming with shoppers. We got separated (when I stopped in the shoe department), and I set out to find her. As I walked, looking for Mom, I was checking out everyone. Cute haircut here, adorable skirt there, good looking guy, pretty girl. All kinds of things to see.
I noticed a really cute girl through the crowd and was craning to see her better. I couldn’t get a clear look, but her hair was freaking adorable, and I liked what I could see of her sweater. The closer I got, the cuter I thought she was, until I decided that when I passed her, I was going to say so. I like complimenting people. I know it makes my day to be complimented–might make someone elses.
I was still looking out for my mother, but keeping Cute Girl in sight. Little glimpses of her came through the bodies, and I smiled. She smiled back. So cute! Maybe I was going to make a friend? Then, I realized, through the crowd, that we were on a collision course and my attitude toward her changed. She was going to need to step out of the way. I don’t know why I got my back up over it, but I did.
Still couldn’t see her clearly because I was dodging Christmas shoppers, but I could tell we were going to collide if she didn’t step out of the–CRASH!
I didn’t know what hit me. I was stunned. I saw stars. It was like a car accident. My nose hurt so bad!
But where was Cute Girl?
It took me a couple of seconds to shake my head clear. Took me a split second longer to realize that I had walked right into a mirrored column.
Another second, I realized that the cute girl with the sweater and the adorbs hair was…me.
I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, and was happy to see that the other shoppers were engrossed in trying to snatch things out of one another’s hands, and I took off, found my mother, and explained why I suddenly had a splitting headache and couldn’t stop laughing.
See, I had no idea what I looked like. None. You’d think that a girl who spent as much time inspecting her reflection as I did would have a pretty good idea of her own image. Nope. I was clueless. I thought of myself as Little Dull Dumpy.
Presented with my image as someone outside of myself, I had thought I had a great smile, a cute figure, and wanted to meet me. And, presented with that reality came the understanding that my self-image was crap. I had some work to do. I had a lot of work to do.
A couple of years later, Renae and I were sitting in a cafe in New Orleans. I was moaning about never being able to get the exact haircut I wanted. I hated my hair and my crazy cowlicks, and was gesticulating (probably wildly) about how awful it was.
“See that?” I pointed to the back of a girl’s head in a mirror. “That is how it should look! That right there! That is the haircut I want.”
You know where this is going, don’t you?
Renae tilted her head at me, blinking. “Uh, Lane?”
Yes. It was a reflection of the back of my own head. The back of my perfectly coiffed head.
Body dysmorphia is real. I’m very fortunate to have had the embarrassing luck of seeing myself through the eyes of a stranger twice. It’s forced me to really consider how I feel about myself, and forced me to take true stock of what makes me who I am.
What makes me who I am is not what I look like, what I wear, or how awesome my hair looks. What makes me who I am is that I can recognize beauty in other people and appreciate them. What makes me who I am is that I am not jealous when I see another cute girl, but I want to tell her how pretty I think she is. What makes me who I am is that I want to be around people kinder, smarter, funnier, better looking than I. That’s worth a lot more than my hips, thighs, or crooked nostrils.